Guest Post

Processing Your Student Visa: A Guide for Popular Study Abroad Destinations 

POSTED ON 06/21/2024 BY Kainaaz Mistry, OneVasco

student visas for popular study-abroad destinations like the US, the UK and Canada

Studying abroad is a transformative experience that allows students to expand their horizons, immerse themselves in diverse cultures, and pursue academic passions. In 2023, the US issued 130,839 visas to Indian students, a 14 percent increase from the previous year. The UK granted 142,848 sponsored study visas to Indians, a 54 percent increase from June 2022. Similar trends were observed for Canada. But despite this rise, many applications still face rejection. Therefore, understanding the intricacies of the visa application process is crucial for aspiring students.

In this comprehensive guide, Kainaaz Mistry, Lead Operations of Education Services from OneVasco, a visa concierge service and a subsidiary of VFS Global, reveals the steps involved in obtaining student visas for the US, UK, and Canada. She offers valuable insights and practical tips for prospective international students.

Navigating the Student US Visa Process

The US offers three types of student visas: the M-1 Visa, the J-1 Visa, and the F1 visa. The M-1 Visa is for vocational or technical training institutions, and the J-1 Visa supports cultural and educational exchanges for students and professionals in certified programmes. The F-1 Visa, on the other hand, is a non-immigrant visa for students enrolled in full-time degree programmes at US colleges or universities. After graduation, F-1 Visa holders may be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows you to work in a field related to your studies for up to 12 months. Graduates in STEM fields may extend this by an additional two years. If you don’t receive an extension or additional training, you must return home within 60 days of graduation.

How to apply for an F-1 Visa?

1) Determine your eligibility: 

To be eligible for an F-1 Visa, you must be accepted by a university certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Financial stability is another essential requirement. You must demonstrate sufficient funds to cover your tuition fees and living expenses throughout your stay. Typically, a letter from your bank endorsing that you can afford the education should suffice. You must also prove that you have strong ties to your home country, indicating a clear intention to return after completing your studies. This aspect is crucial as it reassures the visa authorities of your temporary stay for educational purposes. 

2) Obtain your I-20 form:

To receive your I-20, you must provide your school with your passport details, proof of financial capability to cover your education and living expenses and your academic records. Additionally, you must pay the $350 I-901 SEVIS fee, which is mandatory for all international students. Once you’ve submitted all the required documents and paid the SEVIS fee, your school will issue your Form I-20. Keep this form secure, as it’s essential for your visa application and when you enter the US. 

3) Completing the Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160):

The next crucial step in your journey is completing the online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160. This form provides detailed information about your background, intentions for studying in the US, and your suitability for the visa. Here are a few tips to help you fill this form efficiently: 

  • Be honest and thorough. Provide comprehensive details about your travel plans and reasons for studying in the US. Treat this as an opportunity to clearly explain your goals and aspirations. The more accurate and detailed your responses are, the smoother your application process will be.
  • Submit a passport-size photo that meets the strict guidelines of the US Department of State. Avoid selfies; this photo is a formal introduction, so it needs to be perfect.
  • Before you hit the submit button, carefully review your application and double-check all the information for accuracy. Even minor errors can cause delays or complications, so ensuring everything is correct is essential. 
  • Finally, pay the visa fee, which is currently $160 and non-refundable. 

4) Schedule your visa interview:

The next step involves arranging your F-1 visa interview at a US embassy or consulate in your native country. This interview serves as a crucial rendezvous where you’ll discuss your educational aspirations and demonstrate your suitability for the visa. Navigate to the official website of the US embassy or consulate where you intend to apply. This website is your primary source of information for scheduling your visa interview. Be aware that appointment wait times may vary and be influenced by location, time of year, and visa type. Hence, applying for your visa well in advance is prudent to mitigate any uncertainties. 

Documentation such as academic transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates may be requested to substantiate your eligibility for the F-1 student visa. Furthermore, you may need to furnish your test scores, such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, or GMAT. Lastly, you must provide evidence of your financial capability to support yourself during your studies. 

5) Attend your visa interview:

Dress professionally with minimal accessories, opting for conservative attire like collared shirts, ties, suits, pantsuits, or blazers. Keep fragrances subtle or skip them altogether due to sensitivities. Maintain a well-groomed appearance with clean nails, natural makeup, and neatly styled hair to convey seriousness during the interview.

During the interview, you’ll be asked questions regarding your study objectives, school preferences, academic background, financial situation, and post-graduation aspirations. The extent of questioning varies, depending on the interviewer. 

Understanding the UK Student Visa Process

The UK visa application process is rigorous and complex. The complexity arises from specific eligibility criteria and the various visa classifications. For instance,  the Child Student Visa is for students aged 4 to 17, while the Short-term Study Visa is for those enrolled in English language courses. However, students applying for undergraduate and postgraduate courses require the Student Visa (formerly Tier 4 General Visa). Prospective applicants must meet several conditions, including furnishing evidence of acceptance by a reputable UK educational establishment, demonstrating the financial ability to cover tuition and living expenses, and meeting language proficiency standards. 

How to apply for a UK Student Visa? 

1) Determine your eligibility: 

To be eligible for the UK Student Visa, applicants must be 18 years or older. Those aged 16 or 17 require consent from their parents. This visa is typically for those applying for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Prospective students must also have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from a recognised UK educational institution. The CAS is an electronic document confirming that you have been offered an unconditional place on a course. The CAS contains a unique reference number you must include in your visa application. You must also fulfil the English language proficiency requirements through recognised language tests like IELTS or TOEFL and meet the financial requirements to cover tuition fees, living expenses, and the immigration health surcharge. 

2) Gather all essential documents: 

Preparing the necessary documents is a vital step in the visa application process. Typically, applicants require a passport that’s valid for the entire duration of their stay, the CAS document, financial documents to prove their ability to cover tuition fees, accommodation and healthcare, and academic qualifications. Remember, the specific document requirements may vary based on your circumstances and the requirements set by the UK government. It’s essential to consult the official UK government website or seek guidance from a visa consultancy like OneVasco for accurate and up-to-date information.

3) Submit the online application:

Once you have gathered all the necessary documents, it’s time to complete the online visa application, primarily through the UK Visas and Immigration website. You will need to create an account to complete the application. Always provide accurate and honest information while filling in the details. Double-check all the information before hitting the submit button to avoid any mistakes or discrepancies. Take your time, review the information carefully, and seek assistance if needed.

4) Pay the application fee:

After completing your online application, you will need to settle the visa application fee, the sum of which hinges on the nature and duration of your chosen course. Use the online payment system to facilitate this transaction and retain a copy of the payment confirmation for future records. Note that the visa application fee is non-refundable. 

5) Pay for the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS):

As part of the visa application process, you must pay the IHS, which is essentially your medical insurance. You must finalise the payment for your immigration application within a 30-minute timeframe. The healthcare surcharge is payable solely via debit or credit card during this process. Furthermore, you’ll be prompted to add specific details, such as the start and end dates of your course dates. Additionally, you must provide the information and details of individuals you intend to join or remain within the UK unless they possess UK citizenship, EU-settled status, or permanent permission to stay in the UK. If you’re joining someone in the UK, ensure you have their visa expiry date or IHS reference number if available. Following payment, you’ll receive an email containing an IHS reference number, which will be displayed on-screen. Remember that this reference number is single-use, so a new one is required if you reapply. Lastly, complete your application form and settle the relevant visa or immigration application fee.

6) Book and attend your biometrics appointment:

Sharing your biometrics is essential to the UK Student Visa application process. Book an appointment at the designated centre. During this appointment, your fingerprints and a digital photograph will be captured. Schedule this appointment as soon as you’ve your online application. Bring all necessary documents to the application centre, including your passport and appointment confirmation. Follow the guidance provided by the centre staff and cooperate fully during the biometrics process. 

7) Attend the visa interview if invited:

This interview aims to evaluate your genuine intent to pursue studies in the UK and validate the information furnished in your application. Expect questions regarding your chosen course, educational institution, study intentions, and financial situation if called upon. To prepare for the interview, you may want to rehearse common interview queries and ensure you clearly comprehend your course and career aspirations. Your attire should be professional. Despite being intimidating,  the interview presents an opportunity to exhibit your passion and dedication towards your academic pursuits in the UK.

8) Track your visa status:

 To monitor the progress of your application, use the reference number provided and access the UK Visas and Immigration website. Expect potential delays, particularly during peak application periods, and stay in touch with your visa consultancy or directly contact the UK Visas and Immigration for any necessary updates or clarifications. Throughout this process, it’s crucial to maintain patience and understanding. Use this waiting period to finalise any outstanding preparations for your upcoming journey to the UK.

Simplifying the Canada Student Visa Process

Canada’s appeal to international students extends beyond academic excellence to its diverse cultural mosaic, which enriches the overall student experience. Institutions across the country offer various programmes in various disciplines, fostering innovation, research, and global perspectives. For many international students, studying in Canada represents an opportunity for personal growth, professional development, and exposure to a welcoming and inclusive society. The country offers a Short-term Visa for programmes lasting six months or less and Co-op Work Permits for students participating in cooperative education programmes. However, students pursuing degree programmes require a Study Permit and a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV). 

How to apply for a Canada Study Permit? 

1) Determine your eligibility: 

The study permit is essential for commencing studies at institutions recognised as Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs). DLIs encompass schools or universities sanctioned by provincial or territorial governments to host international students. While all primary and secondary schools in Canada automatically qualify as DLIs, not all universities or educational institutions hold this certification. To verify whether a specific university or educational institution is a DLI, refer to this link for detailed information. Students must have a Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from their DLI. 

Following the implementation of a new cap on international student admissions in January 2024, international students now require a Provincial Allocation Letter (PAL) alongside their LOA to apply for study permits. The study cap, set to approve up to 360,000 study permits in 2024, is allocated among Canada’s provinces and territories based on their respective populations. The PAL serves as a verification mechanism whereby provinces confirm that admitting a specific international student contributes to their allocated quota of international students. 

2) Assemble your documents: 

Several documents are required to support your application for a study permit in Canada. These include a scan of your passport to verify its validity and travel history.  Ensure your passport is valid for the entire duration of your stay. It should contain sufficient blank pages for visa stamps. Additionally, letters from the court and police in your home country must demonstrate a clean criminal record. A Declaration Letter addressed to the Government of Canada explaining why you should be granted a visa and study permit is essential. You must include two photographs meeting the Canada Photo Requirements alongside results from the Immigration Medical Examination (IME). Financial documentation demonstrating your ability to cover tuition and living expenses is crucial, including bank statements, proof of student loans, paid tuition and housing fees, scholarships, or other funding sources. If it’s your first application, you won’t need a Unique Client Identifier (UCI), but if you’ve applied before, provide the document number of your study permit found in correspondence from the Canadian Government. 

Following the implementation of a new cap on international student admissions by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in January 2024, prospective international students planning to study in Canada now require a Provincial Allocation Letter (PAL) alongside their LOA to apply for study permits. The study cap, set to approve up to 360,000 study permits in 2024, is allocated among Canada’s provinces and territories based on their respective populations. The PAL serves as a verification mechanism whereby provinces confirm that admitting a specific international student contributes to their allocated quota of international students. 

3) Create GC KEY and complete the online form: 

When applying for a study permit, the application must be completed online, regardless of whether you are outside Canada or already residing within the country. The only exceptions where paper applications are permissible include individuals who have a disability that hinders their ability to apply online or those who possess identity or travel documents specifically designated for non-national residents, refugees, or stateless persons. You must first create a GC Key and complete the online application form. Creating a GC Key involves visiting the Government of Canada’s official website, registering by providing your personal details, and setting up security questions. Once your GC Key is set up, log in to your account to access the study permit application section. Here, you’ll fill out the application form online, designed to be faster and more convenient than traditional paper applications. Be prepared to add your passport details, educational background, and specifics about your intended studies in Canada. Make sure to upload necessary documents like your passport, letter of acceptance from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI), proof of financial support, and any other required materials. Review all entered information carefully before submitting your application electronically through your GC Key account to ensure accuracy and completeness.

4) Pay the application fee: 

Paying the application fee for a Canadian Study Permit is a crucial step in the process. The cost, which totals approximately CAD 235, covers embassy processing fees and biometrics, ensuring your application can be properly assessed and processed. It’s essential to have a valid credit card ready for online payments when submitting your application. You must pay the fee through the official Government of Canada website or designated payment portal. Upon completing the payment, ensure you retain the receipt as proof, as it may be required during the application process and for future reference. Double-check that all payment details are accurate to avoid delays in processing your visa application.

5) Submit your biometrics: 

Submitting your biometrics is necessary, depending on your nationality, when applying for a Canadian student visa. Biometrics include providing your fingerprints and a photograph, which are used to verify your identity and ensure the security of your application. Once you’ve submitted your visa application online, you will receive specific instructions on where to go for your biometrics appointment. This appointment must be scheduled at a designated biometric collection service point, such as a visa application centre (VAC) or an Application Support Centre (ASC). It’s essential to follow these instructions carefully to complete this part of the application process. Biometric data collection helps Canadian authorities confirm your identity and maintain the integrity of the visa system, facilitating smoother processing of your visa application.

6) Prepare for a visa interview: 

An interview may be required in certain instances as part of the study permit application process. This interview further evaluates your study intentions, connections to your home country, and financial capability. It’s essential to prepare thoroughly by reviewing all aspects of your application and ensuring your supporting documents are comprehensive and accurate. The interview allows you to demonstrate your genuine motivation to study in Canada and your readiness to comply with visa requirements. Authorities will typically notify you if an interview is necessary and provide instructions on how to prepare. 

7) Processing time: 

The processing time for your study permit application can vary depending on several factors, including the volume of applications received and your circumstances. Typically, it takes approximately 13 weeks (doesn’t include the time you need for biometrics). However, this timeline is not guaranteed and may differ. Submit your application as soon as possible to avoid hiccups. Keeping track of your application status and responding promptly to any requests can also help expedite the processing of your study permit.

8) Preparing for arrival: 

Once your visa is approved, you will receive a Port of Entry (POE) Letter of Introduction. Present this letter to the immigration official upon arrival in Canada, along with your passport and other required documents. Upon arrival, the immigration officer will issue your study permit, so ensure you have all your documents ready for inspection.

Navigating the student visa process for popular study-abroad destinations can be complex. That’s why The Red Pen has recently partnered with OneVasco, a visa concierge service that simplifies your visa application with personalised assistance. You may also want to read their blog Your Ultimate Guide to Student Visas: Types, Timelines, and Tips. They help you fill and submit visa forms and even pre-fill forms for future applications. Avail OneVasco’s visa services today!

 A premier provider of visa concierge services, OneVasco is a subsidiary of VFS Global, Asia’s largest visa outsourcing company, serving 67 governments worldwide. Their deep understanding of visa complexities provides a streamlined, hassle-free experience.