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Tips for Applying for a Visa

If you need to renew your visa ISSS advises that you plan ahead.  More information on visa renewal can be found on the Department of State website. Also, you can use this site to find out the current visa processing times at the consulate nearest you, but note these are only estimates.

Points to Remember When Applying for New Visa


Under the United States laws and practices, the consular officer views the visa applicant as a potential immigrant and it is up to the applicant to prove that this is not the case.  You must therefore be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the U.S.  “Ties” to your country are the things that bind you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, or financial connections (e.g. bank accounts, property, investments, etc.). The consular officer may ask about your: future employment; family or other relationships; educational objectives; your educational background; long-range goals; and career prospects in your home country.  Each person’s situation is different, of course, and there is no magical explanation or single document, certificate, or letter, which can guarantee visa issuance.  However, since the F-1 and J-1 visas are non-immigrant visas, expressing your ties to your home country are of the utmost importance.

2.  WHAT IS SECTION 214(b)?

Section 214(b) is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It states:  Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status. . .
To qualify for a visa, an applicant must meet the requirements of the INA. Failure to do so will result in a refusal of a visa under INA 214(b). The most frequent basis for such a refusal concerns the requirement that the prospective exchange visitor or student possess a residence abroad he/she has no intention of abandoning. Applicants prove the existence of such residence by demonstrating that they have ties abroad that would compel them to leave the U.S. at the end of the temporary stay. The law places this burden of proof on the applicant.  Our consular officers have a difficult job. They must decide in a very short time if someone is qualified to receive a temporary visa. Most cases are decided after a brief interview and review of whatever evidence of ties an applicant presents.


Strong ties differ from country to country, city to city, individual to individual. Some examples of ties can be a job, a house, a family, a bank account. “Ties” are the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.

Each person’s situation is different.  Our consular officers are aware of this diversity. During the visa interview they look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. In cases of younger applicants who may not have had an opportunity to form many ties, consular officers may look at the applicants specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.

The following information is based on advice offered by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.  It is intended to provide you with issues to consider while preparing for your visa interview.  For additional guidance and advice, please contact your International Student and Scholar Adviser at ISSS.  While the majority of visas are granted, it is still important to be as prepared as possible for your visa interview.

When you are interviewed, the consulate officer is looking for evidence that you intend to enter the United States to be a full time student or J exchange visitor, that you do not pose a security or safety risk to the United States and that you intend to leave the United States once you complete your program.  Be prepared to show proof that you have a permanent home outside of the U.S. (to show that you are not going to stay in the U.S. forever and that you are going back to your country after your studies are completed). Also be prepared to show that you intend to be a serious student or J exchange visitor and that the degree or research you are seeking will benefit you when you return home.

Listen carefully to the questions the embassy official will ask you.  Even if the official asks you a question that you think is strange, you must answer it. The official is usually trying to decide whether you intend to stay in the U.S. after you have completed your program. If the official thinks you plan to stay in the U.S., he or she must refuse your visa. Remember, the F and J visas are for people who intend to return to their home country. Tell the official when you are going to go home.

Be Ready To:

  • Talk about your professional development and how you will use your degree/research when you get back to your country. Explain why it is important for you to have a degree/experience from a U.S university for your future in your home country.
  • Talk about how learning English more quickly and efficiently is helped by first-hand knowledge of the American culture and interaction with many native speakers and how these skills will affect your future career goals.
  • DO NOT say that you want to go to the U.S. just because your friends and family are there or because you like American movies or some other unimportant reason.


Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English.  One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview. If you are coming to the U.S. solely to study English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country.


Be prepared to speak on your own behalf.  The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family.  Thus, you should only bring family members who are applying for dependent visas with you to the interview.  If you are a minor (under 21 years) and need your parents in case there are questions, for example, about funding, they should wait in the waiting room, and be available if the consular officer wants to speak with them.


Be prepared to articulate the reasons why you will pursue a particular course of study or research in the U.S. You should also be able to explain how this experience in the U.S. will relate to your future professional career when you return home.  This helps convince the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study/research, rather than to immigrate.


Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview.  They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first few minutes of the interview.  Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success.  Keep your answers brief and succinct.  Officials do not have a lot of time to discuss your application; they must make a quick decision. Help them by being completely prepared.


It should be clear, at a glance, to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify.  Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated.  Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, so make sure any supplementing documentation you bring is well marked and easily identifiable.  List of supplemental information was received from Consulate General of the US Embassy.  Please note, not all these documents will apply to everyone.

  • Invitation/Admission Letter: An invitation letter from Vanderbilt University.  This letter should include your supervisor or academic adviser and details regarding any work.
  • Resume: A detailed resume/CV, including your professional and academic background, and a list of all your publications.
  • Academic Transcripts: for continuing students only
  • Itinerary: An itinerary of all locations you will visit in the US, including contact names, organizations, addresses, and telephone numbers.
  • Equipment: A complete description of any equipment you plan to purchase or examine, including the equipment’s use and users.
  • Export License: An export license issued by the US Government for the equipment you plan to purchase, if applicable.
  • Research: A complete and detailed description of your current and past research, and any research you intend to conduct in the US, including a description of the practical applications of your research or study.
  • Purpose: A detailed statement of the purpose of your visit to the US
  • Funding: Name of who is funding your trip and documentation of that funding
  • Travelers: A list of all travelers who will accompany you, including family members and colleagues
  • Position: Your current job title and full description of your work, if applicable
  • Travel: Dates and locations of all your international travel for the last five-ten years, except for US travel


Applicants from countries suffering from economic problems or where many individuals have remained in the U.S. after completing their program sometimes will have more difficulties getting visas.  These applicants are more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States.


Your main purpose for coming to the United States should be to study or conduct research/teach. You must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home at the end of your program.  If your spouse is also applying for accompanying dependent visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot be employed in the United States.  While J-2 dependents can apply for work authorization, they cannot apply under the auspices of financial need.  If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his/her time while in the United States.  Volunteering in bona fide volunteer positions is permitted.


If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will be able to support themselves in your absence, especially if you are the primary source of income for your family.  If the consular officer gains the impression that your family members will need you to remit money from the United States in order to support them, your visa application may be denied.  If your family does decide to join you later, it is helpful to have them apply at the same consulate where you applied for your visa.


Do not engage the consular officer in an argument, if you are denied a visa; ask the officer for a list of documents he/she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal.  Also, try to get the reason you were denied in writing.


Information received from, NAFSA resource library.  NAFSA would like to credit Gerald A. Wunsch, Esq., 1997, then a member of the Consular Issues Working Group, and a former U.S. Consular Officer in Mexico, Suriname, and the Netherlands;  and Martha Wailes of Indiana University for their contributions to this document. NAFSA also appreciates the input of the U.S. Department of State.