If I’m older than average, can I still get an F-1 student visa?

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Question:

I’m in my late thirties, and cook at a restaurant in Nigeria. However, I am very interested in international business. I think I have finally saved up enough money to go to college in the U.S. and study business. Will I have any trouble getting a visa based on my age?

Answer:

This is going to be a tough one. Applicants for an F-1 visa are always up against the tendency of the U.S. government to believe that most people are just looking for a way to come to the U.S. in order to stay permanently. It’s up to the applicant to prove that he or she is genuinely interested in and qualified to pursue the activities for which the particular visa was designed and will leave the U.S. at the end of the permitted stay. (For more information on student visa eligibility and the application process, see the “Student and Exchange Visitor Visas” section of Nolo’s website.)

As if that weren’t difficult enough, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has specifically listed, among its student visa fraud indicators, “age is not commensurate with education sought” and “education request doesn’t correlate with beneficiary’s employment background.” (Actually, you would be applying through the U.S. State Department rather than USCIS, because you’re coming from abroad, but this USCIS statement likely reflects a common pattern seen by the State Department as well.)

Your ability to afford your period of time as a student in the U.S. could be an issue, too. Remember that you will need to cover tuition, room, board, and living expenses. This will require a hefty amount of savings at most U.S. colleges and universities, and you will not be allowed to count on working in the U.S. to help cover these costs. (An on-campus job is okay, and a bit of training work, but these don't tend to pay much anyway.)

This doesn’t mean that getting an F-1 student visa will be impossible. You are, however, likely going to need an attorney’s help in strategizing your arguments and preparing your visa application. You will ideally want to provide actual, documentary evidence – as opposed to your own oral statements – showing the depth of your interest and the reasons you were unable to pursue a college education before now.

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