After you have applied for a student visa (F-1 or M-1) and attended an in-person interview at a U.S. consulate in your home country, the question becomes: What happens next, if all goes well? Your student visa may be either approved on the day you attend your consular interview or you may have to wait days or weeks for a decision. Here’s a look at the next few steps in the process.
The consular officer will place a visa stamp in your passport. This stamp will include the name of the school you will be attending. The officer may also give you some of your visa application materials, in a sealed envelope, to show to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer when you enter the United States. Whatever you do, do not open the envelope, or the CBP officer may assume you tampered with its contents.
Student visas will normally be issued for as long as the consulate thinks is enough time to finish your studies. The maximum possible time is 60 months for academic (F) visas and one year for vocational (M) visas.
Remember, however, that the expiration date on your visa is not the same as the length of time you are legally allowed to stay in the United States. The officer who meets you at the U.S. border will tell you how long you can actually stay, by entering a date, or the equivalent thereof, on the Form I-94 that can be access from the CBP website. As a student, you will most likely be given the notation “D/S” instead of an actual date. That’s an abbreviation for “Duration of Status.” It means that you can stay in the U.S. until your studies are completed.
Now you are ready for travel to the United States. As a student, you will not have been given the visa until you are within 90 days of the start of classes. But you may need to wait a bit: You can first enter the United States no more than 30 days before the start date on your I-20 form, even if your visa was issued earlier than that.
After you have gone to the United States for the first time and your Designated Student Officer (DSO) has registered you in the database known as SEVIS, you will be allowed to leave and reenter any time before your visa expires.