Student Visa Definition

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What Is a Student Visa?

A student visa is a special endorsement added to a government passport issued to students enrolled at qualified educational institutions. Student visas are non-immigrant visas that do not require the holder to obtain citizenship. Any prospective student seeking higher education in another country must obtain a student visa from that country.

Understanding Student Visas

Most countries will issue student visas to allow foreign students to attend school within their borders. However, in most cases, the student must first be enrolled at a post-secondary institution of higher learning. So, for example, if you’re from another country and you want to come to the United States to study, you’ll actually need two visas: 1) a non-immigrant visa for a temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence, and 2) the student visa.

These visas come in two categories, F and M, depending on the type of higher-learning institution that’s accepted you. Category F encompasses “university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution, including a language-training program.” And category M contains “Vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program.”

Key Takeaways

  • A student visa is an endorsement that is added to a government passport, which permits foreign students to study at a country’s qualified educational institutions.
  • Any prospective student seeking higher education in another country must obtain a student visa from that country.
  • The U.S. Department of State—Bureau of Consular Affairs manages student visas in the U.S.
  • American citizens who wish to study abroad must follow the rules and regulations of the government of the country where their desired school is located. 

Student Visas in the United States

In the United States, the U.S. Department of State—Bureau of Consular Affairs is the agency that oversees student visas. The Bureau of Consular Affairs website is your best resource for understanding the student visas, as it contains precise detail about what you need to do, and when, and in what order to obtain a student visa.

First Steps in Applying For a Student Visa in the U.S.

Because the process is of applying for a student visa in the U.S. is complicated, the Bureau of Consular Affairs website can walk you through the steps clearly. Here is a brief taste of the process.

  • The first step toward receiving permission to attend school in the United States is to apply to a Student and Exchange Visitor (SEVP)-approved school in the United States. 
  • Next, if the SEVP-approved school accepts your application, you’ll be required to register for the U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and you must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.
  • After you pay the SEVIS fee, the SEVP-approved school will issue a Form I-20. 
  • After you receive Form I-20 and register in SEVIS, you may apply for a student (F or M) visa at U.S. Embassy or Consulate. 
  • You must present the Form I-20 to the consular officer when you attend the mandatory visa interview.
  • For international students traveling with a spouse or children, each family member must also enroll in SEVIS, obtain the required forms from the SEVP-approved school and apply, themselves, for a visa. For immediate family members, SEVIS fees are waived. 

About SEVIS

SEVIS is the name of the web portal where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stores student visa applicants’ personal data, including information regarding:



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