US Student visa update 

Most of you have received admits from the universities and are now in the crucial phase of visa application. Here is a quick look at the visa process, chronologically.

  1. filling the DS-160 form
  2. paying the visa fees
  3. scheduling appointments for:
    a) submitting biometric data and documents at the Offsite Facilitation Centre and
    b) the Visa Interview

At the moment, many students are not able to get visa appointments and are confused as to how to proceed further. According to the recent update, the US Consulate has declared that students who have been previously issued any kind of US visa (B1/B2/L1/L2/H1-B/H4) can avail of the dropbox facility to expedite the process. 
The student has to login into his/her account on www.ustraveldocs.com, and answer a few questions to be eligible to avail of the dropbox facility. Following this, the student can directly book the OFC appointment. If the appointment goes well, the student will be directly issued the F1 visa within a week. 

If you have any queries related to:

  • filling the DS-160 form
  • payment of visa fees or
  • scheduling/changing visa appointments

these can be made at:

You can also contact us at the academy for any visa-related guidance and attend our LIVE visa workshop (webinar) by Mr.Dilip Oak on 17th April, 9 am to get in-depth assistance on the visa process. Register here: https://rzp.io/l/YoS0BjR3

F1 Visa: Top 13 Frequently Asked Questions

Q.1 What is an form I-20 and how do I obtain it?

The Form I-20 is an official US Government form, issued by a certified school, which a prospective non-immigrant student must have in order to get an F-1 or M-1 visa. Form I-20 acts as proof-of-acceptance and contains the information necessary to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, apply for a visa, or change visa status, and be admitted into the United States. The Form I-20 has the student’s SEVIS identification number, which starts with the letter N followed by 10 digits, on the top left-hand side.

Q.2 How early should I apply for my student (F1) visa?

You are encouraged to apply for your nonimmigrant student visa as soon as you have your I-20. To ensure you get an early and timely date you may apply at anytime. However, a student visa may be issued no more than 120 days prior to the start date mentioned on your I-20.

Q.3 I received my visa, when should I travel?

You may only enter the United States within 30 days of the beginning of the course of study stated on your I-20 form, regardless of when your visa was issued.

Q.4 What if I receive the I-20 form to a different school?

If you receive an I-20 form after scheduling your appointment, then you can inform the US consular officer of the new I-20 form at the time of the interview.

Q.5 I was working on an H-1B visa and have now been admitted to a university as an F-1. Do I need to return to my country to apply for a student visa?

No. Once you are in the United States, you do not need to apply for a new visa because the visa is only for entry into the United States. Check with USCIS to determine if you need to adjust the status of your existing visa. If you leave the country, however, you’ll need to apply for the student visa in order to re-enter the United States.

Q.6 What is the SEVIS system and how does it affect me?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) program requires schools and exchange programs to verify the enrolment status of all new and continuing foreign students and exchange visitors. Student visa applicants are required to pay a SEVIS fee before a visa can be issued. Applicants are then required to provide the SEVIS I-901 fee receipt as proof of payment. The SEVIS website has more details on this.

Q.7 Can an F-1 student work in the United States?

Full-time students on F visas may seek on-campus employment not to exceed 20 hours per week. After the first year in student status, an applicant may apply for employment off campus with authorization from USCIS.

Q.8 Can my dependents apply for a tourist visa instead of dependent visa if they only want to visit me and stay in U.S. for a short period of time?

Yes, they can apply for a Tourist visa.

Q.9 How do I read and understand my visa?

As soon as you receive your visa, check to make sure all your personal information printed on the visa is correct. If any of the information on your visa does not match the information in your passport, or is otherwise incorrect, please contact the issuing authority (i.e. the US Embassy) immediately.

The expiry date of your visa is the last day you may use the visa to enter the United States. It does not indicate how long you may stay in the United States. Your stay is determined by the Department of Homeland Security at your port of entry. As long as you comply with the Department of Homeland Security decision on the conditions of your stay, you should have no problem. Further information about interpreting your visa can be found at the Department of State’s Consular Affairs website.

Q.10 My visa will expire while I am in the United States. Is there a problem with that?

No. You may stay in the US for the period of time and conditions authorised by the Department of Homeland Security officer when you arrived in the US, which will be noted on the I-94, even if your visa expires during your stay.

Q.11 What address should I mention on Form DS-160, if my current home address and my address on the passport is not the same?

You must mention your current home address in India and not the address printed on your passport.

Q.12 What if I receive an I-20 from a better university after getting the F1 visa?

If you have obtained your visa and need to change the name of the university on your visa, you have to go through the complete process once again by scheduling a new appointment after paying the application fee and service charges.

Q.13 Is there a quota for the number of student visas issued each year?

No. All qualified students receive visas.

For detailed guidance, avail of our visa counselling services by attending our Visa workshop webinar on 27th February at 9:00 am. 

If you are not already an Admission Counselling student at the academy, register for the webinar here: https://rzp.io/l/YoS0BjR3

Once you pay and enroll, you will receive the zoom registration link shortly.

US Student Visa: Basics and application process

The US government issues different types of non-immigrant visas.  For example, tourists and business-men are issued B-1/ B-2 visas and those authorized to work in the US are given an H-1B visa. Students going for vocational courses for shorter duration such as, in flying schools,  English language courses etc. get an M-1 visa.

However, most students going to an accredited university for a full-time academic program, require an F-1 visa stamp.

Students are allowed to apply for the F-1 visa 120 days before the date of reporting mentioned on their I-20 form. The I-20 form is an official document issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The following important details are mentioned in the document:

  • the name and passport number of the student
  • the name of the university which the student is joining
  • the program to which the student has been admitted
  • the date of commencement of the program
  • the date by which the program has to be completed
  • the total cost of education for one year.

The fall 2022 semester will begin sometime in the third week of August. So, if you plan to join an American university this fall, you can start applying for your visa from the third week of April.

How to Apply for an F1 Visa?

  • Get your I-20 from the SEVP institution
  • Apply online by filling the DS-160 form
  • Pay the general visa application fee ($160)
  • Pay the SEVIS  fee ($350)
  • Schedule your OFC appointment and F1 visa interview
  • Attend the F1 visa interview on the scheduled date

Keep in mind that you should have adequate liquid funds to cover the total cost of one year of education – this is mentioned in the I-20 form. Many students are under the wrong impression that their sponsor needs to deposit this entire amount in the bank and that otherwise their visa can be rejected. This is not true. Funds can be shown in the form of bank deposits as well as other liquid assets including education loans. Of course, having adequate funds alone does not guarantee a visa approval. The consulate officer also considers the following points:

  • whether you have admission to an accredited and reputed university
  • whether your academic background is good
  • whether your GRE score is satisfactory
  • whether your sponsor’s income is adequate

You should also have good communication skills and should be able to give convincing and honest answers to the consulate officer’s questions.

Start preparing your financial documents now and apply for an F-1 visa as soon as you get your I-20 form from the university you desire to attend. 

For detailed guidance, avail of our visa counselling services by attending our visa workshop webinar on 20th February or 27th February at 9:00 am. 

If you are not already an Admission Counselling student at the academy, register here: https://rzp.io/l/YoS0BjR3

Once you pay and enroll, you will receive the zoom registration link shortly.

7% country cap on green cards likely to be removed; great benefit to Indians students and H1-B visa holders

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Following the US presidential elections, a major turnaround of events has taken place in favor of Indian students and immigrants with the new bill passed by the US Senate last Wednesday, December 2, 2020. The bill eliminates the 7% per country cap on the employment-based immigrant visa (EB-2 and EB -3 categories) green cards. The bill has proved to be a huge relief for Indian immigrants stuck in the green card backlog for years.

Every year, the US grants more than a million green cards for the following types:

  1. Family-sponsored Green cards: This type of Green Card is given only to immediate family, such as spouses, children, siblings, or parents of a US citizen or a US permanent resident.
  2. Employment sponsored Green cards: This Green Card is given to you if you have found a job in the US and your employer is going to pay for the forms and application procedure and sponsor your stay in the US.
  3. Returning resident Green Card: This Green Card is for those who previously had a Green Card but travelled outside of the US and did not come back for more than one year for unavoidable reasons.
  4. Diversity Visa Green Card: Every year the US holds a visa lottery for citizens of countries with low immigration rates to the US.

The employment sponsored green cards are further categorized into the following types:

  1. EB-1: Employment-based first preference, priority workers with a 40,040-annual cap.
  2. EB-2: Employment-based second preference, professionals with 40,040 workers with offers of employment in jobs requiring an advanced degree or higher.
  3. EB-3: Employment-based third preference, skilled workers: 40,040 workers with offers of employment in jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree and skilled workers with at least two years of experience.
  4. EB-4: Employment-based fourth preference, special immigrants: 9,940 religious’ workers, broadcasters, US government and military employees, and abandoned juveniles.
  5. EB-5: Employment-based fifth preference, investors: 9,940 foreign investors who made investments in a new commercial enterprise in the United States.

Out of these, the EB-2 and EB-3 visas apply to students pursuing masters and bachelor’s degrees in the US. Every year, as the number of applicants for green cards kept increasing, the backlogs also kept accumulating due to the 7% country cap.

As of November 2019, the backlog for EB-2 and EB-3 green card applications for India is a whopping 706,097 and only around 8000 green cards are being cleared annually because of the 7% country cap. Considering these figures, it might take 89 years to clear this backlog. As of December 2020, EB-2 applications up to 15th May 2011 and EB-3, applications up to 1st January 2014 have been cleared.

But there are chances that the clearance process for these backlogs will now accelerate if the 7% country cap is removed, and the number of green cards cleared annually will increase from only 8000 to 1,40,000, thereby benefiting H1-B visa holders and aspiring students.

However, even if the Senate has passed the bill, the chambers must reconcile their differences before the bill goes to the president. It is not yet clear whether President Trump would sign the bill into law, as the White House has previously expressed opposition to the concept of removing per-country caps and anti-immigration groups are publicly opposing the bill.

 

Student visa application for Spring 2021

 

Deferred admission to spring 2021_

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most US universities could not offer in-person classes for fall 2020 semester and almost all of them offered online classes instead. However, a majority of students did not opt for online classes due to the following reasons:

  • Even for the online medium, students will have to pay full tuition fees for the entire semester. (Some universities have reduced fees by 20 to 25 per cent)
  • The online semester will mean no financial assistance, no campus jobs/RA/TA which then makes the course unnecessarily expensive to bear.
  • The online semester does not offer the exposure and opportunities that a student otherwise gets while on campus.

Considering this, most of the students have deferred their admissions and are now gearing up to join the spring 2021 semester. However, looking at the rising numbers of coronavirus patients in the US, there is confusion about whether universities will take in-person classes for spring and whether it will be feasible for international students to join the semester.

Though a majority of universities plan on resuming in-person classes for the spring semester, they are yet to make a final decision. Some universities are still sceptical whether they would resume in-person classes for spring at all. For instance, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White recently announced that all 23 campuses, including Chico State, will conduct winter and spring 2021 courses primarily virtual. More details will be forthcoming as Chico State receives further guidance from the government.

Universities have also observed that most international students did not opt for online classes and hence they are considering introducing hybrid courses which will enable students to get F1 visa.  However, the final decision of universities is expected to be announced by the end of November/early December depending upon the pandemic situation in America.

In this case, we would recommend students to request an I-20 for the spring semester but not rush into applying for the visa. The Consulate has also advised students to observe the situation and apply for visa three to four weeks before the date of reporting. In case you apply for a visa and obtain one, and the university cancels in-person instruction for the spring semester, you will have to revalidate the visa for fall 2021. For revalidation, you will require new I-20 for fall 2021 and it can be done through the Dropbox facility.

 

 

 

 

How will the new F1 Visa regulation affect existing and new students?

What will happen to my F1 visa_ When can I return to the US_

This blog is regarding the recent announcement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the continuation of F1 visas for students studying in the US and taking fully online classes for the fall 2020 semester due to the pandemic.

As per the regulation, students are not allowed to take fully online courses in the fall semester while in the US and they have to return to their home country before the semester begins. After returning, they can continue to pursue their semester online from their home country but they cannot return to the US until the university resumes in-person instruction. This does not mean that their F1 visa has been cancelled. It means that the embassy will not renew the F1 visa until the university resumes in-person instruction.

Students will not lose any credits earned in the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters. They will be required to take a break for only one semester, and again resume their studies in spring 2021. Also, this will not affect CPT or OPT in any manner.

The regulation also states that as an alternative, the student can either transfer to another school with in-person instruction or adopt a hybrid model with a maximum of one class or three credit hours online. This decision will not hamper the current visa process for students aspiring to join next year or those who have deferred their fall 2020 admissions to spring 2021.

New students, who have deferred their admission to spring 2021, can continue with their visa process since it is likely that in-person instruction will resume by January 2021. However, if the spring semester is also changed to online instruction, you will not be able to go to the US. In that case, you will have to defer your admission to fall 2021 and accordingly get your visas reissued for fall 2021.

Trump’s new executive order of H1B Visa suspension will not affect Indian students

H1B Visa

President Donald Trump, on Monday, June 22, issued an executive order temporarily suspending stamping for new H-1B and few other work visas till December 31, 2020.

While the news may come as a setback for IT professionals aspiring to go to the US this year, students completing graduation in the USA, need not panic.

Who will be affected by this executive order? 

IT companies 

This move will affect the IT companies in India that work for US clients and send their employees on H1B visas or L Visas to work at client sites. The suspension will prohibit the entry of IT professionals in the USA on work-related projects till December 2020. The freeze will apply to the following visas:

  1. H1-B Visas: Used by Tech workers
  2. H4 Visa: Dependents of H1B visa holders
  3. L visas – Transfer within the same company
  4. J Visa – Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa
  5. H2-B – Visas for low-skill jobs

H1B aspirants of 2020-21 fiscal 

The H1B lottery process for 2020-21 fiscal has completed. The sponsoring companies of those picked in the lottery had hoped to complete the application process by June end and have the employees onboard this year itself. However, with the new ban, the employees will not be able to join this October and will have to wait till December.

No effect on F1 visa and OPT

Students pursuing their education in the US are on an F1 student visa. You can still find an internship or co-op on CPT while studying. Also, on completion of your graduation, you can start working in the US on OPT. Students who are already on OPT and whose H1B visas have been picked in the lottery, will not be affected by the order. However, it is highly recommended that they do not travel outside the US under these circumstances.

 Better chance for employment to students with strong academics and US degrees  

Following this order, Trump has also directed his administration to reform the H-1B visa system and move in the direction of merit-based immigration. Additionally, the lottery system which picks up applications randomly will now be replaced by a merit-based system that will prioritize the highest salaries to “get the best and the brightest”.

Therefore, students who have demonstrated excellent academics and have advanced degrees in the US universities will increase their chances of securing a high paying job and benefit them greatly.

Confusion created by recent news about H1B and OPT cancellations

The recent news about the proposed cancellation of H1B and OPT visas in various national newspapers has sent a wave of panic among Indian students and working professionals. With considerable experience in these matters, we present to you a clarification of these news items to ease your doubts and future plans of studying in the US.

On 8th May, five US senators and one congressman wrote a letter to President Donald Trump requesting him to suspend H1B and OPT visas for one year in view of the soaring unemployment in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic.

To begin with, we want to clarify that it is not a petition but only a letter presenting an opinion/suggestion. Such letters can be written by anyone to the President. It does not mean that the President will immediately pass an executive order on the basis of this letter.

Further, acting on the letter is not an easy task. Firstly, only 5 Republican senators out of a 100, and one congressman out of 435, is a very small number to make an impact or drive a decision. Secondly, in the United States, these decisions will impact the two powerful lobbies that hold a lion’s share in their economy: The universities and IT companies. The economy of universities largely depends upon tuition fees from international students and this proposal will directly affect their student intake. Similarly, the majority of IT companies depend heavily on Indian and Chinese professionals who hold Masters degrees from American universities. Thus, the President is unlikely to make such a drastic decision which will have a boomerang effect on their economy.

What we must also not forget is that the letter could very well be a political gimmick, considering the November 2020 presidential elections. Against that backdrop, it is only advisable not to give importance to such letters and news items in the newspapers and go ahead with your study plans since universities and companies will continue to look to India for skilled engineers and tech professionals.

Lockdown Dilemma : Go For Online Semester or Request a Deferral?

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak and lockdown, most of the US universities are currently offering two options to fall 2020 students:

1) Online semester for fall 2020 and regular on-campus coaching from spring 2021

2) Deferral to spring 2021/fall 2021

Now as you are aware, the situation is indeed gruesome in the United States where the number of corona patients is increasing every day and there is no clarity on when the pandemic will be arrested and things will normalize.  Under such circumstances, it is obvious for the universities to offer deferrals or move to online teaching as a precautionary measure.

However, as Indian students, here are a few things you must take into consideration before making any decision:

Feasibility of online semester

  • Even for the online medium, students will have to pay full tuition fees for the full semester. (Some universities may reduce fees by 20 to 25 percent)
  • Online semester will mean no financial assistance, no campus jobs/RA/TA which then makes the course unnecessarily expensive to bear.
  • Online semester does not offer the exposure and opportunities that a student otherwise gets while on campus.
  • There are certain limitations to online coaching since the interaction is usually limited as compared to classroom coaching.
  • In any case, students will have to apply for the F1 visa for spring 2021 and in the worst circumstances, if the visa gets rejected; the entire amount spent on the online fall semester goes waste.

Current visa scenario

  • The US consulate has been non-operational since March 16 and there is no clarity when it will resume operations. Once it resumes, there will be a tremendous rush for visas and the situation will become chaotic. (Though it is quite possible that the consulate will give priority to student visas.)

Taking all these factors into account, we recommend that you get in touch with the concerned university official and request time till the end of May to make the final decision of deferral.

Coronavirus Lockdown: US Student Visas and Admission Deferral Updates – Part 3

With the rising number of patients in the United States and the lockdown declared in India, there is no clarity on when the consulates will start processing the visas again. Considering this, it is anticipated that there will be a backlog of visa interviews and many prospective fall 2020 students are panicking whether they will get their visas in time.

Though the consulates are positive of issuing visas on time, many universities in the US have begun offering deferrals in case situations do not improve until August 2020 and students need to postpone their travel and join the course later in Spring. 

As per our latest correspondence, the Offices of International Admissions of most universities have offered deferral for students from one semester up to one year. 

All the fall 2020 undergraduates can get deferral to spring 2021. The graduate deferral, however, can only be offered by the program coordinator. Students are therefore required to connect with the graduate advisors of respective universities since not all units (programs) are offered deferrals. 

Though most universities are offering deferrals up to one year, they are encouraging students to not defer at the moment and wait until May. 

For students who are in the middle of their semester in the US but are currently in India, can fly back to the States once the travel ban is lifted and more so, after obtaining clearance from the US Consulate. For regular updates, visit the DHS and consulate websites.

Important links: 

https://www.dhs.gov/coronavirus/coronavirus-news-updates

https://in.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/

Coronavirus Lockdown: US Admission Process Updates – Part 2

In the last blog, we saw the fall 2020 course commencement decisions that the universities are likely to make.

As per the recent updates we received from the office of graduate and undergraduate admissions of a few universities, the fall 2020 admission process is going on and students who are still sending applications can connect with the admission office staff via video chat and email. Those who haven’t received any admits yet, have nothing to worry as the admission process will not be canceled and they will receive admits, though the decision may be released later than the usual time taken by the universities. 

Fall 2020 Graduate Admissions

The graduate application deadlines will not be extended for most universities. As we informed you in the last blog, those of you who haven’t received the I-20 approval yet, the staff are creating the I-20s but the shipments are being withheld until the mail services in India fully resume. For admitted students, the university will send an email with the student’s SEVIS number from the I20 which can be used to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee that is mandatory for the F1 visa application process. 

Fall 2020 Undergraduate Admissions 

In consideration of the disruption of exams and classes, most universities have extended the application deadline for fall 2020 undergraduate applications to May 1, 2020. 

Sending official transcripts and financial documents 

In case you haven’t been able to obtain your official academic records/transcripts due to closure of school or college, US universities are allowing you to send unofficial, digital transcripts for securing admission. 

Even if the deadlines for sending graduate applications have not been extended, most universities have extended their document deadline for graduate admissions to May 1, 2020. This is however applicable to only admitted students. This means you can send your official or university attested mark sheets/degree certificates/transcripts to the office and finish other paperwork by May 1. The packages need to be post-marked by May 1, 2020. Few other universities have also extended these deadlines up to mid-May. 

Most universities have also announced an extension to send financial documents. Some universities have extended this deadline up to May 15 while some of them have extended it up to July 1. 

In the next part, we will cover the updates on visa, program decisions and deferrals offered by universities. The next blog will be published on Saturday,  4th April 2020.

Why 2019 is a Good Time to Pursue MS in the USA – Part 1

Blog-Why-US-2019

For years, Indian students have been flocking to universities in the United States of America to pursue higher education – mainly MS degrees. However, due to uncertainties in the recent immigration policies, there is some reservation in the minds of MS candidates about whether the USA is still the best option. In this post, we are covering a few points about why 2019 is actually an opportune time to apply to American universities.

1] Trump’s New H1B Policy

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require technical expertise. In late January, US president Donald Trump announced changes in the H1B visa lottery system, which will favour students with advanced degrees in STEM fields from US universities. The new approach may result in an increase of up to 16% H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university.

Statistical Advantage of the New Lottery System


H1B-New-System 

2] Beyond H1B – A Path to Citizenship

In January itself, Trump expressed his views on merit-based immigration in a tweet. He indicated that reforms would be introduced to ensure ‘simplicity and certainty’ to the stay of H1B-holders in the USA and also incorporate a path to citizenship. Realizing the need for legal immigration of skilled workers, he has said “we want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.

11-01-19-Trump-01

Further, a new law has been proposed in the US Congress to abolish country-wise quota for Green Cards. If passed, it could benefit thousands of Indian professionals waiting for a long time to secure Green Card. The proposal has been co-sponsored by 13 Senators and received great support.

To conclude, our advice to students is that do not give up on your dream of pursuing an MS in the US because of unverified rumors. The quality of education provided in American universities, the research facilities and the internships and work experience you will be able to secure are unparalleled. Seize the opportunity and make the most of it!