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Study in America: A General Outline of the Process for the Filipino

Although there is a lot of information in the public domain regarding visas to study in the United States, much of the information is fragmented and/or only covers a particular step in the process.  I am attempting here to give you this information in an organized coherent matter as it specifically relates to the Filipino who will be applying for a student visa at the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines.  For those interested in this topic, I hope you find this article useful.

If you are interested in pursuing full-time academic or vocational studies in the United States, there are two nonimmigrant student categories you should consider.  F-1 visas are the most common and are for people who want to study at a U.S. college or university, or to study English (generally not recommended for Filipinos since most are already fluent in English) at a university or language institute.  M-1 visas are for those who want to study in nonacademic or vocational programs.

Basic Qualifications for a Student Visa

The US immigration laws are very specific with regard to the requirements that must be met by applicants to qualify for the student visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa.  Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet student visa requirements including:

  • Have a residence abroad, with no immediate intention of abandoning that residence;
  • Intend to depart from the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
  • Possess sufficient funds to pursue the proposed course of study.

Step 1: Research & Find A School & Program That is Right For You

Research and find a program and school that is best for you.  There are various programs to choose from such as associates degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, vocational programs and other short-term programs.  Please note that only schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) are authorized to accept international students.  You can use the link at the end of this article to make sure the school you are interested in is certified.

Step 2: Apply To The School

Apply and get accepted to a SEVP-certified school.  You can apply to most schools online.  Once accepted, you will have to prove you have the financial ability to pay the tuition and living expenses.  If you have a relative who is either a US citizen or Permanent Resident residing in the USA, you can ask them to be a sponsor and have them execute an Affidavit of Support on your behalf.  Unlike in the context of the tourist visa where Affidavits of Support are generally not given much weight, they are given more weight in processing the student visa application.  Of course, you can also have financial sponsors residing in the Philippines. It is best to have a sponsor that has a close relationship with you.

Once the school is satisfied that you have the financial ability to attend their school, they will issue you a document called a Form I-20.  The Form I-20 is a Certificate of Eligibility for Student Status.  Each school that accepts you will mail you a Form I-20.

Before you can apply for the visa, you must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee (currently $200).  And, before you apply to pay the I-901 student fee, you must select one school and use that Form I-20 to pay the I-901 fee and to apply for the correct student visa.

Step 3: Apply for the Visa

All student visa applicants, regardless of age, are required to appear at the embassy for an interview.  Minor (unmarried 17 years old and below) nonimmigrant visa applicants are required to appear with at least one parent for the interview. If the minor is an orphan or if both parents are outside of the Philippines, then a legal guardian must be present during the interview.

The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old of the F or M visa holder may be given F-2 or M-2 visas, respectively, if they seek to accompany or “follow to join” the primary visa holder.

Paying the Visa Application Fee

Student visa applicants must pay the machine-readable visa application fee (currently $160). To pay the fee, the applicant must have his or her passport number available.  The applicant’s passport number will be tied to the MRV fee paid at the bank.  The payment will be activated four hours after the time the cash payment was made; 24 hours for on-line payment.

There are three ways to pay the MRV fee:

  1. Pay in cash (prevailing Philippine peso equivalent of the machine-readable visa fee) at any branch of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI)
  2. Pay through online bill payment option provided by BPI for their customers
  3. Online payment through Bancnet.

Student Visa wait times for interview appointments in Manila at the time of this writing are about 9 days.  Visa processing is around 2 days.

Gathering The Required Documents

All basic documentary requirements must be ready BEFORE an appointment can be made. Additional documents may be required.

Documents Required of the Principal Student Visa Applicant

Each applicant for a student visa must be ready to submit the following:

  • Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students or Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form, I-20, which was provided to you by your school. You and your school official must sign the I-20 form.
  • Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application, Form DS-160.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application.
  • One (1) 2×2 photograph.
  • A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee.
  • The SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.
  • Evidence of the applicant’s or applicant’s parents’, if minor, ties and financial status in the Philippines.
  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended;
  • Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.;
  • Financial evidence that shows you or your parents who are sponsoring you has sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period of your intended study. For example, if you or your sponsor is a salaried employee, bring income tax documents and original bank books and/or statements. If you or your sponsor owns a business, bring business registration, licenses, etc., and tax documents, as well as original bank books and/or statements.

Documents Required of the Dependents of the Student Visa Applicant

  • Original marriage certificate printed on Philippine National Statistics Office security paper, if applicable (if applying with a spouse and/or child).
  • Original birth certificate printed on Philippine National Statistics Office security paper (for dependent/s).
  • Copy of principal’s SEVIS-generated Form I-20 ( Nonimmigrant Student Status for Academic and Language Students ) for F/M applicants
  • Copy of principal’s SEVIS-generated Form I-20 ( Nonimmigrant Student Status for Academic and Language Students ) for F/M applicants
  • Evidence of the applicant’s or applicant’s parents’, if minor, ties and financial status in the Philippines

Scheduling An Appointment

The US Embassy in Manila provides the following information for booking an appointment.  Book an appointment by calling (02) 982-5555 and (02) 902-8930 for calls within the Philippines and other countries aside from mainland United States or (214) 571-1600 for calls from mainland United States. The call center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, Manila time, except on U.S. and Philippine holidays. Appointments can also be booked online through http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph.

Applicants who will book an interview online will be asked to create a profile which will be used to access their appointment record and edit applicant information before their interview date.

The call center and the online appointment website can also provide general information about visa application procedures and technical assistance related to scheduling an appointment.

Go To The Interview

Applicants are requested to arrive at the Embassy gate 15 minutes before the time listed on the appointment letter.  Applicants must bring all the basic application requirements noted above including the interview appointment letter, DS-160 confirmation page, valid passport, one 2” x 2” photo, and all prior passports and U.S. visas, if available. It is helpful to bring a government-recognized photo ID (in addition to the passport) to present upon entry.

A consular officer will inform the applicant at the conclusion of the interview whether he/she qualifies for a U.S. visa.  If a visa is approved, the passport with U.S. visa will be delivered by the courier service at the address provided when the made the appointment.

Top Reason for Denial

Students have been denied visas due to the consular officer not being sufficiently convinced of the student’s intentions to return to their home country after completing their studies.  This is based on the US immigration law that states: “Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status…”

This means that international students must convincingly prove, a “permanent residence” or “strong ties” to his or her home country, illustrating that they do not intend to immigrate or obtain residency/citizenship in the U.S.  Fortunately, a visa denial is not permanent and can be reversed, if the student can show new, convincing evidence.

Here are some tips to demonstrate strong ties to your home country:

  • Convince the consular officer that the sole (not just “primary”) purpose of the visit to the U.S. is to pursue a program of study.
  • Outline post-graduation plans upon returning to home country.
  • Document family ties, business interests and assets in home country.
  • Discuss job prospects in home country upon completion of U.S. education.

Warnings & Tips from the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines

  • In certain cases, additional documents may be requested.
  • All documents must be originals.  Photocopies will not be accepted, unless specified. The applicant must submit these documents to the interviewing consular officer during the interview. The Nonimmigrant Visa Unit does not accept documents before the interview. Any documents received will not be returned and will be destroyed. Please note, however, that presentation of the documents will not guarantee visa issuance. Applicants must still qualify under INA Section 214(b).
  • Being accepted by a U.S. school and being issued a Form I-20 will not by itself result in issuance of a student visa.
  • Students must demonstrate that the primary purpose for their travel to the United States is for study. Under Section 214(b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, applicants still must prove that they will leave the United States upon expiration of their authorized period of stay. A school admission as demonstrated by the Form I-20 is only one of the factors we must consider.
  • Student visas cannot be used to circumvent ineligibility for other types of visas. On occasion student visa applications are submitted for children, whose family members have immigrated to the United States, it is often difficult for such applicants to qualify, as it is difficult to prove that the applicant intends to return to the Philippines.
  • Student Visas will generally not be issued solely for English language study. As the Philippines education system is conducted in English, individuals pursuing study in the United States should generally be proficient in English at the time of their application to a U.S. school.
  • Plans of study must indicate a reasonable course of academic progress. Applicants planning to pursue a community college degree after already having received a four-year undergraduate degree in the Philippines are unlikely to be issued student visas, as in most instances the proposed program of study does not appear to be a plausible “next step.” Applicants who already have a BA/BS degree from an institution in the Philippines are encouraged to pursue graduate study or at least a second BA/BS degree, with credit for prior undergraduate study.

You can use the following link to make sure the school you are interested in is certified. http://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/school-search/

Disclaimer. The above article is intended only to give you a general idea of the topic.  It is NOT intended to be legal advice nor does it cover all the specific aspects, detailed requirements and procedures. Everyone’s goals and situations are unique as they apply to the law and they all cannot be covered in a simple writing such as this.


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