Friday, 5 June 2015

Acquiring a Visa

If you're new, please read this post first: Initial Steps to Studying Abroad and/or watch this video: How to Study Abroad: Introduction and Options

Tip 1: get a folder and keep everything important in one place.

Since I am going to study in the United States and therefore have the experience of applying to a J-1 Visa myself (the visa you require for a study abroad exchange in the USA) this post will be specifically for this visa only. However, for those of you applying for a different visa, here are a few links to consider:

  • Australia - follow the 'Study in Australia' link.
  • New Zealand - I couldn't see a 'Student' section anywhere so please ask the Coordinator for help on this one.
  • Canada - the friendliest official website I've ever seen!
  • Europe -  most of you wont need a visa for Europe but here's some information you might want to read just in case.
  • Other world - here is a website for global visa requirements!

I'll be a Visa Expert by the end of this blog post!

So now I come to you fresh from my visa interview (yesterday) and am happily able to announce my positive outcome. My visa should be with me, along with my passport, in about a week! Wahoo!

When you accept your host institution through ISEP, they will send you the first document you need in order to apply for your visa (the DS-2019 form) and a helpful list of things you need to acquire. I'm going to regurgitate that into my own words and add a few more useful hints, tips and more importantly, website links that took me the longest to find!

Either way;- Good luck!

So what is a J-1 Visa and how do I get one?

"A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange. All applicants must meet eligibility criteria and be sponsored either by a private sector or government program." 

So for ISEP applicants, you are sponsored by ISEP not the host institution that has accepted you. So for me, that means Northern Arizona University (NAU) is my host institution but ISEP is my sponsor, and I will be in the Unites States as a Non-Immigrant Exchange Visitor. 

"The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs." Click here for more J-1 specific information.

In order to obtain a J-1 visa, you must complete several online forms, pay two fees and own a valid passport before then applying for a visa interview. For the specifics, please continue reading.

Remember that you are an EXCHANGE VISITOR!

Tip 2: don't make my mistake and apply for the wrong visa!

J-1 is for Exchange Visitors (YOU WANT THIS ONE)
... F-1 is for Students (YOU DON'T WANT THIS ONE)

So what do I need in order to apply for my visa in the first place? 

In short, you will need the following documents:

  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months past the program end date).
    So for me, it needed to be valid at least until November 2016!
  • Original DS-2019 form, signed by ISEP and yourself.
    I signed mine at my interview but you should really do it before.
  • SEVIS I-901 Fee (You need to make this payment ASAP).
    Make sure you keep the receipt extra safe as you will need it later.
  • DS-160 Form (including a 2x2 inch passport-like photograph)
    This is where you need to pay extra attention and tick the J-1 Exchange Visitors box.
  • MRV Visa Fee (You need to make this payment before you can apply for your appointment).
    This fee is non-transferable and non-refundable so make sure all of your information is correct before paying for it.
Okay.. and how do I get all of these things?

If you do not have one, you need to get one as soon as possible. If you have one but it runs out before the specified time, you need to renew it ASAP as well. To do either, follow these links: Renew or Replace or Apply.

Original DS-2019 Form
This form is extremely important so keep it safe and neat. You will need it throughout your exchange, not only during your visa application! If you were to loose it, you must ask for a new one from ISEP but this can take a very long time.

SEVIS I-901 Fee
This fee is currently $180 and can be paid and submitted through this website. The fee may be different according to your own personal situation so please be prepared for this. Make sure that this is also for a J-1 visa and not any of the other options. Keep the receipt safe.

DS-160 Form
This form is where I accidentally put F-1 instead of J-1 so please be aware of that, and don't make the same mistake! It can be completed here and you are required to fill out a rather long application, including lots of seriously grim questions such as "have you ever committed genocide?". You are also required to add a photograph which took me a rather long time because of the weird way in which they have set it up. Basically, the photo zooms in automatically and wont let you zoom out so you have to take a photo from further away than you might originally think; hope that helps.

MRV Visa Fee
This is the one which took us the longest to find and was the most confusing. Everywhere spoke about the (currently) $160 fee, but nowhere told you how to pay! It turns out that you can do it over the phone by ringing this number 020 3608 6998 if you are ringing from the United Kingdom, otherwise follow this link. Alternatively, you can pay it online, instructions for phone and online here, once you get to the payment page in your visa interview application (details to follow).

Me - originally looking for all of the links above.

So how do I set up a Visa interview?  

As I mentioned before, there is an online visa appointment application! We originally tried to do it over the phone but they just told us to go here. You need to set up an account and make sure you remember your password. You can apply for more than one person, even if you aren't related, from the same account.

The application asks for your details, your confirmation numbers from the list of documents above and it asks you for your MRV payment or a confirmation number from the phone-payment option. There will be a drop down menu for you to select both a location for the interview (we chose London) and for an appointment date and time. My suggestion is always to choose the earliest date with a mid-day sort of time to it. This will hopefully mean that you can get to London in time for your interview (we left Chester at 6.29 am for an 11.30 am appointment) as well as also getting back from London in time for bed (especially if like me, you have Work Based Learning the next day!).

Right at the end of your application, you can also pay extra (about £18.00) to have your passport delivered to your front door instead of having to go to a collection point. In my opinion, this is well worth the money as I want my passport back as soon as possible! This is not possible to change, once you submit your application so think carefully and double check everything before you accept!

Tip 3: remember to write down all of your confirmation codes, PIN numbers,
the time, date and address of your appointment and all in one secure place!

So what do I need to bring to my actual interview? 

In short, you will need the following documents:
  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months past the program end date).
    You will have to leave this at the Embassy so keep this in mind when booking any other travel, e.g. summer holidays, or for me; going home!
  • Original DS-2019 form, signed by ISEP and yourself.Copies are not accepted so do not loose this form.
  • SEVIS I-901 Payment ReceiptI printed this one out twice so I would still have a copy when they took it from me.
  • DS-160 Form (printed in colour)
    This is what they look at when you first arrive so have it near the front of your documents.
  • Appointment Instructions (received on completion of appointment application)
    They also ask to see this when you first arrive.
  • MRV Visa Payment Receipt
    I also printed this one out twice.
  • J-1 Objections Letter (as provided by ISEP in your acceptance pack)
    I didn't actually get asked for this, but you are required to bring it.
  • Acceptance Letter from Host Site (provided by ISEP)
    I didn't get asked for this either but it's useful to have to prove that you are telling the truth.
  • Proof of Funding (Bank Statement, Student Finance or other similar)
    You need to show that you can support yourself whilst at your placement. Do not therefore bring a Bank Statement where you are into an overdraft. At best, bring an overall statement of what is in each bank you have open. If you have some savings, prove it. (Even if those savings aren't actually for this particular experience).
  • Proof of ISEP Health Insurance Enrollment
    I didn't get asked for this either, but it's useful to prove that you will be looked after whilst on placement and that you have thought about the fact that the NHS is not in your host location.
Tip 4: dress smart for your interview but wear comfortable shoes.

I also brought with me:
  • Proof of my Current Address
    In the form of another bank statement letter and my invitation to vote.
  • Proof of my intent to return to England (and therefore leave the USA)
    I just brought along my 4 year enrollment acceptance letter from the University of Chester.
  • Two passport photographs
    I had these spare and thought it a good idea - just in case!
  • Receipt for my return to home address passport  payment
    Just in case they try to tell me that I haven't paid!
  • All of my other documents (Basically my whole folder)
    These documents were everything that I have about my host institution and the placement year in general. I thought this would be good if they asked lots of questions.
Tip 5: eat and go to the toilet before you arrive but also bring a snack.

At the actual interview (from my experience)
On arrival, there was a queue outside the building that we joined after having our documents checked. We were dressed smarter than most people but it made me feel better prepared. A man asked us to put belts, phones, and anything else metal on us into a plastic bag. The queue moved at average speed and before we knew it, out documents where checked again, our bags were scanned similar to the way they do it at airports and we were told to walk around and in to the main building.

Here we were greeted by a reception desk who checked us in and gave us a unique number. A short walk from the reception brought us to an airport-style waiting lounge except with a huge screen on one end calling out numbers with a nerve-racking 'ding' noise. The screen also had useful information about the process to come. 

We waited for about 1 hour and 30 minutes before my number was called up (Simon was called up about 10 minutes later). The man was friendly and asked to see my documents. After scanning my finger tips, he told me to sit back down and wait for my number again.

We waited another 2 hours before our numbers were called again (Simon was called about 30 minutes after me this time). This time I had to go further down the corridor to a new selection of booths (the interview stations are laid out like a bank, with glass windows). There, the man asked me a few questions such as "tell me about your placement", "what are you studying" and "how are you funding this exchange" before telling me that my visa was approved and that I should expect it in a week.

It all happened a hell of a lot faster than I expected it to, but I suspect that we got lucky. I have heard that some people get questioned for hours, so I guess that's why you have to bring all of the different sets of paperwork. 

So now what?

Now you have to wait for your passport, along with your visa, to be sent back to you. For me, that took less than a week but obviously you might not get that lucky so my advice is, while you should still be looking at flights etc. I wouldn't book any until you have all of your documents back.

I will be posting about the best way to book flights soon so if you are worried about that, just stay tuned! There is now a link on the right hand side to follow this blog so feel free to click that. Also there are links above for my YouTube channel, my official Lucy's Locations Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

See you soon,

Lucy xxo

The next post in this series: Applying for Accommodation!

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.