What is a Visa?
A visa is a document issued by the United States embassy in your country to allow you to legally enter the United States. There are several kinds of visas, including tourist visas, business visas and student visas. The visa is placed in your passport and is shown to the officials at the U.S. border when you pass through customs and immigration.
The F-1 Student Visa
Those applicants who are accepted for study in the Masters level or Doctor of Ministry programs of study at Virginia Theological Seminary and who are not United States citizens or permanent residents (green card holders) must apply for and be granted an “F-1 Student Visa” in order to enter the country for study, or to remain in the United States for further study after transferring from another school that had previously authorized the issuance of the F-1 visa. Students may not enter the U.S. using a tourist or other previously issued visa if they are coming specifically for study at an institution of higher education, including Virginia Theological Seminary.
How does one apply for an F-1 student Visa?
The Director of Admissions and the Assistant Director for Admissions and Financial Aid at Virginia Seminary are authorized to issue the paperwork that will allow the student to apply for an F-1 student visa at the United States embassy or consulate in the student’s home country. Authorization to issue this paperwork (called the I-20 form) is granted under the auspices of several agencies that work with immigration in the United States Government. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), working under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), operates the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
For International Masters level applicants, offers of admission are usually made in February, of each year, with the expectation that those offered admission will begin their course of study in the following August. The admissions office issues the visa paperwork and mails it to the student as soon as possible after he or she accepts the offer of admission and begins making arrangements to come to Virginia for school. Typically these visas are in effect for the entire two or three year course of study and the student will need to apply for the visa only one time (although the length of time for which the visa can be issued does vary from country to country). The visa will allow the student to re-enter the U.S. after absences of five months or less, that coincide with the seminary’s regular summer vacation, Christmas holiday and fall & spring breaks. This assumes, of course, that the student remains in good standing in a full-time course of study at the seminary.
For International students in the Doctor of Ministry programs the process is somewhat different. Because the International Doctor of Ministry student is only resident in a full-time capacity on campus for two-to-three week periods during the January and summer terms, and because these terms are often more than 5 months apart, the student will usually need to apply for and be granted a new visa for each residency. This is because the F-1 student visa lapses when the student is outside of the United States, and/or not actively attending the full-time residential term for more than a 5 month period. Those international students accepted for study in the Doctor of Ministry programs need to be aware of this and plan for the added expense and time needed to secure the visa for each residency period.
Costs and procedures
The student is responsible for paying the costs and following the required procedures for the visa application process. There are usually two fees that are charged. One is a $200 USDollar fee to pay for costs incurred by SEVIS. The document that is issued by the U.S. Government to show that this fee has been paid is called the I-901. The second fee is the actual Visa application fee. It varies from country to country, but is usually about $160 USD. These fees must be paid in advance of the official visa interview appointment with the United States embassy consular office. Instructions for paying the fees are posted on the United States Embassy website for each country. In some cases there may also be a Visa Issuance Fee to be paid once the visa has been approved. NOTE: The requirements to secure an F-1 student visa are different for citizens of Canada and Bermuda. The Admissions Office at VTS will be in contact with any applicants from these countries to provide special instructions for securing the necessary documents to enter the United States.