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Criteria for US student visas

Students must have no aspirations to migrate First Posted 10:38:00 06/29/2009

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AS the start of the fall school year approaches, many students are applying for the appropriate visa to pursue their studies in the States.

Carolyne is scheduled for her visa interview in a couple of weeks. She was accepted in an undergraduate study in Iowa but is anxious about her coming interview.

What are the criteria for an applicant to successfully obtain a student visa to study in the United States?

Rigorous questioning

A prospective student may begin the process of obtaining the visa by first applying at a school abroad. The applicant must determine whether the school will issue the Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility. This form certifies the admission of the student to a program of study and establishes eligibility for a student visa, including financial ability to complete the course of study.

With an I-20, the applicant must then apply at the US embassy consular section for a F1 visa before he may enter the United States.

An F1 visa is the required visa for students seeking to enter the US temporarily for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study at an established college, university, or other academic institution.

One of the many requirements of this visa is that the applicant must have a house in his home country that he has no plans to abandon. This means that the student must have no plans of immigrating to the US after his study.

For this reason, consular officers ask rigorous questions on the applicant?s long-term educational and career goals, the extent of ties to his home country, his sources of financial support, and the ways he will apply his US education once he returns home.

Rigorous questioning about the student?s actual intent was addressed in a Department of State cable. According to this DOS document, a student plan to study a subject for which there is no or little employment opportunity in his country of residence is not a basis for denying the visa.

Financial support

Consular officers are instructed to focus on the student applicant?s immediate intent, not on his long-term goals. This directive makes sense considering that students are generally young and are just starting their careers. Some do not have concrete plans, except to obtain education from a US school to broaden their opportunities in the future.

But it is not enough that a US university accepts the applicant. The burden of the applicant for a student visa is to show that he does not have the intent of migrating to the US. Failure to show otherwise is the common ground for refusal of the visa.

Applicants must have sufficient support either from their own funds or from other persons who have the legal obligation to support them. Sufficient finances to cover expenses mean availability of funds, not mere possession. The co-sponsor who claims to support the prospective student must have resources and a legal obligation to support him. The requirement of financial support is to prevent the student-visa holder from resorting to unauthorized employment in the US to maintain solvency while studying.

Employment opportunities to a foreign student are limited. Some are authorized by the designated school official. These are (1) on campus employment; (2) curricular practical training; and (3) optional practical training related to the student?s major area of study.

Coming in as a tourist

The purpose for the issuance of a B1/B2 visa is for the individual to enter the US on a temporary visit or business. In the exercise of discretion, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service may still deny a change of status from tourist to student visa if it appears that the person entered the US on a tourist visa with a ?preconceived? intent to attend school.

Changes in status are often viewed as a way to circumvent the normal visa issuing process and are oftentimes denied. For those denied student visas, the order to depart is issued quickly or removal proceedings are initiated at a very short period of time. For this reason, it may be an impractical option to enter as a visitor in the hope of later changing the status to that of a student.

Incoming international students in the US have increased despite the global recession. It is a fact that the US remains the favorite educational destination. Interestingly, the number of US citizen-students wanting to study outside the US has declined.

Foreign relations

Considering the growing trend of global education, applicants for student visas should increase their chance of obtaining the visas by meeting the eligibility requirements.

The consular officers are expected to exercise just discretion in adjudicating student visas and base their grant or denial firmly in law and regulation. After all, enrollment of foreign students remains a key element in US foreign relations.

Tancinco may be reached at law@tancinco.com or at 8877177.

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