The rules of the visa

In October, the Institute of International Education released a study indicating the decline in international students arriving in the United States had slowed.

As reported in November, Marcia Taylor, the interim director of USF’s International and Student Scholar Services (ISSS), attributed this trend to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s prioritizing of international students.

Taylor said Rice urged embassies to beef up staffing during the peak season of visa applications, for example.

Though the United States may have streamlined its visa application process for students, the process for American students planning to study abroad remains time consuming and complicated.

If one is planning to study abroad, it is important to pay close attention to the stringent rules and regulations in order to avoid a lengthy delay.

Knowledge of a second language remains integral for competitive candidacy in the job market. So many, myself included, think of the red tape as a small cost for the great benefit obtained by fluency.

When I decided to study in Spain this semester, my application preparation for a Schengen Visa, a comprehensive visa allowing me to travel throughout 15 European countries, required that I make an appointment and petition the Spanish Consulate in Miami for the visa in person.

Visa requirements vary by country, even within the Schengen designation itself, but many countries require similar personal petitions and will not accept a mailed visa. My advice: If an appointment is required, make it several months in advance. Although the Spanish Consulate of Miami’s Web site indicates that visa applications cannot be made more than 90 days prior to departure, procrastination may hinder getting an appointment, and hence, a visa.

Also, make sure the appointment does not fall too closely to the day of departure – some countries, such as Spain, require you to obtain your visa at least four weeks ahead of time.

It’s also a good idea to carefully read the requirements for the visa application process. I had to do much more than fill out a form. Among other things, I had to provide a letter in Spanish verifying my enrollment in a language program and that I would obtain college credit.

Visa applicants must also prove they have enough money for their stay, either through a notarized letter attributing financial responsibility to parents, verification of financial aid or scholarships, or a bank statement indicating they have $1,000 per month in their account for the duration of their stay.

And if you’re going to stay more than six months, don’t forget a doctor’s letter stating that you’re “free from the following quarantine diseases: yellow fever, cholera and the plague. The certificate must also certify that the applicant is free of drug addictions and mental illness.” (The plague? Yeah, I kind of laughed at that one, too).

Don’t forget to fulfill any of the requirements, say, by neglecting to include two passport photos in your application packet. It’s unlikely you’re going to be the one applicant in the history of visas to find sympathy at the unrelenting window of a consulate for simple incompetence, even if you really didn’t “mean to” forget the $100 money order required of every American applicant.

Finally, remember that patience is key. If the employee at the consulate doesn’t speak English – I went to an annex visa room and was assisted by a woman who, understandably, only spoke Spanish – don’t get frustrated and berate the employee with a Bill O’Riley-esque description.

Just point and grunt – sure, it’s rudimentary, but it gets the idea across and does so more than complaining.