Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.
Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.

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F-1 Student Visas: Guide for Indian Students

If you are wondering how to apply for a US visa from India, read our guide for Indian students and start the process to get your F-1 visa.

A female Indian student sitting with her arms folded on a stack of books in a library.

In 2019, there were more than 200,000 students from India studying in the United States, a nearly 3% increase from 2018—and more than double the number from just six years ago. Before their arrival in the US, they all had to apply for a US visa in India. 

If you are an Indian student who also hopes to attend college in America, our one-stop guide to US student visas for Indian nationals will go over how to apply for a US visa, where you can conduct your interview, and what you need to know before you leave and after you arrive in the United States. 

How to apply for a US visa in India

First things first: before you can apply for your F-1 visa, you have to be accepted into a degree program at an accredited US institution of higher education. (You can read all about the college research and application process here.)

Once you have been accepted, it is time to start the US student visa process. It costs approximately $500 USD to obtain your F-1 student visa. The cost is broken down into two fees: the I-901 SEVIS fee ($350) and the DS-160 form fees ($160). You must apply for your visa within 120 days of your program start date, but you should take care not to wait too long after you receive your acceptance letter, because the process can take two months. 

For the interview requirement, the current wait time is between 12 calendar days (Chennai/Madras) and 36 calendar days (Hyderabad). Wait times fluctuate, so be sure to schedule your US visa appointment as soon as possible. You can check the projected wait times at the US Department of State website. 

If you are looking for more information on how to apply, including documents required for F-1 visas and other US student visa requirements, be sure to read our step-by-step guide to the visa process, as well as our F-1 visa interview questions, interview preparation tips, and advice

What if I am too late to schedule my visa interview?

If you are late to the US visa application process, do not worry—US consulates and embassies have an expedited interview appointment option for students who are about to start their university programs. But first, you must go through the regular process.

To start, complete the online written portion of your application (DS-160), pay the application fee, and schedule your appointment for the first available time, even if it is too late for your program start date. Once this initial paperwork is complete, the consulate will consider your request for a closer appointment date. 

To submit an expedited request, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends you reach out to the embassy or consulate where you will conduct your interview to make an appointment for an expedited meeting. You can email the embassy your request for an expedited interview or get in touch with the India call center by phone. The embassy will email you with further instructions after you submit your request, generally within two days. 

Where can I schedule my visa interview?

There are several US consulates and embassies in India where your interview can take place. Here is a list to get you started:

What if my visa application is denied?

If your visa application has been denied by the US, that decision is final, and you cannot appeal. The good news is that you can reapply, and you can apply for a waiver of ineligibility. 

If you are denied an F-1 visa, it is essential to find out why. For instance, if you are denied because you cannot prove you have the means to finance your education, you know what you have to fix the next time around. Many visas are denied because of missing or inadequate paperwork. When you find out why you were denied, you can fix the problem before your next interview.

From India to the US: by the numbers

India is the second-most popular country of origin for international students and exchange visitors in the US, behind China. Most of the students from India—about 94,000—study at the graduate level. The next-highest group is students with an internship on OPT (Optional Practical Training) qualifications; these students may be still be enrolled at their US university or may have recently finished their studies. 

Approximately 80% of all students from India travel to the US to pursue a course of study in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), while 10% come to study business. The most popular states for international students are California, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania, each hosting more than 50,000 students from different countries. 

While the US Department of State does not release the number of applications requested and the number denied, they do say that more than 816,000 total visas were granted from US embassies and consulates in India in 2019, a 6% drop from 2018. 

What else do students from India need to know before they apply for a visa?

International F1 visa holders are not required by law to have an international medical or health insurance plan; however, having health insurance is always a good idea for peace of mind. Further, most universities in the US require an active insurance plan before you enroll in classes.

The following Shorelight partner-universities require mandatory active health insurance plans for their students:

Most universities offer health insurance plans, and some even automatically enroll international students in the school plan. You have the option to waive the school plan in favor of another acceptable plan based on the requirements of the university you attend. For instance, some schools require a minimum coverage amount of $100,000. Adelphi University’s school-sponsored insurance program for the 2019-20 academic year costs each student $2,940 and is billed in your tuition statement. 

Students are required to enroll in health insurance before the start of classes, usually in August for the fall semester. 

How long is my F-1 visa good for?

Students on F-1 visas are allowed to stay in the United States for 60 days after their university program ends, according to the Department of State. Authorized exceptions for work, internships, or continued learning are available. If work or another reason has you staying in the US for longer than authorized on your I-20 form, you may apply for an extension through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) form I-539. The fee for extending your stay is $370, plus an $85 biometric services fee (e.g., the cost to take and process your fingerprints). 

Can I transfer to another college in the United States?

International students on F-1 visas may transfer to different schools within the United States. To do so, talk with your designated school officer (DSO) before applying. To successfully transfer, you must maintain your F-1 status without interruption. You are technically considered a student of your first university until your transfer release date—or the day when your DSO officially moves you to the new college. Students can also apply for a change of status if they need a different visa type for continued schooling or an accepted work program.

Can I travel internationally on an F-1 visa? 

Yes, you are permitted to leave and re-enter the United States on your F-1 visa, but you must have a valid passport for at least six months into the future. Some countries are excepted from this rule, and citizens from these countries only need to be sure that their passport is valid at the time of re-entry. If your passport is set to expire, be sure to contact your home country’s embassy for renewal information. In addition to your passport, your visa must be valid at the time of re-entry. Your visa stamp does not have to be valid for six months after re-entry like your passport does. 

In addition to your passport with valid visa stamp, you should also bring the following documents if you intend on leaving and re-entering the United States:

  • Your I-20: make sure your DSO endorses your I-20 for travel and signs it before you leave.

  • Financial documentation: you may have to prove again your ability to support yourself while studying.

Remember, you cannot travel outside the United States for more than five months on your visa. You are permitted to travel within the United States as you wish. 

Can I work while I study in the United States?

An F-1 visa is for full-time students. It is not a work visa, and, as a student, you are not permitted to work in the United States for most forms of employment. There are exceptions to the rule, most of which cover internships and work related to your studies. 

Here is a complete list of employment paths for international students:

  1. Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

  2. On-campus employment

  3. Severe economic hardship

The first step to working on an F-1 visa is to talk with your DSO. Your DSO will have to approve and register any employment you take, so it is a good idea to communicate with yours throughout your search for work. In addition, your DSO can help answer questions and find eligible positions. For most work, you will have to be enrolled and active in your university program for more than 12 months. Your Shorelight advisor can help you navigate F-1 visa employment restrictions as well, so be sure to reach out with any questions you may have. 

Shorelight is here to help

There are a lot of steps to studying overseas. In addition to applying for a visa, you have to find the right school for your interests and complete all your paperwork before the deadline. Do not worry if you feel overwhelmed. Your Shorelight advisor is experienced and available to help you navigate the visa process, as well as all other aspects of studying in the United States. Reach out today to schedule an appointment and take the first step to secure your spot at a university in the US.

For more information about how to apply for a US student visa in India, contact a Shorelight education counselor >