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On February 23, 2023, the U.S. Department of State updated its guidelines to allow F and M students to apply for their student visas to study in the United States up to 365 days prior to the start date of the program as listed on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Students who apply for F and M visas will be allowed to enter the United States up to 30 days before their program start date. This recent announcement will allow students more time to apply for their student visas and seek earlier interview dates. Additionally, the Form I-20 will now be issued twelve to fourteen months ahead of the program start date.

Prior to the recent announcement, students seeking to study in the United States were not permitted to schedule visa interview appointments more than 120 days prior to the program start date as listed on the Form I-20. Additionally, the I-20 forms could not be issued by educational institutions more than four to six months ahead of the program start date. This shortened timeline often led to an increase in demand for visa interview appointments for students ahead of the beginning of university term start dates.

Obtaining an F or M Visa Stamp

An F or M student applying for a U.S. student visa must complete a series of steps before seeking a visa interview appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad:

  • The student must apply and be accepted into a qualifying U.S. school or university. In order to be qualifying, the school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
  • The student must pay a fee to enroll in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and obtain a Form I-20 from the U.S. school. Each individual, including the student visa applicant’s spouse and children (if any), is required to obtain a separate Form I-20.
  • The student must complete the DS-160 form (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) at the U.S. Department of State portal and pay a nonrefundable visa application fee.
  • Within 365 days of the term program start date noted on the Form I-20, the student may log in to the online portal and schedule an F or M visa appointment.
  • Students and dependents may be required to attend in-person visa interviews at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If the officer decides that a student qualifies for the F or M student visa, digital fingerprint scans will be taken and the applicant’s passport will be taken to complete the visa stamping process. Applicants will receive their passports with their visas in the mail or a pickup time will be scheduled for applicants.

Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to these and other policy changes and will post updates on the Immigration blog as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.

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