Ten tips for securing a non-immigrant visa

1. Understand your relationship and ties to your home country

Under U.S. law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas, such as student visas, are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer they are not. You must be able to show you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the United States.

Ties to home country and intent

"Ties" to your home country are the things that bind you to your home town, homeland or current place of residence. Examples include a job, your family and financial prospects you own or will inherit (e.g., investments). If you are a prospective undergraduate, the interviewing officer may ask about your specific intentions or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country.

Each person's situation is different and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate or letter which can guarantee visa issuance. If you have applied for the U.S. Green Card Lottery, you may be asked if you are intending to immigrate. A simple answer would be that you applied for the lottery since it was available but not with a specific intent to immigrate. If you overstayed your authorized stay in the United States previously, be prepared to explain what happened clearly and concisely, with documentation, if available.

2. Be ready to speak English

Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do not prepare speeches. If you are coming to the United States solely to study intensive English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country.

3. Attend the interview alone and speak for yourself

Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf.

NOTE: If you are a minor applying for a high school program, you may need your parents in the waiting room to answer questions about subjects such as funding.

4. Understand the program and how it benefits your career plans

If you are not able to articulate the reasons you will study in a particular program in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study rather than to immigrate. You should also be able to explain how studying in the United States relates to your future professional career when you return home.

5. Be brief in your answers

Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success.

Keep your answers to the officer's questions short and to the point.

6. Keep your written documentation concise

It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have two to three minutes of interview time, if you are lucky.

7. Remember not all countries are treated equally

Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many students have remained in the United States as immigrants may have more difficulty getting visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States.

8.Be ready to answer questions about your family

If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be an especially tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular officer gains the impression your family will need you to remit money from the United States in order to support themselves, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa.

If your spouse is also applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the United States. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the United States. Volunteer work and attending school part-time are permitted activities.

9. Have a plan for returning to your home country

You must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home at the end of your program. Your main purpose in coming to the United States should be to study, not for the chance to work before or after graduation. While many students do work off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental to their main purpose of completing an education in the United States.

10. Stay positive

If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents they would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal and try to get the reason you were denied in writing. Do not engage the consular officer in an argument.