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US Citizenship 101 for International Students

If there’s a word every international student abhors, it’s ‘visa’. There’s something about this innocent looking, four lettered entity that just sends my kind into stress-induced sweats and breakouts. You think I'm exaggerating? Alright then, next time my friends take a sprint in the opposite direction of the visa office, I’ll videotape it just for you.

It’s not that we’re scared or nervous or anything of the sort, no. Our visa-repelling nature is rooted in the fact that, honestly, the process of getting it and keeping it alive and well is a pain. The thing is though, it’s only a pain if you don’t know what you’re getting into, which is why US Citizenship 101 was developed by me, yours truly, to alleviate the visa allergies that all international students, including myself, contract at some point.

First thing is first: you have to know your visas. As with all creatures, there’s not just one type of visa out there- there are tons. Of course, many of these cater to tourists and business people, the sickly, etc. Visa is somewhat of a broad term, and it covers ground for every person out there. Thankfully, these can be filtered into three specific types that are relevant for international students: the F1, J1, or M1 visas. The most commonly sought after one is the F1. This visa is the one that international students wanting to attend university in the US must get. It requires the individual to be a full-time student and to finish his/her studies when indicated, and when it comes to the privilege of working, F1 visa holders can either work part-time or work on campus. The J1 visa is quite similar as it requires the same things and also gives room for part-time employment. However, the M1 visa is a little different. This one is for vocational studies, and doesn’t allow for the holder to engage in any job whatsoever (sufficient funds must be proved).

After you’ve established which visa you need, make sure you have the pre-requisites to apply for the visa. This part is pretty easy. Basically, you need to make sure you hold a valid acceptance letter from the university or school you wish to attend. This is necessary because this will be the confirmation that you indeed are an international student and not some farce. Secondly, work alongside your parents and/or sponsor to calculate whether your present funds will be enough to finance your entire stay in the United States. It’s important that future income is not being relied on, as an officer will not be able to trust that it’ll find its way to you in the end. Therefore, rely only on what is available now. Lastly comes health insurance. Although not as important as finances, the security of having health services available in your new home is pressing not only for the application, but for you in general.

Now comes the time for the actual application. Although this used to be difficult and confusing, the US’s recent decision to make it an online application has made the process a much smoother one. In short, all one has to do is fill in a special form (which is long, I’m not going to lie), then create an account and pay for the visa fee, and then schedule an interview at the embassy nearest to you. Keep in mind that the information given in the form has to be accurate. There’s no room for mistakes, so be aware of the delicacy of the issue. When attending the interview, there are a couple of things that you need to remember. First of all, bring every possible document they might ask you for. This means you have to make a visit to the printer to get a copy of your acceptance letter, bank statements, parent’s proof of employment, previous transcripts, etc. You will also need specifically sized pictures with a specific background color, so pay attention to the online descriptions! Remember to be relaxed, well dressed, and honest. The officers know how to do their job, so with proper preparation out of the way, getting your visa shouldn’t be a problem.

Photo Credit: OpenClipartVectors
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