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Transcript: Facebook Chat on Student Visas
April 28, 2023

Consular Section Chief Rob EhrmannThanks for joining us for the live Q&A!  Today we’ll be answering questions from Finnish residents who are planning to study in the United States.  Please feel free to leave your question in the comment section below, and our Consular Section Chief will be online until 12:00 to answer them.

Rob Ehrmann has led the U.S. Embassy Helsinki Consular section since October 2022.  A career Foreign Service Officer, he has worked for the State Department in Mexico, Qatar, Egypt, and the U.S.  Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Rob received a BA from George Washington University in International Affairs and an MA in Middle East Studies from the University of Chicago.  He is married with two children and enjoys cycling, travelling, and learning obscure grammar rules.  Rob has studied Arabic, French, Spanish, Turkish, and Ukrainian and uses these language skills often in his consular work.

We’ll start out with some student visa process procedures.  U.S. student and exchange visas are typically categorized into F (traditional scholar programs), M (vocational/technical educational programs), and J (research/exchange programs) visa categories.  The office of international programs at the school in the U.S. to which you are applying should provide guidance about the appropriate category for international students participating in a U.S. based educational or exchange program.

Information about the J (exchange/research) visa application process is available here: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/fi/fi-niv-typej.asp

Information about the F and M visa application process is available here: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/fi/fi-niv-typefandm.asp

This is a good opportunity to also remind our student visa applicants about some requirements for the visa interview. Thread:

1) The U.S. Embassy has many strict security requirements for visitors – including all visa applicants.  The quickest way to delay your interview (and all of the other applicants interviewing on the same day) is to arrive at the embassy with a prohibited item such as a laptop.  Please don’t do this.

2) Here is a list of security measures to be aware of before you arrive at the embassy: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/fi/fi-niv-securityinfo.asp

3) We currently request all visa applicants to provide a prepaid self-addressed envelope with their visa application so that we can return the passport and required forms directly to you as soon as the visa is approved and printed.  You can get an envelope from your local post office (Posti) in Finland.  At this time we cannot mail internationally.

4a) In addition to the envelope, you should bring the following to your visa interview:

4b) for F or M programs:

1) A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form.

2) A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States.  If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.

3) One (1) 2″x2″ (5cmx5cm) photograph taken within the last six months.

4) A receipt showing payment of your non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application processing fee paid in local currency.  If a visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on your nationality.  The Department of State’s website can help you find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.

5) An approved Form I-20 from your U.S. school or program.

4b (continued) Your international program will also instruct you to pay the SEVIS fee.  Please be prepared to present your receipt at the time of your interview.  The SEVIS website has more information: https://www.ice.gov/sevis/overview

4c) For J visa interviews – the requirements above are the same EXCEPT J visas require an approved DS-2019 form instead of an approved I-20.

Did you know: You may not be required to come to the embassy for an interview for a student visa?  Many of our student or exchange visitors travelling from Finland qualify for our Interview Waiver program.  To qualify for the program applicants must have previously been issued any type of U.S. visa or travelled to the U.S. through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program.  In addition, an applicant’s prior visa applications or ESTA cannot have been refused for any reason unless that refusal was subsequently overcome or waived and there cannot be any current indication of potential visa misuse or visa ineligibility.

If your application qualifies for our Interview Waiver program, you will be instructed to mail in your documents and provide a return envelope.  Please don’t forget to provide proof of prior travel to the U.S.  The easiest way to do this is by providing your I-94 record – instructions here: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/i-94

Q:  Can an exchange student from Thailand, currently in Finland, apply for a J1 visa in Finland?

A: Yes! We see student and exchange visa applications from many different nationalities at U.S. Embassy Finland.  The process is the same, however applicants who have never travelled to the U.S. before would require an in-person interview.

Q:  If my interview is waived, will my spouse and minor children be eligible for interview waiver for their derivative F, M, and J visas?

A: Yes, a derivative applicant may apply for an F, M, or academic J visa if he/she independently meets the qualifications.  A derivative visa applicant’s eligibility for interview waiver is not tied to the primary applicant’s eligibility.  They will need to show proof or relationship to the primary applicant (family registry, marriage or birth certificate, etc.) and prior travel to the U.S.

We get a lot of FAQs on technical issues relating to the online application.  Here in Finland, these questions are best answered by our visa application service provider.  They can be reached by livechat, phone, or email here: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/fi/fi-main-contactus.asp

Q: Hi, I’m the University of Helsinki responsible person for our U.S. exchanges.  I recently heard that one U.S. university was able to switch to sending digital DS-2019 forms.  Do you know if this automatically applies to all U.S. universities, or if e.g., each university has to apply (or at least decide) to switch to digital?

A: Great question!  Yes, this is part of an effort to speed up the process to allow for more flexibility in getting this required form to participants of U.S. sponsored exchange programs.  The format is up to participating sponsor to decide whether to use the digital DS-2019 form.  More information on the change is available here: https://j1visa.state.gov/participants/how-to-apply/about-ds-2019/detailed-description-of-the-ds-2019/

As soon as a participant receives their DS-2019, we encourage them to fill out their application and schedule a visa interview here: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/fi/fi-niv-typej.asp

Q: Thank you!  Another question: during COVID, applicants were able to bypass the in-person embassy interview with a postal route (if they met certain criteria).  Is this no longer possible?

A: It’s still possible!  This postal (interview waiver) program for first-time applicants for student and exchange visas that have travelled to the U.S. before via ESTA or a visa has been extended through the end of 2023.  It is also the fastest way to process a visa through our embassy.  More information can be found here: https://www.ustraveldocs.com/fi/fi-gen-faq.asp#qliststudents

To all students or potential exchange participants: we are excited to facilitate your travel to the U.S.  Be prepared at the interview to tell us why you chose your program!  Also – please come prepared and follow all the online guidance on what to bring to the interview (and what not to bring – leave your laptops at home 😊).


Thank you all for joining us today for the live chat!

More information on visas to the United States is available on our website at https://fi.usembassy.gov/visas/

If you have more specific questions, please reach out to a customer service representative via e-mail at support-finland@ustraveldocs.com

Transcript of our previous Facebook Chat on U.S. Citizen Services on March 24, 2023, is available here: https://fi.usembassy.gov/facebook-chat-on-u-s-citizen-services/