Remarks by Stacie Hankins Consular Chief U.S. Embassy Abuja – Student Visas Facebook Q&A (May 27, 2016)

Good morning.  My name is Stacie Hankins and I’m the Consular Chief here at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria and this is my colleague, Grace Genuino – Chief of the Non Immigrant Visa Unit.  Thank you for joining us to talk about student visas.  I know that there are many young people in Nigeria who are interested in studying in the United States.

Before answering your questions, I’d like to share some information with you.  There are currently almost 9,500 Nigerians studying in the United States.  Since October 1, 2015 – the beginning of our fiscal year – consular officers in Abuja have issued 1,323 student visas.  We support educational exchange between our two countries.

The process of researching and applying to colleges and universities halfway around the world can seem overwhelming, but we have resources to help you.  Education USA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries – including Nigeria.  Education USA offers accurate, comprehensive, and current information about opportunities to study at accredited post-secondary institutions in the United States.  Education USA has offices at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja and the U.S. Consulate in Lagos.  You can learn more about the services offered by visiting the Education USA website at educationusa.state.gov.

So, how do you apply for a student visa?  The first step is to gain acceptance into an accredited college or university in the U.S.  Once you have been accepted, the school will send you an approved I-20 form that provides important information about your educational plans, like your program start date.  Next, you must pay the mandatory Student and Exchange Visitor Information System – also known as SEVIS – fee.  Once you’ve done that, you can fill out your DS-160 online visa application and schedule your appointment in Abuja or Lagos.

What type of student visa should you apply for?  Well, it depends on the type of study you plan to undertake.  F visas are for students attending academic programs – community colleges or four-year colleges or universities.  M visas are for individuals going to the U.S. for vocational training, like flight school.  J visas are for those who wish to participate in an approved exchange program, like the Fulbright Scholars program.  Whether you are applying for an F, M, or J visa, you must bring the same documentation to your visa interview:  your passport, your original signed I-20 form (or DS-2019 for J visa applicants), your DS-160 confirmation page, your SEVIS receipt, and your GT Bank receipt.

What should you expect and how should you prepare for your student visa interview?  Consular officers in Nigeria interview thousands of applicants every day, so they only have a few minutes to assess your qualifications.  Use this time wisely.  The consular officer is looking for reasons why you want to study in the U.S. and why you selected a particular school.  Tell us why this is the right school for you.  Tell us why you chose a particular course of study.  Tell us what you’d like to do with your degree, once you’ve earned it.  Canned responses, like the school’s address or the fact that it’s “one of the best,” are not helpful.  We are looking for substantive answers that will help us determine if you are a credible and qualified student.

Most importantly, tell us your own story.  Consular officers are trained to detect when an applicant is not being truthful.  Just because your sister or your cousin or your friend got a student visa doesn’t mean you will get one by telling the same story.  There is no magic formula for getting a visa.  Just be honest with us.

Finally, I want to remind you that we are entering our busiest time of year in the Consular Section:  the summer travel season.  Although we do try to ensure that students are able to schedule interview appointments before their program start dates, it may be difficult for you to obtain an appointment on your preferred date.  We encourage you to keep this in mind, and schedule your appointment as soon as possible once you have all of your documentation.

Thanks for listening.  Now, I’m ready to take your questions.