Happy New Year!  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in , , , , ,

Goodbye 2008, Welcome 2009! A year has gone by. Things moved fast for me in 2008. Some good events, some heartening... Graduate Studies, gOS, Mac4Lin, Linux Magazine and some more exciting things in the pipeline :)

Semester has ended and I'm getting my much needed break. "Chilling" out in Connecticut. Mind you, its really chilling. Snowing since quite sometime here. Will be getting back to Raleigh tomorrow. A week more of vacations and the usual life starts again.

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.

-- Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Here's wishing everybody a Happy and Exciting New Year ahead! :)

EDIT: I'm back home. The New York/Connecticut trip was great. The photos are in "Now Playing" widget at the top right of my blog.

MS in the US, a guide: Part FOUR  

Posted by Anirudh Acharya in , , ,

4) Applying for a VISA

Long pending addition to the guide, I apologize for the delay. Been very busy with my graduate studies. Now that a semester is over I haf some time to breathe!

This part of the guide is about applying for the VISA and completing the other necessary formalities. The most important thing is the documentation required. The following documents are required for the VISA process:

a) I-20 issued by the University you got admit to and plan to get admit to and admission letter (if any).
b) VISA fee receipt
c) SEVIS fee receipt
d) VISA application forms (DS forms, which is filled when applying for the VISA online)
e) Passport
f) Degree Certificate (or Provisional) and Transcripts
g) GRE, TOEFL mark sheets
h) Bank Statements which prove that you haf enough money for your education
i) CA Certificate which validates your funds for education, an affidavit from sponsors and other documents
j) Any certificates or proof of awards you may want to present

You need at least 2 sets of copies of each of the above mentioned documents. Keep all the documents in a sorted/labelled order in a folder (avoid folders with a zipper as they may not be allowed at the US Consulate) so that you can present any of the documents without wasting much time. Each document is discussed in detail below:

a) I-20
This is the proof of your admission to a US University. This is generated as soon as you are given an admit by the university. An entry is created by SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which I guess is now called as Student and Exchange Visitor Program - SEVP or something) for each I-20 generated. Hence if you haf multiple admits you will haf that many entries in the SEVIS database (but only one will finally "survive" after you set foot in the US). This system is like a centralized database of people who come into the US for their education or exchange visitor program. You can think of this as a "spy system" ;) since they haf all your details, US as well as from your home country.

A point to remember is that the VISA will be associated with a University. Hence you need to take the I-20 of the university you've decided to take admission in. If later you change your mind and opt for another University you need to go through the VISA process again!

Sign on the relevant sections on the I-20 indicating that you've accepted the admission. Keep this piece of document safely as you need it as long as you are in the US (don't laminate it!! haha...)

b) VISA fee receipt

You will need to pay the VISA fee (of corz US Govt. will not give you a VISA for free! :P). VISA fee can be paid at specific branches of HDFC Bank. The list of the branches can be obtained on the VFS Global Website. Click on the HDFC bank link for more information. The fee is $131 at an exchange rate determined by the VFS authorities. Keep a look on the website for the latest rate. You can either pay the fee by cash or DD at the bank. A receipt will be generated and given to you. This will be activated in under 3 days. So you can schedule a VISA interview only after 3 days of paying the fee. Be sure to take you Passport and I-20 to the bank. Keep pink receipt safely.

c) SEVIS fee receipt

You also need to pay SEVIS $200 for "spying" on you. This can be done online at the SEVIS/SEVP Website (of corz you need a credit card for online payment). More information can be obtained here. Make sure that when you pay the fee you haf a printer (or a PDF creation software for printing later) near you so that you can take a printout of the receipt. You cannot retrieve this receipt later! You will need this receipt at the time of applying for VISA. Since the actual receipt will be mailed to you after about 20 days, you will need the printout if you schedule an interview sooner than you get the actual receipt.

d) VISA application forms

After these things are done, you can goto VFS Global website (www.vfs-usa.co.in) and create an Application. Fill in the 3 forms (DS-156, 157 and 158) with all the relevant details. You will need your Passport, I-20, VISA and SEVIS receipt for the info to be filled in. You need not fill in the forms at one go. Your forms will be saved till one week. So start early as it may take time. Fill in everything carefully. You can always come back and edit the information in the forms even after you've completed filling it.

After you've filled in everything you can either take a print out immediately or haf the forms mailed in to you in PDF for later printing. Make sure you print with high resolution on a bond sheet since these forms are machine readable many times. Also ensure there are no smudges on any sheets. Take at least 3 sets of the forms. In one of the forms (I do not remember which one exactly, guess its DS 157), you will be required to write your name. With a black or a blue ink pen, write your name in the space provided in your NATIVE language (even if you don't know it, at least learn to write your name :P Not that you will quizzed about it or something!).

Sign on all forms. Keep one set blank so that in case you need it in the last moment you can use it.

e) Passport

Nothing much to write about here except that you need to ensure that your Passport is valid for 6 months after your date of entry in the US.

f) Degree Certificate and Transcripts

Keep the original degree certificate with you. If you don't haf one yet, a Provisional Degree Certificate will do. Also keep 2-3 Transcripts with you.

g) GRE, TOEFL mark sheets

You need your original GRE and TOEFL mark sheets (not the online printouts). If you haf given any of the tests more than once then carry all the marksheets as you may be asked for them. But by default you will be presenting the latest ones.

h) Bank Statement(s)

These statement(s) are proof that you haf sufficient funds for your education abroad. The amount required should be at least about 10% more than what is indicated in your I-20 (an amount required for your "survival" for an year would be indicated in your I-20 which includes your fees, approx. living and other expenses). This amount should be in liquid assets (cash, fixed deposits etc.). I'm not sure if Shares are considered liquid (I guess not!), but you can confirm this with VFS Global. The amount should be in the name of your sponsors (your parents, uncles, you yourself etc.). You can present multiple statements summing up to the required amount. This statement should not be older than 6 months. Also take your bank pass book with you just in case you are asked.

Many people take educational loan, if that is the case with you then you also need to provide a letter from the bank that your loan as been approved and all the relevant loan documents.

i) CA Certificate, affidavit from sponsors and other documents

The Bank statements are proof of funds for at least one year (you can show all the funds you require for your stay in the US in one go however). For subsequent semester/years you need to show that you can arrange the amount. This can be in the form of your sponsors' salary slip, provident fund certificate, other savings, immovable property (property, vehicle etc.), jewelry, shares etc. All these documents need to be shown to a CA who will give a statement that you legally own all these and estimate their net worth as on date. This amount should approx. add up to twice the amount indicated in your I-20 + 20%. The slack shows that you can cushion any extra need that may arise. You will need all the documents that you showed to the CA alongwith CA certificate at the time of VISA interview. The latter should not be older than 6 months. It should preferably be sealed by the CA. Make sure you obtain a copy before its sealed so that you know what is in there!

Also during the VISA process you should be ready with documents (like IT returns of sponsors, salary slips etc.) which prove that your sponsors will not be empty handed after they fund you and they haf enough left (or earn) to support themselves.

In addition to these documents you will need affidavit attested by a Notary which indicates your name, your intent to goto the US (education, of corz!) and the full names of all your sponsors. Make sure the names of all your sponsors match exactly as in the bank statement(s).

j) Any certificates or proof of awards

If you've achieved something really big then its better to haf all the certificates and proof of awards with you during the VISA process. If there is a gap between your graduation date and your admission in a US University then do bring in documentation which indicates what you were doing during that period (for e.g Work experience certificate(s), pay slips, IT returns, information about any courses that you may haf taken during this time etc.).

Since now you haf all the documents ready its time to prepare yourself for some questions that can be asked during your VISA interview.

Some typical questions are:

1) How will you support yourself? (from the funding point of view)
2) What were you doing after your graduation? (in case there is a gap)
3) Why did you select "xyz" area/field for your MS?
4) Why did you select "abc" University?
5) What after your MS?

These are some of the common questions which can be expected. Make sure you give clear cut answers to these questions. Do not try to read all those gazillions of questions on the internet. They will only make you more nervous! Apart from these, you are the best person to make a list of questions that maybe asked to YOU. Every individual is special and so are the questions. Your scenario maybe different from person X. So reading and memorizing the answers to questions he/she was asked will do no good.

Make a list of probable questions you maybe asked depending on your background and prepare your answers. During the interview:
(a) Be confident (but not over-confident!)
(b) Look into the eyes of the interviewer and answer (but don't scare him/her!)
(c) Make sure you back every answer of yours with some proof (documentation or anything that cannot be doubted upon)
(d) Dress smartly and wear comfortable clothes (don't look like a punk who is going to the US to join some hip-hop band! You don't hafta to be in a full blown suit either)
(e) Be fluent in when speaking
(f) DON'T try to act cool. That will make you look like a fool!

With these things sorted out you are ready to take your VISA interview! The VISA officer will tell you on the spot after your interview whether you've been granted a VISA or not. If the answer is affirmative then you will get your Passport with your VISA stuck on it in a couple of days by courier. Be sure to collect all your documents when you leave the counter. A typical interview will be of about 3 minutes max.

If you were denied VISA then the exact reason would be stated in a form. If the reason was trivial you will be given a chance to improve upon in a couple of days. The most common reasons for a VISA denial are-

You give the VISA officer strong indication that:

a) your admission to the University was only a ticket to the US and you are going there with the intent of working.
b) you do not posses (or arrange) enough money for your educational funding in the US.

Make sure you answer all the interview questions appropriately. I end this part of the guide with a GOOD LUCK! :)

If you are reading this post you may be interested in the following posts too:

MS in the US, a guide: Part ONE - Exams - GRE and TOEFL
MS in the US, a guide: Part TWO - Reporting scores and applying to universities
MS in the US, a guide: Part THREE - Post admit work to be completed
MS in the US, a guide: Part FOUR - Applying for a VISA
MS in the US, a guide: Part FIVE - Booking your tickets and packing your bags
MS in the US, a guide: Part SIX - Traveling to the US and initial days of stay
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