Getting an F-3 Student Visa: Timeline

An overview of the steps involved in getting an F-3 "Border Commuter" student visa in the U.S - and how long it will take.

The amount of time it will take to secure an F-3 visa is difficult to predict. There are many variables you need to consider as you prepare for the visa application process. However, if you follow a few simple steps to ensure that you are fully prepared - and eligible, you should have your F-3 visa issued in time to begin your studies on the program start date.

If you're also eligible for an F-1 visa, see this page for the main benefits of each.

Step One - Admission

The first step in securing an F-3 visa is to be formally admitted to a program with a SEVP-certified school located no more than 75 miles from the border of your home country. Once you are admitted, you should receive an I-20 document from your school’s office of international services.

In order to secure your F-3 visa in time to start your program, you will want to apply for admission as early as possible. You will probably find that most schools have an earlier cutoff date for admitting international students. This cutoff date is usually meant to ensure that the student will have enough time to secure the visa.

Step Two - Pay the SEVIS Fee

All applicants for an initial F-3 visa are required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. You will pay the same amount as F-1 students, which is currently set at $200 U.S. dollars (as of 2017). You don’t necessarily have to pay this fee before scheduling your visa appointment, but the payment needs to be processed before the interview takes place and the visa can be issued. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated that the fee must be processed at least three business days before the date you report to the consulate to submit the visa application.

Step Three - Prepare Your Supporting Documents

Before scheduling your visa appointment, it is a good idea to make sure that your supporting documents are in order. This will help lessen the chances that your application will be denied. The supporting documentation you prepare should provide proof of the following:

  • That you have paid the SEVIS I-901 fee (you should have received a receipt when you made this payment).
  • That you are a citizen of Canada or Mexico.
  • That you are actively maintaining a residence and place of abode in your home country.
  • That you plan on commuting to the school that issued your I-20 form.
  • That you intend to enter the United States for the sole and temporary purpose of commuting to this school; and
  • That you have enough finances in the form of liquid assets to cover the costs of your education.

Step Four - Schedule a Visa Appointment

Once you have paid your SEVIS fee and prepared all your supporting documents, you should schedule your F-3 visa appointment as soon as possible. Visit your U.S. consulate’s website to determine the process for doing this. If you are concerned about wait times, you can check these in advance by visiting the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Wait Times page. This page also includes the wait time for the F-3 visa to be physically processed after an application is approved.

Dealing With Visa Issuance Delays

Be prepared for issues that can delay the issuance of your F-3 visa. Two of the most common issues causing delays are a request for further administrative processing and a denial of your visa application.

If you are subjected to further administrative processing, it could take months to receive your visa. Unfortunately, you will need to wait 60 days before you can inquire about the status of your application with the U.S. consulate once this process has begun.

If your visa application is denied, you will want to review the reasons for denial and determine whether you have the opportunity to reapply at the same or a neighboring U.S. consulate. In some instances, you may be barred from reapplying for a certain period of time.

If it appears that these delays will be significant, international students will often times decide to defer their admission by a semester.

When to See an Expert

In order to ensure a smooth and timely visa application process, you can choose to consult with an immigration attorney. An immigration attorney can assist you in preparing your F-3 visa application and supporting documentation, or come to your aid in the event your visa is denied.

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