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What You Need To Know About Money and US Student Visas

F-1 Education Planning Financial Planning

The path to securing a student visa to attend a post-secondary educational institution in the United States can be confusing. Different schools vary on the process to obtain Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, but the basic requirements are the same and are established by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Unfortunately, prospective international students are often ill-prepared to produce the documentation requested by the institution’s Designated School Official (DSO).  

Failure to present the DSO with complete financial information may result in your inability to obtain Form I-20 from the school. Before applying for admission to your school of choice, gain the knowledge required to navigate the process in the most efficient way possible.

Congratulations You’re In! But, You’re Not.

Merely being admitted to a college or university in the United States does not mean that you will receive Form I-20. The admissions process to the school and the means to obtain a student visa are entirely separate. The first step is to secure a letter of acceptance to the school. Once that step is complete, then you can proceed with working with the DSO to obtain Form I-20. You must have a Form I-20, along with other documentation, issued by the school you plan to attend, to receive a student visa.

A school’s DSO must have on file evidence that the international student can financially support herself throughout her education at the school. The DSO works at the school and serves as a liaison for SEVP. This individual helps ensure that the school and international students comply with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requirements.

Before a DSO can provide Form I-20, the international student must certify financial responsibility. This process is distinct from meeting admission requirements and being accepted to the school.

It Takes More Than Tuition

Do you have enough money to pay for tuition and fees? Did you know that is still not enough to show you have the financial wherewithal to pay for your education? You will need to decide where you will live and the costs associated with housing while in school. International students must demonstrate that funds are available to cover not only tuition and fees but living expenses as well. Demonstration of financial sufficiency often means securing a financial sponsor.

Financial Sponsor - The individual, government, company or agency who is willing and able to financially support the international student. Financial support includes tuition, books, supplies, fees and living expenses for the duration of studies at the institution. More than one (1) sponsor per student is allowed.

These funds need to be readily available. An expectation of employment while enrolled in school will not suffice unless related to the academic program. For example, a teaching/research assistantship or curricular practical training may count as proof of funding, but your promise to work in the student union cannot be used to show financial support.

Schools publish the cost-of-living per academic year in their institutional catalogs and often on their websites. Add these estimated expenses to the cost of the program to figure the amount of monetary support needed to prove sufficient means to fund your education.

Show Me The Money (i.e. the Bank Statements)

The institution often provides official school forms for international students to certify financial responsibility. Besides requiring you to identify the source of financial support, a notarized signature from the individual providing the financial support and confirmation from the sponsor’s bank confirming funds are available to cover the cost of your education are certification requirements. Educational institutions vary on the type and extent of financial information needed to support the certified form.

A bank statement is a common requirement if you self-sponsor yourself or the financial sponsor is a friend or family member. If financial backing is provided by a government, company, organization, or the school itself, then documentation confirming the amount of financial support will be required. Proof of financial support may take the form of award letters or signed sponsorship letters that appear on company letterhead. 

In all cases where certifying documentation is needed, the international student will be expected to sign a form attesting that the information provided is correct. The exact documentation required will be determined with the help of the DSO. All school forms must be completed in English. Bank statements must be translated into English and funds must reflect the US currency equivalency.

Example 1:

Erica plans to study at the University of Texas at Austin. The Certification of Financial Responsibility form, published by the school, is updated at the start of each school year. Even though she is expected to have financial support (tuition, fees, estimated living expenses) for the entire length of the program, proof of funding is only required during the first year. This form also calls for a bank official’s certification of funds to include the bank seal.

Example 2:

Zoe has her heart set on Suffolk County Community College. The school’s Financial Sponsorship Form requires sponsor certification of funding for all years of her program of study to also cover the living expenses published on its Annual Tuition and Living Cost Worksheet. Suffolk County Community College requires a notarized signature from the financial sponsor along with original bank statements and/or proof of income statements. In most cases, original documents are required if the sponsor is providing proof of income in addition to original bank statements.

Example 3:

Tim is looking forward to attending Boston University. His program is less than one academic year. The Financial Sponsor Certification for International Students requires Tim to certify funding only for the duration of the program. Boston University’s Required Financial Documents has additional requirements not specified by the University of Texas at Austin or Suffolk County Community College.

It is essential to read the instructions for your school of choice carefully.

Additional Fees Are Required

After you have satisfied the institution’s requirements to prove financial support, you may receive Form I-20. Keep in mind that this form is not a student visa and does not guarantee issuance of a student visa. SEVP requires students seeking a nonimmigrant visa to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. This mandated fee was enacted by the United States Congress in 2004 and is in addition to any school SEVIS administrative fees.

Who Else Wants To Know?

Once you have your Form I-20, you still need to get your student visa. You will need to bring your admission’s acceptance letter, evidence of financial support, proof of payment of the I-901 SEVIS Fee along with the original, hard-copy Form I-20 to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you plan to apply for your student visa. It is there that your information will be reviewed to ensure that you have the means to financially support yourself while studying in the United States.

The U.S. Embassy or Consulate may request additional financial information. The consular officer will determine if the documentation and answers provided during your in-person interview qualify you for the requested visa category.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer at the United States port of entry grants or denies your admission to the United States. 

Tips For Working With The Institution

  • Request a copy of the financial sponsorship certification requirements before applying for admittance to the school.
  • Provide requested documentation at least a week before the due date.
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand your reporting requirements.
  • Confirm how the institution defines “full course of study” since failure to maintain the level of enrollment could place you out of status. Failure to maintain requirements of the student visa may result in a revocation of status. This means you will have to leave the United States before completing your studies.

The prospect of studying in the United States is exciting and may eventually lead to permanent residency status. Once you receive your F-1, J-1 or M-1 student visa, your ability to comply with your DSO’s requests and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s laws and regulations will determine whether you will be able to finish your program of study. Initial issuance of a student visa nor does ability to pay for the education guarantee that you will remain for the entire program of study.

The institution’s DSO is the best resource to help you keep your new visa status through graduation. They may also hold informational sessions on the following topics:

  • Work Eligibility
  • Applying  For A Social Security Card
  • How To Obtain A Driver’s License
  • Health Insurance
  • Housing

Explore these topics further by contacting the DSO at your school of choice.

MYRA Wealth (https://myrawealth.com/) is a Multi Family Office that provides personal finance services for Immigrants in the United States. Our services include financial planning, investment management, and tax preparation. Whatever you want out of life, we’ll help you achieve it!


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