F1 students studying in US were relived after DHS cancelled the July 6th directive for F1 Students after the Lawsuit by MIT & Harvard. But, still prospective F1 students planning to attend school for Fall 2020 need to have their schools either in Hybrid or in-person classes to get F1 Visa. One of our readers (anonymous for privacy) was attending one such school that had hybrid mode for Fall 2020. Our reader was kind enough to share the entire end to end process of booking US Visa appointment in India and getting it stamped. Thanks a lot to the user for taking time to share the write up with our readers. We really appreciate it.
Before we get into the experience, below is the latest update on the US visa stamping for F1 students planning to go to US for Fall 2020
Update on US Visa Appointments for F1 Students: As of yesterday, there was no guidance from US Consulates in India and emergency appointment was the only way. Starting from August 17th, India consulates are set to open on a limited basis for F1 visa appointments. Check US Consulates Appointments Updates COVID-19 for more info on the update.
Background: I am planning to attend Graduate Program at a school in US that has hybrid mode instruction for Fall 2020. My school starts on September 14th, 2020.
Booking Visa Appointment – Date does not matter.
You first need to have an appointment; does not matter what date it is. I was able to book a regular appointment for F1 Visa Stamping in Mumbai on August 12 for some time in February 2021 in the morning time in India. Apparently, morning is when you get empty slots. Later, I requested for an expedited appointment.
Submit Emergency Appointment Request Online
You will need to submit emergency appointment request on USTravelDocs website. You will be able to see the option to book emergency appointment on the portal. It looks like below and you need to fill out the form. The form looks like below.
Submitting Emergency US Visa Appointment Request with Proofs
For the emergency visa appointment request form, I attached only two documents as listed below:
- My I-20 (Please note that since it was an updated i20, it did have a remark that my university will be hybrid for fall—but it really doesn’t matter since the previous ICE ruling has been called off now)
- A Letter of Support from the university (This might have been a key factor in getting an approval—it clearly stated that I needed to be on campus to start my degree, and for that I need a Visa urgently. It had my basic details (name, program, DOB, country of residence), stated that I need to be on campus to start my program, and requested that I need an emergency visa appointment—written on the University Letterhead). See below letter.
In the brief Expedited Appointment request, I wrote 3 lines:
- The university I was admitted to, and the start date (sept 15)
- That I need to be on campus to start my program
- Request for an expedited appointment considering the urgency.
Letter of Support by School for US Visa Emergency Appointment
Below is the letter of support that was given by the school.
Paying SEVIS Fee: One thing to note is that I paid the SEVIS fee after booking my regular appointment. Officially, they say you should pay it two days before the interview, but for me it did not turn out to be a problem at all.
Approval of Emergency Appointment, Booking OFC, Visa Interview
Within 4-5 hours after submitting the request for emergency appointment, I got an approval. I don’t know how it was so quick.
I booked the OFC and the interview appointment for the same date (August 13), in the Mumbai Consulate.
Process for giving Biometrics (OFC or VAC)
The VAC center opened recently and I had to give it at the VAC center. The Biometrics appointment letter will clearly tell the address, date and time. The Biometrics appointment at Visa Application center (previously called as OFC) was at 8:30 AM and it was just usual.
They only took my temperature before entering the building and had to sanitize my hands. I was wearing my mask at all times except when my photo got clicked. I had to sanitize my hands multiple times inside, and also had to use an alcohol wipe that they gave to clean the fingerprint scanner after getting my 10 fingers scanned (that was kind of a smart move by them). I was in and out in about 15 minutes.
Process for F1 Visa Interview with Emergency Appointment
My interview was at 10:30 AM and had to kill some time before that. I reached at 10 AM, and they immediately let me in. Surprisingly, they did not read my temperature here, only sanitized my hands and did the basic security check. When I entered the consulate, it felt extremely weird because it was completely empty!
Having gone through getting a visa before, I know how crowded the place is, with thousands of people lined up! I was the only one, and I was immediately let inside the interview room. I think Mumbai consulate has around 40 interview counters generally, this time there were only 2-4 counters open. I could see 4-5 students and 4-5 H4 Visa holders being interviewed. I was immediately sent to the verification counter, where my passport, SEVIS fee receipt, and i20 were verified. And then, I was immediately sent to the interview counter.
F1 Visa Interview Documents Checklist.
For the interview, I just took the regular documents as listed below. Nothing special.
- Visa appointment letter
- SEVIS Fee Receipt
- Financial Documents (in my case, bank statements, parents’ salary slip, and ITR)
- University Offer letter
- University Letter of support (that I submitted for the EA request
- Undergraduate Marksheets
- GRE, TOFEL score copies.
F1 Visa Interview with Consular Officer
The Visa officer asked me to sanitize my hands and scanned my fingerprints again. I did not have to remove my mask. He stared at my i20 for a few seconds.
- He first asked: Since I have an assistantship that partially covered my expenses, who will pay for the rest? When I told him, my dad would be covering the rest, he asked my dad’s profession and salary.
- He then asked what’s your quarantine plan once you get there? I told him my university’s COVID-19 isolation and testing plan(for me, I need to get a test done on the 1st day, stay isolated for 5 days, get a test again—if both turn out to be negative, I’m good to go).
That’s it, he approved my visa. It lasted for a minute maybe. I was in and out of the consulate in 5-10 minutes.
Some thoughts – Advice for your F1 Visa Interview
In fact, was not even asked any other document other than my i20. What always matters more is if you’re able to give direct answers for every question or not. They know that most of your documents can be faked, so they rely on the story you tell and stitch it with what’s known to them. So be prepared with the truthful answers to every basic question. Examples of basic questions:
- Why did you choose this degree program and the university?
- What was your undergrad degree about?
- Why are you choosing to go there amidst a pandemic?
- What do you want to do after getting a degree?
- And questions on your funding details.
Passport Collection with Visa: My visa approved and passport was received at the collection center the next day itself!
Good Luck everyone!