Chinese university students who desire to come to the U.S. to study must jump through many hoops to obtain a visa.
Meet Lenny Chen (the English name of Chen Jia’xi), who will begin studying at an American university this year. In an interview with WHOC, Chen agreed to share some of the steps and intricacies of receiving an F-1 (student) Visa to attend school in America.
Applying for a visa begins online with college applications, an entire process in and of itself. A prospective Chinese international student needs to obtain a letter of acceptance from a U.S. university.
Once (and if) they receive that acceptance letter, that university must complete an I-20 form for them. This form will prove that they can pay their tuition in America and have financial support, and universities will only provide an I-20 if they believe the student can support themselves. On a student Visa (F-1 or F-2), expatriates in the United States cannot legally find a job, which underscores the importance of the I-20 form’s data. Because America’s cost of living significantly outweighs the cost of living in China and the average income of Chinese families, primarily students from wealthy or upper-middle class families can receive student visas.
Then, they must bring the I-20 form along with other documents to an interview at the Consular. This interview tends to nerve-wrack and even tongue-tie applicants for a few reasons. First, the interview fees are non-refundable, so even if an applicant does not receive a visa, they will not receive back their ¥2000 yuan deposit.1 Second, the consular officer holds the keys to the U.S., wielding the power to decide whether an applicant meets the visa requirements. Third, if the interview goes awry, the Consular might question the student’s integrity, dramatically reducing the likelihood that the student will ever receive their visa.
Chen said, “A lot of people, myself included, get very nervous about what documents to prepare and what things to say during the interview.” He suggests that applicants present as much supporting documentation as possible to help persuade the Consular officer of their eligibility. These files include English proficiency test scores (TOFEL, CET-4, or CET-6), flight information, and even letters of recommendation from parents’ employers which vouch for the applicants financially standing. The most important job of an, according to Chen, is to convince the Consular that they will use the visa as intended: to attend school, return to China once they have completed studies, and pay their tuition without working a job.
For all of the difficulties and obstacles en route to the U.S., Chen does not forget the reasons why he wants to study abroad: “[I want] to experience what studying and life in general are like in the US, to immerse myself in a culturally and politically different environment… [and] also because I have many good friends in the US I’d like to see again.”
Thankfully, although circumnavigating the application process involves work and stress, anyone who diligently follows through with the process and meets the Consular’s criteria has a chance of success. According to Chen, “I’d say it wasn’t easy, but it was better than I had expected after I gained more knowledge of how the system worked.”
In conclusion, Chen imparts the following advice for any Chinese student readying for their interview:
I think the importance of honesty during your visa interview really cannot be overemphasized. Because even when it seems like the truth doesn’t help your case, when you are honest, the officer still might issue your visa.
To read the full interview with Lenny Chen, click here.
(1) For reference, ¥2000 yuan equals approximately $300 at the time of publishing. Although a $300 Consular fee might not raise American eyebrows, Matador Network offers some comparison for perspective: “A nice two bedroom, one bath apartment with wooden floors and marble counters in the kitchen will run around 4,500 RMB a month (about $587.50 USD)… In the aforementioned apartment, one could expect to pay an additional 300 RMB in utilities per month.” ↩