How to Apply
All those applying for an F-1 (student) or J-1 (exchange visitor) visa have to be entered first in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The sponsoring organization enters the information about the applicant and the appropriate form is then printed. For students this is the I-20 Form; for exchange visitors this is the DS-2019 Form.
The I-20 or DS-2019 Form is taken to a U.S. Consulate if the student is outside the U.S. to apply for a visa. Before applying, however, an appointment must be made at the Consulate and the appropriate fees must be paid.
For more information and to pay the fee, please visit: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm. You may also pay by mail and will find instructions at the same site. Print a copy of the receipt because you will need to submit this receipt with your visa application. Note that the fee must be paid at least three days prior to submitting your visa application.
Those outside the U.S. will need to contact a U.S. Consulate for an interview appointment, and consulates differ in the length of time needed to get an appointment.There are also security forms such as the DS-156, DS-157, or DS-158 which can be downloaded and filled out in advance if they are required.
Finally, those from certain countries must also pay a visa issuance fee. This is a reciprocity fee and countries which charge U.S. citizens a fee for a visa are in turn charged a fee by the U.S. Relatively few countries have such a fee.
Admitted students apply to the school for an I-20 or DS-2019. With the I-20 or DS-2019 in hand, they apply for an interview, pay the SEVIS and visa application fees, and take the required forms, receipts, and a passport with them to the interview.
Note that the earliest the F-1 visa will be granted is 120 days before the reporting date for the beginning of school, but the student can only enter the U.S. 30 days before the reporting date.