What to Expect at Your Student Visa Interview

Prepare for the questions you're likely to be asked at a consular interview for a U.S. student visa.

If you are applying for a student visa to the United States – such as an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa – the final step in your application process will be a personal interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. On the one hand, this interview will go very quickly – around ten minutes is the most time you should expect. On the other hand, you’ll be covering a lot of important issues, and it’s important to have done your “homework” beforehand.

Interview Scheduling

Each consular office has its own procedure for arranging interviews. You may have to ask for an appointment beforehand, or you may be able to arrive when you’d like and wait in line.

Often a clerk will be the first person to meet with you. The clerk’s job is to simply review your paperwork to make sure that everything is in order. Presenting the clerk with a well-organized file will go a long way toward getting a “Yes” answer to your visa request.

After these preliminaries, a consular officer will meet with you, place you under oath (where you raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth) and review the contents of your entire application. Don’t expect a cozy fireside chat in the official’s office. Many consulates now conduct interviews through bulletproof glass windows, which make you feel like you’re in a bank or a prison. And don’t count on much privacy. To make sure that the officer can hear you, some consulates have installed microphones that broadcast your conversation to everyone within hearing range.

Questions They're Likely to Ask

The officer will probably start by reviewing your forms and documents. He or she may ask you some questions that are identical to the ones on your forms. Since you will have reviewed these carefully, you should be able to supply the answers. However, if you can’t remember something, it’s much better to say so than to guess at the answer. If you’re an F-1 visa applicant, the officer may test your English by handing you a book, newspaper or immigration form and asking you to read aloud from it. Even if you already passed a language exam such as the TOEFL, the officer wants to make sure that you didn’t send an English-speaking friend to take the exam for you.

Of course, you may get different questions, or you may get far fewer questions. The important thing is to listen carefully to the precise questions you’re asked. Some consular officers report that visa applicants come in with memorized speeches—answers to the questions the applicants felt sure they’d be asked. The officer wants to talk to a responsive human being, not a preprogrammed robot.

The biggest area of discussion will probably be your intention to return to your home country after your studies are through. The officer may ask questions such as, “What do you plan to do after you have finished your stay,” “Do you have a job here (in your home country) that you will come back to?” “Do you own a home, and where?” and “Where do your closest family members (parents, spouse, and children) live?”

If you have close family who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, the officer will wonder whether your true intention is to have them start the process of applying for a green card for you in the United States. You’ll need to come up with a convincing reason why you aren’t inclined to take advantage of this possibility. Bring any documents that you have to back up your reasons, such as a letter from a place you’ve worked explaining that you’ve discussed with them how your training in the United States will position you well to return there and assume further responsibilities.

What to Do If the Interview Is Going Badly

If things are going badly—for example, the officer is acting displeased or obsessively focusing on a -difficult area of your application—do not just sit -quietly waiting for the officer to ask the right question. Speak up and explain what the officer has overlooked. If the issue is whether you’ll return home after your stay, you might also ask the officer what further evidence he or she will accept—a nonrefundable airplane ticket or a “maintenance bond” (a sum of money that you submit to the U.S. government that will be forfeited by you if you do not leave the U.S. when you say that you will) are among the possibilities.

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