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Student visa interviews: Behind the glass

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Even the most confident of students will surely be nervous when it comes time to stand before a US consular officer who will ultimately decide their fate.

ICEF Monitor takes some of the mystery out of the student visa interview process, and offers advice as to how agents can help their students when they apply for a visa.

We head straight to the source and get a US Department of State retired senior consular officer's perspective on visa processing.

Our exclusive video interview with Tony Edson reveals the thinking of consular officers as they evaluate an application and decide whether to grant or deny a visa.

Please read our accompanying article ''Student visa interviews: Behind the glass'' and watch our video interview here:

For more industry news, market intelligence, research and commentary for international student recruitment please visit, subscribe for daily or weekly updates, and follow us on Twitter

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Student visa interviews: Behind the glass

  2. 2. INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: WHAT IS US POLICY? • • • • Welcome international students Long time support of diversity Best advertisement for America is America Improves educational experience of US students as well
  3. 3. STUDENT VISAS: LEGAL REQUIREMENTS • Is a “bona fide student”; • Has a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning; • Is entering the US “temporarily and solely” for purposes of pursuing a “full course” of study; • Has a valid I-20; • Has adequate funds to pay for at least the first year of study; and, • If the I-20 indicates that English is required, the student appears to have the language skills claimed.
  4. 4. WHAT IS THE CONSULAR OFFICER THINKING? • US consular officers have tremendous discretion • Officers are NOT trying to deny visas, but must satisfy themselves that the applicant is really qualified • In some countries, a large number of applicants for all visa types may not be completely truthful about intentions
  5. 5. OTHER POSSIBLE ISSUES • • • • • • • • • • Long-term plans of 18 year olds Seeking post-graduation employment in the US SEVP- approved schools Re-adjudication of admission decisions Community colleges/ESL programs Sources of funding Available education alternatives in country of origin Use of recruiters and agents Cultural/environmental issues 214(b) and transparency
  6. 6. ATTITUDES TOWARD AGENTS • Consular officers tend to be suspicious of all agents • Although we are working on it, AIRC is not widely known • Students’ applications should be adjudicated on their own merits – should not be penalized because of choice to use an agent
  7. 7. COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM • Bipartisan bill passed Senate June 2013 • House refusing to take up bill • House preparing piecemeal bills to improve immigration and border security • Political calculus
  8. 8. KEY COMPONENTS OF SENATE BILL OF WITH INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION IMPACT • F-1: dual intent for degree seekers; new fee; public secondary schools; interoperability of SEVIS with CBP real-time • H-1B changes: Current 65K cap replaced with flexible cap (115K to 180K); 25,000 recent STEM grads exempt from cap; new fees and US worker protections; new limitations on ability of some companies to use H-1B workers • J-1 program changes: $500 fee on sponsors and new provisions for certain foreign languages • New immigrant visa point system
  9. 9. OTHER CHANGES IN DISCUSSION • Changes to use of B-1 visa in lieu of H-1B • Restrictions to J-1 SWT programs
  11. 11. CONSULAR INTERVIEW: ATMOSPHERICS • A visa interview with a US consular officer will be required. This interview will take place in a crowded waiting room through a glass window and the acoustics will likely be bad. • The consular officer will probably try to conduct at least part of the interview in English to test your English language ability, particularly if the I-20 indicates that you already have sufficient English to participate in your program. The officer may also conduct part of the interview in the local language and the officer may not be using an interpreter and may use words in unusual ways or have an unusual accent. This, and the bad acoustics, may make it difficult to understand. Do not be shy about asking for the officer to repeat or rephrase the question. • Be polite, but remember that US government officials are not expecting deferential silence
  12. 12. WHAT WILL YOU DO AND WHY • Be prepared to answer all questions honestly and as clearly as possible. Do not listen to rumors circulating among other students or visa applicants. Contrary to anything you have heard, the majority of student visa applicants in all countries are approved for visas. • Be prepared to explain why you decided to study in the United States and why you chose the school you did. Be prepared to convince the consular officer of your reasoning. There is no single correct answer. Be honest about your thinking. • If you are entering a community college and then transferring to a four-year program, be prepared to explain why you made that choice. If you are only focusing on a community college, be prepared to explain that choice as well. • Make sure you read your I-20 and understand what it and any cover letter provided by the school mean. If, for example, the letter says you are “conditionally” accepted to another school after an initial period at a community college, be prepared to explain that. • Be prepared for questions about your future plans after you finish your education in the US. Do not worry if you don’t have any plans yet – consular officers understand that most college students are still working through what they plan to do with their life. But you should expect the question and be prepared with an honest answer even that answer is “I don’t know yet.”
  13. 13. FINANCES AND GRADES • You will likely be asked questions about how you are paying for your education. You should know how much money is involved and how your family plans to pay for your schooling. If any loans are involved, be prepared to explain how you will try to pay those loans back. • The consular officer will probably request to see your grades from high school or other university classes. If your earlier grades were good, congratulations. If your earlier grades were just average, be prepared to explain why you nonetheless plan to study seriously in the US and comply with the terms of your visa. (Remember that under US immigration law you will be expected to carry a full course load and will be studying in the English language, so the consular officer will be concerned that if you found education challenging in your own country you may find it even more daunting in the US environment.) • Make the effort to talk to the Education USA counselors before you go for your visa interview. Check the student visa section of the State Department website and the “For the Student” portion of the Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Program website before interview. • Most importantly, try to relax, take a deep breath and answer questions as clearly and honestly as possible.
  14. 14. COMMUNICATING WITH CONSULAR SECTIONS ABROAD • US educational institutions planning ongoing relationships/recruiting activities in a particular country should try to meet with consular section chiefs when they travel. Explain programs and goals, particularly if nontraditional or linked to two year programs. • Agencies should also attempt to meet with consular sections to explain operations, standards and controls. • Consular Sections will often expect schools to meet with EducationUSA as well and will be reassured if this has been scheduled. Understand that EducationUSA will not normally meet with agencies.