Saudi Gazette spoke with Robin A. Busse, Non-Immigrant Visa Chief and David B. Rochford, Vice Consul, both at the American Embassy in Riyadh, to find out what it takes to get that stamp of approval to study in the most sought after education destination in the world. Following is a text of the interview:
What do you feel are the most common mistakes that student applicants make while applying for student (F-1/F-2) visas?
The most common mistake we see student applicants make is applying late. We strongly encourage students to schedule an interview for their visa 3-4 months before classes begin. Almost every student knows six months ahead of time that they want to study in the US, so it is their responsibility to apply early. While the US Embassy gives priority to student applications, officers cannot process visas in a timely manner without the cooperation of the applicants.
With three application centers in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dhahran, which place is the preferred center for students to apply?
The wait time for appointments for the Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran varies according to resources and time of year. We strongly encourage student applicants to apply at the location closest to their residence. Student applicants should plan ahead and schedule their interview with plenty of time to meet their deadline. There is a mistaken perception that some locations are easier than others, but 93 percent of Saudi visa applicants are issued visas Kingdom-wide, one of the highest issuance rates of any country to which the United States issues visas.
Assuming a student has received an admission confirmation, what is the best time to apply for the visa?
Ideally, the original I-20 should be presented at the time of the interview, but if it is not available at the time of the interview, a copy of the I-20 is sufficient for the interview as long as the student presents the original, signed I-20 upon arrival in the US. The interview should be scheduled 3-4 months before classes begin. If a student schedules an interview within that time, and still has not received the I-20, he/she should contact the school and ask for the I-20 to be emailed in time for the interview. If students wait to receive the I-20 before scheduling an interview, they risk not having enough time for visa processing if shorter than 3-4 months before classes begin. Though emergency appointments are available, they quickly fill up and may not be available in time.
What are the most important documents that an applicant should have?
A complete list of documents can be found in Arabic and English on the US Embassy website. These include
- the I-20 from the school
- non-refundable visa application fee
- and bank records going back three months.
What documents are not mandatory but if brought along could ease the application process?
High school and university transcripts are excellent proof of a student’s credibility. We want to make sure that students are capable of succeeding in the US, and these are helpful supporting documents.
Should applicants have a set of photocopies of all original documents that they bring along?
It is always best to have the original document, but do not delay your interview because you only have a copy. The officer will ask you for the original of any document if it is needed at the interview. A copy of the I-20 will suffice for the interview, but you must have the original at the US port of entry.
Besides keeping all electronic items away, what other things should an interviewee keep in mind?
Security at the Embassy is similar to that at any airport. Please leave all electronic devices (cell phone, laptop, music players, flash drives, etc.) and any liquids in your car. All applicants and their bags will be scanned, and gender rules are respected during the security check.
What are the most common errors students make in the visa application process?
The biggest mistake students make is coming unprepared. A student who does not show up for the interview with appropriate paperwork, and has no idea where or what s/he wants to study is not a credible student. Students are expected to have a certain degree of knowledge about their academic plans. Many students do not properly fill out the DS-160 visa application form, leaving out crucial information that actually will delay their visa processing. Students should take care in filling out the form and answer all questions completely and truthfully. While some applicants choose to have a vendor fill out the DS-160, some vendors do a sloppy job of filling out the form which at best will delay the student’s visa processing or, in the worst case, could cause major problems.
How different is the application process for a student applying for a Master’s degree program?
The process is essentially the same. The officer will probably ask for undergraduate transcripts.
What does a student do if he doesn’t receive a response within 2-4 weeks of his appointment?
More than 73 percent of applicants receive their visas within 4-6 weeks. A student who applied the recommended 3-4 months ahead of the start of classes has a 93 percent likelihood of making his start date on time. The waiting process can be stressful, but the US Embassy strives to ensure every student can realize their academic goals. After six weeks, applicants can send an email or make a phone inquiry regarding the status of his case.
What are the reasons for rejection of a student visa? How often is a student visa rejected?
As long as the student is prepared, and answers honestly, this should be the final step to a successful academic career in the United States. The vast majority of student visas are approved. A student has the best chance of being issued a visa when he or she is financially secure, and can demonstrate that he or she is a qualified student. It is important to take the interview seriously, but there is no need to be nervous. Interviewing officers speak Arabic, and they are very friendly.
The name on the I-20 Form, provided by the university or mahad (institute), must match the spelling on the passport. If it does not match, the student should contact the school and ask for a corrected version. Bear in mind that Saturdays and Sundays are considered the weekend in the US and there are significant time differences between Saudi Arabia and the US. If a corrected version is not received before the interview, the officer will put the visa application on hold until the corrected version is provided. This is one of the biggest reasons why student visas are delayed, so students must pay attention to the paperwork.
– Saudi GazetteOn the day of the appointmentThe visa interview is unique to the American visa process, and one that every student applicant has worldwide. Each nation processes visas according to their laws. The United States gives every applicant the opportunity to speak to an American officer in person and ask questions about their case.
The purpose of the interview is to hear from the applicant that the information provided in the visa application is accurate, and that the purpose of travel to the US is for the reasons they’ve stated, as the US continues to attract qualified students to more than 3000 US institutions of higher learning.
During the interview, the officer wants to establish that each applicant has the financial means to pay for their education and living expenses while in the US (usually not a problem for Saudi students),
and that they are credible students (supported by academic record and school transcripts). The visa interview is a great opportunity for students to share their plans, and explain any problems and special circumstances. This is a courtesy we extend at US Embassies and Consulates worldwide. The US and Saudi Arabia are old friends, and the interviewing officer wants Saudis to visit and study in the United States. To that purpose, we have temporarily extended visa interview hours to include weekends, and created special interview days specifically for students.