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Visa to the US: Students look for employment in an uncertain world
by Dr. Arun C. Vakil

Getting an American visa for higher education and then exploring employment opportunities there has been a cherished dream for most Indian students. Seven out of ten students, who succeed in reaching US shores, do not return according to anecdotal evidence.

India has surpassed Japan as a source of foreign students in the US, and is now second only to China. In 2001, 54,664 students headed for the US from India, 30% up over the previous year.

Subsequent to the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, one should expect close scrutiny of identity documents and eligibility for obtaining the visa as well as admission to the US, particularly students because alleged terrorists were issued these types of visas and misused them. Three of the 19 hijackers were in the US on student visas - one had entered on such a visa, while two others, including alleged ringleader Mohammed Atta, entered on tourist visa and switched to student visa. US President Bush has stated that he intends to tighten immigration rules and requirements for student visas to deter potential terrorists and "make sure that the land of the free is free of people who come to our country to hurt people." On April 08,2002, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) which monitors US immigration policies and procedures, announced tightening of visa rules for foreign students with immediate effect. Under the new rules, foreign nationals who want to study in the US will have to obtain a student visa before beginning classes, unlike earlier where they could come to the US on a tourist or business visa and then apply to change it to a student visa and begin attending school even as their application was being processed. Any change of status from either tourist (B-2) or business (B-1) visa to a student visa (F-1) while in the US is prohibited, unless the prospective student coming on one of these categories clearly states at the US port of entry his or her intent that the purpose of the visit to America is to check out possible schools and universities and ultimately apply for a student visa.

The INS has developed a Web-based system called SEVIS (Student Exchange and Visitor Information System) to track hundreds of thousands of foreign students. This system will link every US Consulate with every INS port of entry and all 74,000 educational institutions eligible to host foreign students. The institutions include colleges, universities, technical schools and high schools. SEVIS is partly introduced from July 1, 2002. It will revolutionize the way information is shared between schools and INS about foreign students' stay in the US throughout. All schools should be participating by January 30, 2003. When the new system is operational, foreign students accepted by a US school will be sent an INS form I-20. The school will enter the student's information into the INS tracking system. The student then will have to pay a $95 registration fee and will be given a paper receipt. The student must show that receipt and a completed I-20 A-B/ID form to apply for a visa at a Consulate. If the visa is granted, the Consulate will note it in the INS tracking system. When the student arrives in America, INS will note that in the database, which will notify the school to expect the student on campus within 30 days. If the student doesn't show, the campus must contact the INS within 24 hours.

Ultimately the program would also help the students, some who stay on in the US after graduation and transfer their student visas to H1-B visas. Before that can happen, the INS needs to analyze student records to make sure they didn't violate the terms of their visa. Students are advised to carry copies of their registration documents (Arrival Record stamped in the passport, form I-94) or its photocopy in their purses all the time in the US as instant unexpected investigations do take place frequently.

Visa Application Procedure:
Applicants for a US visa requiring a personal interview will henceforth be able to meet a US Consul only by appointment. For applicants from Western India, appointments can be taken at a US Visa Application Centre (VAC) after getting the passport and documents verified and paying the visa fees there. Thereafter, the applicant only has to "check-in" at the appointed time at the US Consulate for the interview. If the visa is granted, the passport will be returned the next day by courier. With this initiative, total waiting time at the Consulate would be drastically reduced to only about an hour, as compared to the minimum of 5-6 hours experienced in the recent past, making the hallmark serpentine queues a distant memory.

Documents for Student Visa:
The following documents must accompany all US nonimmigrant visa applicants:

  1. Passport, valid for at least six months beyond visit
  2. 2 photocopies of passport's 1st page, and 1 photocopy each of last page and pages containing "observations" if any
  3. Fully completed visa application forms, DS-156, DS-157 (for male applicants aged 16 to 45) and DS-158 with all questions answered; each applicant aged 14 or above must sign his/her own application
  4. Passport sized photo (37 mm x 37 mm) not more than 6 months old to be affixed to visa form
  5. Supporting documentation and one photocopy set thereof
  6. One consolidated demand draft amounting to Rs. 7,260/- for the following fees: application fee of Rs.3185 (US$65); issuance fee of Rs.3675 (US$75); and logistics fee of Rs.400 made payable to "Centurion Bank - a/c US Visa". The DD must be drawn only on a nationalized bank or local branch of a foreign bank. No cooperative bank DDs will be accepted. The fees are subject to change, dependent on the dollar/rupee exchange rate. The application and the logistics fees are nonrefundable. The issuance fee, however, will be refunded if a visa is denied
  7. Form I-20 AB/ID in original
  8. Original Bachelor degree or high school diploma along with mark sheets
  9. Relevant test scores, e.g. TOEFL and SAT, GRE, GMAT or LSAT, or where standardized testing not required, then letter from school waiving testing requirement
  10. Students of art or design are recommended to carry their portfolio
  11. Effective January 2003, a receipt of $95 registration fee paid to the university of admission must also be shown

The US VAC will determine applicant's eligibility to apply and then accept visa fees and issue a receipt. VAC will retain the original visa form, and all photocopies. Other original documents will be returned. VAC will then schedule an interview appointment. At Mumbai, one can schedule an interview from the next working day to two weeks in advance. One can request a choice of date and time, which will be given if available. At Ahmedabad and Pune, interview can be scheduled from the second working day to two weeks in advance. The applicant will have to arrive at the US Consulate for your interview on appointed date.

  • As an anti-fraud measure, the passport with visa will be returned to the applicant only by courier to an address stated on the visa form. Addresses on the visa form must be the current address
  • The US Consulate in Mumbai does not permit same-day return or personal handover of passport. It will be handed over personally if visa is denied
  • The applicant will be asked to select a return address at the time of submitting the application at the VAC. Once an address has been indicated, no change is permitted. Where the address is outside the courier company's zone of delivery, the applicant has to collect the passport in person from the courier's nearest branch
  • The passport will not be returned to travel agents, or to employer at address other than the actual work address of the applicant
  • The VAC will hand over to the applicant a photocopy of the passport's 1st page, bearing the seal of "US VFS". One must preserve this photocopy carefully as the courier will hand over the passport only after collecting this paper
  • Where the delivery address is a home address, delivery can be made to a resident family member against surrender of passport page
  • Passports, which cannot be delivered after three attempts (1 per day) will be returned to the US Consulate. Undelivered passports will have to be collected in person from the Consulate.

Applicants from Mumbai:
Mumbai residents can take appointments at US VAC located at Bhulabhai Desai Road (Tirupati Apartments) opposite Crossword Library and Andheri-East (Mehta Estate, behind Chakala BEST bus stop). VAC work Monday-Friday (except Consulate holidays) 0800-1200 and 1300-1500 hours.

Applicants from Gujarat and Pune area:
Residents of South Gujarat (i.e. residing in Surat, Navsari and adjoining districts) also have the option to visit the VAC located at Andheri (East) in Mumbai, conveniently located 15 minutes by public conveyance from Andheri Station, a scheduled halt for the Flying Ranee train.

Applicants for a US visa from Gujarat can visit a VAC in Ahmedabad, conveniently located in the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce premises at Ashram Road.

Likewise, applicants from Pune and adjoining areas will be able to apply at 206 Sohrab Hall, 1st floor, on Sassoon Road, behind Pune Junction Station, Pune.

Applicants from South India:
Applicants from South India can seek appointments through TT Services, Chennai. Communication takes place only through e-mail. TT Services has its headquarters in Chennai and branch offices in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Applicants from Kolkata area:
In Kolkata also, all Non-immigrant visa applicants have to make appointments through TT Services, 22 Camac Street, Kolkata 700 017 (Tel: 281 3782/3). "Drop-Box" applicants submit their applications here and their passports are returned to them via private courier. TT Services is open Monday through Friday 8.30 am to 3.00 pm and appointments can be scheduled through Kolkata Consulate accepts Student Visa applications on TUESDAYS only. No other cases are accepted fro interview on Tuesdays.

Applicants from Delhi:
Applicants from Delhi area should contact the TT Services office for visa processing at:
2E/23 Ground Floor, Jhandewalan Extension, New Delhi 110 055 Tel: 91-11-355 4618/31, Fax: 91-11-355 4247 E-mail:

Student Employment:

(A) On-Campus Employment
Two categories of on-campus employment are allowed without INS authorization. The students should maintain their status by taking full time course load.

i) While school is in session the student cannot work more than 20 hours per week, although during vacations the student may work full time. The student can work for a commercial firm, that contracts with the school to provide services, such as a bookstore or cafeteria

ii) While the work must be "on campus", INS regulations allow work at some off campus locations. This includes employment as part of a scholarship, assistantship, fellowship, post-doctoral appointment, etc. There are two primary situations when this is the case. First, if the workplace is "educationally related" to the school, it is considered on-campus. Second, a workplace that is "educationally affiliated" with the school is considered on-campus. This covers situations in which the student is conducting research with a professor who has a research grant that does not come from the school.

(B) Off Campus Employment because of Economic Necessity
Any unanticipated change in financial resources or funding can be a sufficient reason to get permission from INS through Foreign Student Advisor to work off-campus after nine months of school attendance. Examples of this situation are, a severe devaluation in the currency of student's home country, substantial increases in the cost of tuition or costs of living or medical bills.

(C) Curricular practical training
This covers work that is required for graduation or training that is a part of academic requirements, such as an internship, practicals, whether or not academic credit is earned. Except for graduate students, this cannot be used for paid curricular training during the first nine months of school. If a student undergoes more than one calendar year of curricular practical training, he or she is not eligible for optional practical training. Although INS authorization is not required for curricular practical training, the school does have to notify the INS of such employment. This, however, does not apply for unpaid training.

(D) Optional Practical Training (OPT)
This option is designed to give the foreign student an opportunity to further their education by gaining practical experience. It is usually available after the successful completion of academic program. The job must be related to their field of study, and the authorization to work is for 12 months only. Optional practical training may be obtained during school or after graduation, but is limited to 12 months. Therefore, any optional practical training time used before graduation will mean it is unavailable after graduation. It must be completed within 14 months of the student's completion of the academic program.

(E) Applying for Optional Practical Training
The student must submit I-538 to the foreign student officer along with their I-20. The school sends this to the INS for notification, and notes on the student's I-20 that OPT is recommended with the date of commencement. The student then applies to the INS for an employment authorization document. The application must include I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, form I-20, recommending OPT, a copy of the student's I-94, two photographs and filing fee of $100. This application is sent to the INS Service Center, which will either send the employment authorization card directly to the student or to the local INS office with jurisdiction over the school.

If the INS does not adjudicate the request within 90 days, the student may go to the local INS office, and, upon presenting the receipt notice from the Service Center, receive an interim employment authorization document that will be valid for 240 days.

Post 9/11 Employment Trends in the US
After the tragic events of September 11, there has been increased focus on ensuring that foreign nationals seeking entry into the US, as well as those already in the US, do not pose a threat to US national security. New legislative and procedural initiatives by the Department of State, the INS and the law enforcement authorities require employers to be more vigilant than ever in the recruitment, hiring, and training of foreign nationals.

One existing and increasingly targeted area of concern is the unauthorized release of sensitive technologies in the workplace to foreign nationals who either because of their background or citizenship, or both, pose a risk of diversion of such technologies for a nefarious purpose. The release of technology to a foreign national in the US (known as a "deemed export") is heavily regulated by various federal agencies, under what is commonly known as the "Deemed Export Rule." In certain circumstances, release of commercial or "dual-use" technologies (commercial and military applications) to a foreign national requires prior authorization from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration ("BXA"). The U.S. Department of State, Office of Defense Trade Controls ("ODTC"), regulates release of defense technologies and related services. The Deemed Export Rule does not apply to U.S. Citizens and Green Card holders.

This issue is compounded with the fact that US economy has been engulfed in recessionary trends in past couple of years. Modest recovery is observable from July 2002 but it is still not robust as in the past. Consequently, employment prospects are not that encouraging. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 8.6 percent unemployment in America as of July 2002. The Information Technology Association of America has been lobbying for the past three years to encourage temporary workers from abroad under H-1B visa (available to occupations requiring highly specialized knowledge) to work as software professionals. Close to 60% of such professionals have gone to the US from India, which is rich in software talents. Also, the remuneration paid to such talents have been less than comparable American workers and many leading US corporations have benefited in the past to boost their earnings due to this low wage-rates. The gap however is now minimized due to INS regulations, which specify payment of prevailing rates in the area to foreign workers to establish equality of opportunity between foreign and American workers. There was a ceiling of total visas issued in this category in the '90s around 65,000; but raised to 195,000 for US fiscal 2002 and 2003. Current trends indicate fall in demand of software professionals, as a result of which there is a possibility of the ceiling coming down to 65,000 effective October 1, 2003; the beginning of fiscal 2004 unless there is substantive improvement in demand for such workers recognized by US authorities; and the ceiling is raised upward. Many Indians have or are planning to return to India for better career prospects in Indian high-tech areas of southern India (Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai) or in Western India (Mumbai, Baroda) or Northern India (Delhi, Noida, etc.).

There are many NRIs-students and temporary workers of legal standing who are ready to do any kind of work, even menial labour to live in America due to personal reasons. Many would not like to get back to India due to difficult conditions for them in terms of living, family and lack of facilities in India from their viewpoint. It is, however, an individual choice to determine the place of work, in India or America, to live and work.

About The Author

Dr. Arun C Vakil, who has authored 'GATEWAY TO AMERICA', is an expert on various aspects of America - its lifestyle, education, history, geography, political systems, visa regulations and what have you. He has extensively traveled all around the United States several times. As the secretary-general of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce for nearly a decade, he was continuously involved in promoting Indo-US commercial relations. Dr. Vakil has written several articles on Indo-US aspects in prestigious publications of India. He has conducted various seminars and public talks on different facets of America. Dr. Vakil was associated with the US Consulate in Mumbai as an Economist during 1974-77. Moreover, he has been the President, American Alumni Association, 1981-82; and Vice-President, Indo-American Society (IAS), for 10 years. His contribution in nurturing IAS since last over 25 years is well known.

Dr. Arun C. Vakil is also known for his Public Relations and Communication skills. He has taught courses on "Effective Communication Techniques" for Indo-American Society as well as private corporations such as BARC, National Peroxide and Rosemount India Ltd. He has over 100 publications on US matters, Environmental Issues, Current Affairs and Indian Economy in leading Indian dailies and magazines. He has reviewed over 75 books. He can be reached by e-mail at

GATEWAY TO AMERICA, which contains essential information on US immigration laws and Visa policies can be ordered online at:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.