Student visas for USA and Canada

Posted 29 September 2015
Getting a student visa or permit

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North America, with its high concentration of some of the world's best universities has long been a prime study destination for international students. Gaining acceptance to a Canadian or American university is a challenge in and of itself, but many international students don't fear acceptance as much as the visa process. Get tips on how to prepare for your student visa.

Getting a student visa for USA or a study permit for Canada is a crucial step in getting your North American degree. 

International students have historically had the perception that the United States has the tightest visa restrictions of all the major study abroad destinations (USA, UK, Australia, etc.). While this may have been true in the past, much has changed in recent years. In fact, the number of United States visas issued to international students has increased steadily since 2005, according to statistics reported by the Institute of International Education. This coupled with the general trend among eager colleges and universities in the USA to grow their international student populations puts the US in a great position to continue to welcome even more students to come and study in America.

Canadian immigration laws have made it easier for international students to work and stay in Canada post graduation and welcome talent and skills from around the world towards a more global student population and workforce.

Getting a student visa – how tough is it?

The visa success rate continues to improve, which is consistent with the general trend of more visas being issued. However, much of this is the result of the increasing professionalism of the educational agencies that prepare students for their visa process. Proper preparation is of the utmost importance as consular officers must quickly evaluate your financial and educational background, as well as your study intentions in the USA or Canada. Poor preparation can result in an immediate rejection and this can often discourage students from pursuing their goals of study in North America.

US Student visa – what to start with?

You can only apply for a visa once you have been accepted by a university that is SEVP (The Student and Exchange Visitor Program) certified. When you get your offer letter from a university, you can apply for your student visa for USA F-1 is the most common visa for studying in the USA.

What papers do you need to apply?

Make sure you have all the required documents ready well in advance. F-1 applicants would need the following documents:

  • SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System document) – Form I-20;
  • Your printed barcode page from your online DS-160 application form;
  • A passport valid for travel to the USA and with a validity date of at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States;
  • One photograph
  • Fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee

Also be prepared to provide:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions
  • Scores from tests such as the TOEFL (if required by the university) 
  • Evidence of sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period of your studies

The purpose of visa interviews:

The questions you will be asked in your interview will be used to determine the following:

  • Whether the only reason for your travel is to pursue higher education in the USA or Canada
  • Whether you have the ability and intention to be a full-time student at university in the USA or Canada
  • Whether you possess adequate funds to cover all tuition, living and incidental expenses
  • Whether you have sufficiently strong social and economic attachment to your home country to compel your departure from the host country upon receiving your North American degree.
  • Whether you are telling the truth

Sample visa interview questions:

  • Tell me why you want to go to America?
  • Why did you choose this University? How many other universities did you apply to?
  • What is your academic background and why do your want to pursue this degree?
  • What does the program you have applied to offer?
  • Can you tell me some details about your university?
  • Can you name some professors that will teach your courses?
  • What is meant by "Internship" on the I-20?
  • Do you want to work in the US?
  • How do you plan on paying the university fees?
  • Why don't you study for this degree in your home country?
  • What are your plans after graduation?
  • How will a US degree help you in your career, or benefit you upon return to your country?
  • Have you taken GRE, GMAT or TOEFL? If not, why not?
  • Have you received any scholarships? Why?
  • Have you taken any student loans? Who is sponsoring your education?

How to prepare for a US visa interview

Students and their parents must follow the guidelines listed on the US government website to make sure that all of their documents are in order. Students must know what purpose the documents they submit serve, how to answer questions related to these documents and most importantly how to present their study plan to the consular officer. Don't be afraid to ask that the interviewer repeat the question if you do not understand it at first. The best advice on how to prepare is to:

  • make sure all your supporting documents are in order
  • understand the decision you are making to study in the USA
  • know how to logically explain your study plan to the consular officer
  • most importantly, stay calm, listen to the questions
  • be honest in your answers

Have confidence in yourself and you'll do just fine!

Canadian study permit - how to apply?

If you want to study in Canada for more than 6 months you need to apply for a study permit. Before applying you need to be accepted by a recognized university or college and have a 'Proof of Student Status' letter. In addition to your acceptance letter you would need:

  • financial statements from the bank to cover tuition fees and living expenses
  • a valid passport
  • 2 photos
  • application form with 2 appendices
  • application fee.

It is important to know is that each province and territory in Canada decides the age for when a person is considered to be an adult. This is known as the age of majority and a "minor child" (a person under the age of majority) must be cared for by a custodian (who is a responsible adult in Canada). Two notarized documents signed by the parents, are required to give the custodian permission to act as a parent in Canada. In some cases, a certificate of a medical examination conducted at authorized Medical Centers is also required.

It is rare for the Canadian embassy to request original documents or an in-person interview.

Often getting a visa for Canada can take up to 3 months, especially during peak times, so it is extremely important to gather the documents and apply for your visa well in advance of your start date at the university.

Visit the Canadian government website for the most accurate details on getting a study permit for Canada.