Managing the Student Visa Process: Interview with the Bridge Visa Expert

Our Admissions Coordinator, Joelle Begic, gets tons of questions from prospective students.  I recently interviewed her to learn more about her role at Bridge, the process of admissions and how to obtain a student visa. 

Amy: Tell me a little about yourself, Joelle.

Joelle: I have been working at Bridge for 1.5 years now. I started out as an Administrative Assistant and have been the Admissions Coordinator for about 1 year. I have a B.A. in Behavioral Science with a focus in Psychology, which makes this position a great fit for me.  I love working with all kinds of people.  I have recently been accepted into a Master’s program in Global Affairs, which ties in perfectly with what I do now and what I want to continue to do in the future.

Amy: What do you do day-to-day?  

Joelle: As Admissions Coordinator, I make sure students have the required documents needed to get a student visa and be accepted into our program.

Amy: What is the best part of your job?  

Joelle: I like being able to interact with and learn from people from all over the world.  This gives me insight into my own culture and provides me with a challenge that I really love.

Amy: What kind of visa should a student have to study at Bridge?

Since we are a school, we deal mostly with student visas (F1), not to be confused with an M1. Although we work with students on other visas, we always recommend that prospective students apply for an F1 visa in order to study full time.

Amy: Where should students apply for their student visa and what does that process look like?

Joelle: Students need to apply at the nearest embassy or consulate in their countries. They need to take the following 5 documents with them:

1. Proof of ability to pay– We recommend bringing a bank statement showing that you are financially able to pay for tuition and living expenses for you and any dependents.  You should also bring your school’s invoice with you to show tuition and other fees.

2. Proof of acceptance– This is the acceptance letter we send to every student in the mail with their I-20. A copy is also sent via email in case the hard copy is misplaced.

3. SEVIS payment of $200 and receipt– When you receive your I-20 in the mail, you will need to register your I-20 on the SEVIS website and print a receipt to confirm payment.

4. Original I-20 document– When you have your interview, you will need the original I-20 document that was sent to you in the mail. The interviewer will not accept a copy of this document and you will be asked to reschedule if you do not have the original.

5. Proof that you plan to return to your country– We recommend bringing a lease from your residence or a letter from your employer stating that you will come back to resume your duties on such and such date.  Proof of owning a family business or land will also show ties to your home country.

These are the main things the interviewer wants to see and, by not providing these documents, you may not get approved for a visa. Depending on what country you live in, the visa process could take anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months (this also depends on how prepared you are for your interview). If you are denied a visa, always ask why because you may be able to change your situation and reapply in a few months.

Amy: How long before their planned travel date should a student apply for a visa?  

Joelle: A student should apply for a visa as soon as they apply for admission at a school because making an appointment with the embassy or consulate might take several weeks or even months. Those who apply in advanced are more likely to get visa approval because they have given themselves sufficient time to gather the necessary documents.

Amy: How long can a student study in the United States?

Joelle: A student can study 2-4 years depending on their program.  Some programs can be extended with good reason.  Most programs do not allow students to study more than 4 years.

Amy: Can a student bring their spouse or dependents?

Joelle: Yes, spouses and children may come with the student as long as the student can show proof of ability to pay for them.

Amy: What other documents does a student need in order to enter the U.S.?

Joelle: A student will also need to bring their signed I-20, visa, passport, proof of ability to pay, and school’s acceptance letter.

Amy: What procedures does a student go through upon arrival at the U.S. Port of entry?

Joelle: You will be asked for all your documents again, so make sure to keep them with you in your personal belongings while traveling.  Do not keep them in your luggage because luggage can get lost! Don’t be nervous- just be yourself and be honest when speaking with TSA/customs personnel.  Your luggage may be checked and you may have to go through a screening process to answer questions about your visit. Most people have an easy process, so don’t worry!

Amy: What other documents does a student need in order to start classes at Bridge?

Joelle: Once you enter the United States, you will receive an I-94 form on the plane. This little, white document is very important.  It should be filled out and stapled to your passport as it acts as your arrival/departure record (Please note: the U.S. government will be moving to electronic I-94s in the near future).  Here at Bridge, we ask for you to bring your I-94, visa, passport, I-20, proof of health insurance, and payment (if you haven’t already prepaid).  Health insurance is required by law for full-time students and is strongly recommended for all students for safety, financial, and liability reasons. Bridge offers health insurance through a third party provider if needed.

Amy: What happens if a student’s visa expires while he/she is in the U.S.?  

Joelle: No need to worry if your student visa expires while you are in the United States.  As long as your I-20 and I-94 are in good status and have not expired, you will be able to continue studying. However if you do leave the U.S. after your visa has expired, you will have to apply for a new visa from outside of the country.

Amy: What if I have questions through the admissions process?

Joelle: If you did not have questions, I would be a bit worried! The application and acceptance process at Bridge is easy but the visa process can be long and complicated.  As the Admissions Coordinator, I am here to answer any and all questions that you may have to make this process go as smooth as possible. Be sure to keep the admissions email handy just in case: