After months of detailed applications, document collection, and visa interviews, you find out you have been denied a student visa to study in the US. While you may feel discouraged and disappointed, there is hope — and advice. We spoke with Chris Cheng — an Enrollment Services manager here at Shorelight — about what to do if your student visa is denied.
As part of his role, Cheng helps international students enroll at US universities and prepare for their visa application and interview. Every day he sees firsthand how hard students work on their student visa applications and knows how disappointing it can be to receive a denial.
Before we share his tips on how to get your F-1 visa after a rejection, let’s cover some basics about student visas in the US.
What Is a Student Visa?
A student visa allows you to study in the US. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues three types of student visas— F-1, J-1, and M-1. The one you require depends on the type of school or program you plan to attend.
You will first need to apply to and be accepted to a US university or program accredited by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Upon acceptance to an accredited program, you can apply for your student visa. The institution will provide you with an I-20 form (for F-1 and M-1 student visas) or a DS-2019 form (for the J-1). These forms list important information about your program, including start and end dates, cost breakdowns, and options for financial support.
Applying for a student visa is an involved process and requires lots of detailed documentation. Be sure you have all your paperwork in order before you begin the application process. As soon as you submit the DS-160 form, contact the local US embassy or consulate to schedule your interview. It can take weeks to secure an appointment and any delay could put your program start date at risk.
Need college application assistance to study in the USA? Contact a Shorelight education counselor.
Types of Student Visas
As a citizen of a foreign country, you will need to obtain a student visa to study in the United States. Your course of study and the type of school or program you are planning to attend will determine whether you need an F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa.
F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 student visa is the most common student visa in the US. The F-1 visa allows international students to enroll at US universities that offer academic degree-bearing programs. Language programs, high schools, and other academic programs also fall under this category.
The J-1 student visa is for international students who will attend an exchange programs at a US university or institute. The program you will be attending must be approved by the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and your enrollment must be funded by an educational or nonprofit sponsor.
The M-1 visa is intended for students pursuing nonacademic or vocational studies in the US, such as cooking school, technical programs, medical coding, cosmetology, massage therapy, plumbing, or automotive repair. The institute must be SEVP-certified. Only 1-2% of student visas fall under the M-1 category.
Most Common Reasons for Student Visa Rejection
As part of your student visa application, you will need to testify to and prove a number of things in your F-1 student visa interview, including how you will finance your education, your ties to your home country, your intent to return, your specific degree program, and why you chose your university.
There are a number of reasons for a visa to be denied. Your visa denial letter will state the reason, though it may not be overly specific, depending on the category. While Homeland Security does not release specific numbers, it is estimated that the USA visa rejection rate in 2018 was around 35%, though the percentage varies significantly by country.
Now let’s get into the most common F-1 visa rejection reasons:
Lack of Finances
If you cannot show the consular officer that you have the financial means to pay for your education in the US, you will not receive a student visa to study in the USA.
“Students are required to provide the financial documents to prove they have enough finance support for their study and living [expenses],” says Cheng. “The financial documents need to cover at least one year of expenses — including tuition, insurance, dining, living, books, and miscellaneous.”
Lack of proof of sufficient finances is one of the top F-1 visa rejection reasons. You must also be able to show you have access to funds for your entire program. In the US, bachelor programs tend to take four years and master’s programs tend to take two years.
“When students and their parents are preparing the financial statements, they also need to prepare the amount of total expense for the entire program, not only for one year, and show they have the means,” says Cheng. “If they have any siblings, they need to be very clear about how much money their siblings need as well.”
No Intent to Return Home
One of the biggest visa denial reasons is the failure to demonstrate your ties to your home country and your “intent to return home.” The consul officer conducting your visa interview will ask you about any family in the US, social circles and property in your home country, and your career plans after graduation.
“Some students can’t provide a clear answer when the visa officer asks their plans after graduation,” says Cheng. “This may cause the visa officer to doubt your intent to stay in the US. You need to explain clearly what kind of job you plan to do after graduation.”
Cheng says to have this answer fully prepared, especially if you are from a high-risk country or have relatives in the US. In your answer, you may wish to say the type of positions you plan to apply to or even name specific companies you want to work for. If you have plans to be engaged or married, or buy a home upon graduation, you should mention that as well.
False, Incorrect, or Missing Documents
Documentation that doesn’t match your original DS-160 application form or the university’s I-20 will be an immediate red flag for visa officers.
“Be sure to make the school information and academic program information exactly same as it shows on the I-20,” says Cheng. “Make sure to fill in all the experiences. The DS-160 needs the applicant to provide all the study and work experience, usually for graduate students.”
Cheng says to take note of all the documents and copies you need for the visa interview. For example, only bringing a bank statement, and not all pertinent financial statements, including parents’ salary certification, loan letters, and proof of assets could result in your visa being denied for lack of finances.
Did any information on your I-20 change after submitting your application and scheduling your visa interview? Send an update to the embassy and submit a new I-20. And of course, always pay the SEVIS (I-901) fee and bring your proof of payment to the interview.
Another of the most common visa denial reasons is choice of academic program, subpar academic performance for that field, or failure to convince the consular office of your interest in and knowledge of the program.
“The education system in the US is so different [from other countries], and many students don’t have a solid understanding regarding the programs and universities. A lot of graduate students are rejected because they can’t answer the academic-related questions well,” says Cheng. Choice of academic program can also be a flag for students from China, Russia, and other high-risk countries with a history of material patent issues.
Practice your answer in English — why you chose your area of study (also known as a major in the US) and why you want to study in the USA at your specific university. Is the faculty renowned? Does it have high program rankings for that major? Does this college strengthen your career outcomes once you return to your home country? Write down your response and know it by heart.
Your visa status is tied to your program start date. There is no set date by which your visa application has to be submitted, but you should allow up to two months for your application to be reviewed and your visa interview to be scheduled. Wait times at consulates and embassy vary from country to country, and COVID has increased wait times.
You are putting your F-1 approval at risk if the issuing consular believes you will not be able to coordinate travel and start your program on time.
Country of Origin
While your country of residence is not cause for getting your F-1 visa denied per se, certain areas of your application may be reviewed more intently than others depending on your country of origin. Visa risks vary by country, and students from certain countries will be asked different questions during their visa interview.
“For example, students from China are mostly asked [about] their academic information, but students from India are mostly questioned about the financial situation since there is a huge number of Indian students applying for education loans,” says Cheng. Other examples might be if your country of origin is not as economically developed or is less politically stable.
An education counselor trained in US visa applications can help you prepare for this question based on your country of origin, says Cheng.
Visa Interview Tips
Students from different countries with different programs of study will be asked different questions in their visa interviews, so there is no way of saying for sure what you will be asked. As we explain in our visa interview prep guide, you can expect the visa officer to cover these main topics:
Do your research and prepare your answers. We strongly recommend practicing your answers to the most commonly asked questions with a friend or family member. Also be sure all information in the application matches what you say in the interview.
Questions you might be asked include:
Why do you want to study in the US?
Have you been to the United States before?
How many different universities did you apply to?
What are your test scores?
How are you planning to finance your education?
Do you have a job or career in mind post-graduation?
Don’t memorize your answers — just rehearse them to cover main talking points, while still coming off as genuine. Practicing can also help with any nerves. Always show up on time, dress professionally, have your required documents prepared, and respond to all questions clearly and succinctly.
Can You Appeal a Visa Rejection?
One of the first questions international students ask us is if you can you appeal a US visa denial. The short and unfortunate answer is no — there is no such thing as a US visa rejection appeal.
“If the US consulate denies the F-1 visa application, that’s final. There is no appeal process,” says Cheng. But there is good news regarding what to do if your student visa is denied: you can reapply.
How to Get F-1 Visa After Rejection
After all your hard work in collecting information for your visa application and preparing for your visa interview, you will no doubt be disappointed to receive a visa rejection notice. The upside is you have been through this process and know what is involved, so it should go a bit more smoothly.
You can reapply three business days after the receipt of the denial, though we do not always advise that you reapply immediately. Often the reason your visa was denied cannot be resolved in three days.
Prepare Self Before Applying
“Students should always be clear about the reason they got a rejection,” says Cheng. Go over the paperwork with a parent, hire an education advisor, correct any errors, and gather any further documentation before starting a new application.
Your rejection notice will tell you the main category for the denial, but may not say specifically what you said in your written application or visa interview to make the consul officer question your potential risk.
Cheng points to the “214b” denial, which is a reference to section 214b of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
“This means the applicants didn’t sufficiently demonstrate to the visa officer that they qualify for the nonimmigrant visa category, but doesn’t indicate it’s because the applicant has a relative in the US, or didn’t provide a clear career plan after graduation,” he explains. “It’s important that student review everything that happened in the visa interview, ideally with an expert.”
“Once the specific visa rejection reason is figured out, students can prepare accordingly,” continues Cheng. “If it was rejected due to the lack of finances, the student needs to prepare additional financial documents that meet the financial requirement of study and explain the entire story in a concise and logical way. As long as everything is cleared and re-prepared, you have another chance!”
Reapplying for an F-1 Student Visa
The process for reapplying for an F-1 visa after rejection involves all the same steps and costs as your first application. This is where applying early the first time around will increase your chances of being approved in time. Remember the program dates on your DS-160 and I-20 have to match, and you need to allow ample time for review and interview scheduling.
There’s no way of saying for sure your second visa application will be accepted — it may just be that you do have the right finances, and you will have to reapply in another six months or a year when you have sufficient funds.
What are the chances of getting a US visa after rejection? Your chance of being approved for an F-1 student visa after rejection depends on a number of factors — visa denial reason, your major, country of origin, and program start date, to name a few. When it comes to likelihood of getting F-1 status approved after a denial, Brian Meagher, vice president of data science and strategy at Shorelight, suggests you set your expectations.
“Through analyzing the Shorelight data over the last seven years and tens of thousands of student visa appointments, we’ve seen that a student’s chance of getting a visa after already having a denial is significantly reduced,” says Meagher. “Which is to say that if a student comes from a country where 70% of students get approved, then a denial on a student’s record would reduce his/her chances down to below 20% likelihood.”
Cheng says to stay positive: “Always have hope and always be well prepared,” says Cheng. “There is always a way out, even though denials do happen, talk with your advisor, make progress, and reapply to a later [semester] if need be. Things can turn to the good side!”
How Shorelight Can Help
Shorelight works exclusively with international students, helping you apply to and succeed at US universities. Our dedicated advisors provide end-to-end services and work with you through the entire enrollment process — including a streamlined application, visa assistance, pre-arrival guidance, and on-campus services. All support services are included with tuition.
“Shorelight students historically have a higher visa success rate than the national average because we provide dedicated visa preparation services to our students,” says Cheng. Shorelight counselors give you preparation checklists and use a large database of known questions to conduct a practice visa interview.
You also have power of historical data on your team. For instance, our data analytics team examined visa approval rates in 2021 and found that students who in enrolled at a university through Shorelight had consistently higher visa approval rates.
The improved outcome percentage ranged 29% higher for students from Nigeria, to 3% higher for students from South Korea. Students from China who enrolled through Shorelight had a 95% visa success rate, compared to 84% for the national average. Students from United Arab Emirates enjoyed a 100% visa success rate for this timeframe, vs 97% for the national average.
F-1 Student Visa Approval Rate: Shorelight’s Student Success vs National Average, 2021
SOURCE: Shorelight analysis of SEVP F-1 FY2021 as of June 30, 2021, Adjusted Refusal Rates obtained via Freedom of Information Act request; Shorelight Education, all students who applied to a visa across all programs for Fall, Spring, Summer 2021. Note: This data is for informational purposes only and is not indicative of your visa success rate or your country of origin’s success rate in the future.
And we don’t just help you apply — we help you succeed. We help with your campus transition, offer ESL and academic tutoring on campus, organize cultural experiences, and, thanks to our lauded Career Services program, can help you find a job, too.
“We always put the student first,” says Cheng. “We want to help you get into your desired school, get your visa, and so much more. You the student — and your success — is all we care about.”