Applying for the F-1 student visa is mandatory for every international student planning to study at a US university or college.
Once you receive your admission letter and Form I-20 from the university, you will need to schedule and attend an interview at a US embassy or consulate along with supporting documents to apply for the visa.
It’s a fairly straightforward process, but this year’s applicants can expect some challenges due to disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s what to expect if you plan to apply for an F-1 student visa in 2020.
Your I-20 may be sent to you digitally
You can’t apply for the visa without a Form I-20 as that’s your official proof of enrolment and acceptance by a US university.
Universities typically send these out by snail mail — with disruptions and lockdowns this year, I-20s are sent to students digitally for the first time ever.
You might still receive yours by mail as deliveries and international postal services are not affected in some countries.
Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the International Students Resource Center Josh Whitson at Oberlin College said that in some countries like India, which are not accepting mail from the US now, the US government has given special permission to issue the Form I-20 digitally.
If you’re anxious about not receiving your I-20 form in time, check with your university on how they will be sending it to you.
Smaller window to apply for F-1 student visas
Since travel restrictions are still in place and embassies are closed in some areas, it’s expected that there will be a small window for international students to schedule an interview at US embassies over the summer for the fall semester intake.
Kim Lovaas, director of International Student Services and associate director of International Admission at the University of Washington said, “There are so many layers of complications and there are so many unknowns at this point.”
“So partly, yes, at this very moment [international students] would have … difficulty getting a visa, but as soon as the embassies and consulates start issuing those again there really should be no reason they can’t get a visa.”
According to Whitson, embassies in some cities are slowly opening up such as Toronto, Mexico City, and Tokyo, while the US embassy in Beijing is scheduling visa interviews as early as July 2020.
He said, “It seems like sporadically the State Department is starting to reopen embassies. You can get an appointment now, I think, in Beijing for an F-1 visa in July.”
“It’s not like you can go next week to get your visa, but you’re at least able to schedule at a reasonable time before classes start. The main concern is [that] we can send you the I-20 but if the embassy isn’t open … then you’re in a country that doesn’t have appointments right now. I think for a lot of students, that’s probably a little scary.”
Even when embassies and consulates open for visa interviews, it is expected that there will be social distancing measures in place for several months. This means that there could be reduced interview slots and fewer applicants allowed in the embassy at a given time.
Since the fall semester in the US is likely to be delayed or conducted online, don’t fret if you expect to face delays due to your visa application.
As these are unprecedented times, we’ll have to simply wait and see how the situation unfolds in countries over the next couple of months.
For now, stay vigilant for news from embassies and the international student office at your university so you can be prepared.