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Student Visa Information

Applying to a school 

Student Visa FAQs (256 Kb, pdf)

The U.S. Fullbright Commission at No. 55 Abdul Caffoor Mawatha, Colombo - 3 has a library of resources about Universities and colleges in the United States, and can help you determine which schools offer the subjects you are interested in studying and which may be able to provide financial aid. Though they cannot recommend individual schools, the counselors at the Fullbright Commission can advise you about opportunities for study in the United States, application requirements and university life, and can help you to choose the type of program best suited to your plans. 

Applying for a Visa

U.S. immigration law provides three nonimmigrant visa categories for study in the United States. The "F" visa is for academic studies, the “J” visa is for exchange programs and the "M" visa is for nonacademic or vocational studies. In order to obtain a student visa, you must first apply to and be accepted at a school in the U.S. Once you have been accepted, the school will forward you a form called the I-20 or Form DS-2019, depending on the type of program you are accepted for. Once you have your I-20 or DS-2019, follow the directions for applying for a visa (for Sri Lankan students click here, for Maldivian students click here).

An applicant for a student visa to the US must first and foremost demonstrate that s/he is a bona-fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study. The applicant must also demonstrate that s/he is seeking to enter the U.S. temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study at an established academic institution. Lastly, the applicant must demonstrate their ability to pay for tuition and living expenses for the course of their studies.

Preparing For Your Interview

On the day of your interview, you will have to prove to the interviewing consular officer's satisfaction that you: 1) are a bona fide student intending to temporarily enter the U. S. solely for the purpose of enrolling as a full time student at an established academic institution 2) can afford tuition and living costs and 3) have plans and ties in a country other than the United States and that you intend to depart after you complete your course of studies.

To establish that you meet the above criteria, consular officers will want to see evidence that you have been a serious student in the past and that you and that you or your sponsor have a financial plan to pay tuition and living expenses for the school you have chosen.  You should also be able to articulate why you chose your course of study and school as well as your future plans.  You must bring your original I-20 or DS-2019 with you to your interview.

All F and M applicants should prepare to present the following documentation and any other relevant information at the time of the interview, even if you have already submitted the information to the school or University you are hoping to attend:

  • academic transcripts from all of prior academic institutions you have attended, as well as your O and/or A level exam results
  • financial documents demonstrating your ability to afford tuition and living expenses for the school you have chosen. (A balance statement from a bank account is usually not sufficient. Consular officers will usually ask to see a six-month history of transactions from any bank account you will be using to fund your education.)

Many students also bring letters of recommendation, certificates showing outstanding achievements in sports or academics, property statements, evidence of family relationships or other documents they think will help to explain their intentions in the United States, their ability to afford the school they have chosen or their reasons for returning to Sri Lanka. 

Please be aware that if you submit false documents of any kind during the course of your interview, your application will be refused and you may become permanently ineligible for any type of U.S. visa. False documents may also be turned over to the police for investigation and prosecution.

Entering the United States

If you are issued a student visa, you may enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the first day of school.  You may not use your student visa to enter the U.S. before this time.  Should you need to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before school begins, you will need to apply for and qualify for a tourist visa in addition to your student visa.  When entering the U.S. as a student, please bring your I-20 in your carry-on luggage for presentation upon entry. 

Maintaining Your Student Status in the U.S.

Most student visas issued by the consular section are valid until the date stated on your I-20 or DS-2019, meaning that you will be able to enter and leave the United States on multiple occasions for up to five years, provided that you maintain your status as a full time student. You will be able to come home to Sri Lanka for summer vacation and return to your full-time studies in the fall without coming to the Embassy to renew your visa.

For information about maintaining your legal status as a foreign student in the United States, please review the USCIS links. Your International Student Advisor will also be able to help you understand what you can and cannot do while you are in the United States on a student visa. 

Renewing Your Student Visa

If you are a current student at a University or college in the U.S. and need to renew your prior student visa, you must apply for a new appointment at You should bring the I-20 or DS-2019 from your current school, endorsed by your International Student Advisor, and official transcripts demonstrating your full-time status to your interview.

Public High School and Primary School

There are restrictions on attendance of foreign students at public high schools and primary schools in the United States. Persons who violate the restrictions may not receive another visa for a period of five years. The restrictions apply to students even if they will be living with an American citizen or Legal Permanent Resident relative, and even if that relative is the student's legal guardian.

The restrictions are as follows:

  • Foreign students cannot attend public high schools in the U.S. for more than twelve months. 
  • F-1 visas can no longer be issued to attend public elementary or middle schools (Kindergarten - 8th grade) or publicly-funded adult education programs.
  • Before an F-1 visa for a public school can be issued, the student must show that the public school in the U.S. has been reimbursed for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of the education as calculated by the school. Reimbursement may be indicated on the I-20, or consular officers may request copies of canceled checks and/or receipts confirming the payment as needed. 

These restrictions do not apply to students attending private schools, or students who are in the U.S. on derivative visas such as F-2 or J-2.

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