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It's that time of the year again, when students who have been admitted to American universities and colleges begin their visa processes. The chat sites on the internet are filled with accounts of visa denials, rumours about 'certain' visa officers, and myths about the process. A clear understanding about the US visa requirements for international students helps to make the entire process simple and straightforward.

It would be instructive to know what the legal position of an international student is: Section 214 (b) of the US Immigration and Naturalisation Act 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 a visa, that he is entitled to non-immigrant visa'.

The above statement reveals that every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant — so the onus is on the student to prove his non-immigrant intent to the consular officer.

Here are some sneak peeks into what the consular officer seeks to elicit and understand at the interview:

• Is this a genuine student with a legitimate academic plan and interest in the proposed course of full-time study?
• Is the student adequately prepared in terms of English language proficiency to understand, participate in and benefit from the programme of study?
• Do the student's academic progress and standardised test scores predict a successful student?
• Does the student have adequate, readily available and verifiable funds for the first year of his programme?
• Does the student have adequate financial resources for the duration of his programme?
• Does this student have strong ties to his home country and will he leave the US at the end of his authorised stay and return to his home country?

Some visa truths

• International students need to understand that the consular officers are very well versed about the country they are stationed in
• They are not biased about colour, religion or race
• There is no quota for international students in the US, nor are they required to deny a certain percentage of applicants
• Sometimes consular officers take 2-3 minutes to interview a student and sometimes they grill them for half an hour

It follows, therefore, that a student who has a strong academic track record and proficiency in the English language is most likely to succeed in getting a US student visa.

Moreover, clarity about why he has decided on that particular university or college and course of study, some idea about future plans, and a meticulously documented fund flow, are some of the requisite criteria in securing a visa.

What you need to know about financial planning

It is of the greatest importance to understand one's requirement of finances in the US, and to have adequate and assured sources of funds. The immediate families of the student are the ones expected to help the student with money. Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters are sometimes shown as sponsors of the student. Such instances naturally arouse the suspicions of the consular officer and are best avoided.

Another misunderstanding is with regard to work opportunities for international students in the US. Students are allowed to work up to a maximum of 20 hours a week during term-time and full-time during vacations. This work is limited to on campus employment during term-time. Hourly wages are paid for work done at the libraries, different offices on campus such as admissions office, international student centre and so on. During vacations, students are authorised to work full-time and at internships, and are likely to be paid higher than hourly wages.

However, it is important to remember that since none of this is certain, one should not include such possible earnings in projected financial estimates.

(The author has worked with the United States Educational Foundation in India, Bangalore as an educational adviser, and with the Canadian Education Centre, New Delhi as a senior education adviser)
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