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Overcoming student visa denials: Common reasons and how to avoid them

interstride logo by Interstride
October 9, 2023

You’ve applied and been accepted by a US university. You’ve just received your I-20 in the mail with information on how to apply for the F-1 student visa and may even have a visa appointment at the nearest consulate/embassy already. You are likely excited and a little nervous about your travels to another country. Maybe you’re worried about your F-1 student visa being denied. Student visa denial rates have increased in recent years, particularly in Asian and African countries, so it’s important to be aware of common visa rejection reasons so that you can be fully prepared for this possibility.

If you receive a student visa denial, it means your application was incomplete or you did something wrong. But, all is not lost; you can reapply. There’s no limit to the number of times you can apply for a student visa. However, you should not be submitting the same exact application each time. If caught lying or misrepresenting yourself on an application, you will be permanently ineligible for a visa. That’s why it’s vital to understand the reasoning behind student visa denials to correct those mistakes.

Common reasons for visa denial

In 2022, about 35% of F-1 visa applications were denied, but the denial rate varies greatly by country. For example, that same year the F-1 denial rate for African students was 54% while it was only 9% for European student. No matter where you are from, when a student visa is denied, there will usually be a specific reason listed. Below we highlight the most common reasons why F-1 student visas get denied.

1. Failure to prove your non-immigrant intent

While there is no data on what percentage of visas are denied for each reason, one reason stands out as the most cited – “immigrant intent”. This means the applicant failed to show that they intend to leave the US after completing their degree program. While many international students may hope to remain in the US after graduation, the F-1 is a temporary, non-immigrant visa.

In your application and/or interview, you must demonstrate intent to return to your home country after graduation regardless of whether you plan to apply for a new visa to work in the US. The only intent when seeking an F-1 visa should be completing a specific higher education program.

Popular ways to show nonimmigrant intent (source: Boston University’s International Students & Scholars Office):

  • Close family members in your home country
  • Property ownership in your home country
  • Other financial ties to your home country
  • A job offer in your home country upon graduation
  • Participation in an organization or community in your home country
  • A clean visa immigration history

2. Incomplete application form

Just like your college application, your visa application must be completed completely and accurately in order to be accepted. Review your application thoroughly before submitting it to check for typos and other small errors.

3. Insufficient financial funds

Most colleges and universities ask international applicants to demonstrate ability to pay for their education before making final admissions decisions. However, you will have to show this again during the visa application process to demonstrate that you will not become a financial burden on US citizens during your time here.

Interstride Tip: If you received a financial aid offer from the college, you can submit that as evidence of sufficient financial funds. Use Interstide’s Scholarships database to find schools that offer financial aid for international students.

4. Poor academic performance

The college admissions office demonstrated that they believed you could succeed as an international student at their institution when they accepted. Part of a consular officer’s job is to confirm that decision. They may request your transcripts, standardized test scores, or other documentation of academic performance. Be prepared by bringing copies of these documents to your visa interview.

5. Inadequate English proficiency

In addition to the English proficiency test scores you submitted to your college or university, you will need to show your English proficiency during your interview with the consular officer. You can practice ahead of time with a native English speaker. Example questions that the interviewer may ask include:

  • Have you been to the US before?
  • Do you have family, relatives, or friends in the US?
  • What will you be studying?
  • Why did you choose that college/university?

6. Poor visa interview

The consular officer’s perception of you plays a role in how they interpret your answers in the interview. The officer is trying to make sure you are being honest about who you are and your intentions. They will observe not just your answers but your tone and body language. For the best chance of success, dress professionally but simply. Act confident but respectful. The more you practice before the interview, the easier this will be to achieve.

7. Criminal history

People with a criminal record are usually not eligible for US student visas. This includes most types of convictions, even traffic violations. It’s vital for international students to be law-abiding at all times as the stakes may be higher for you than they are for your domestic peers.

8. Past violations of visa terms

This does not apply to most undergraduate international students. However, it may apply to some graduate students who previously held a visa to live in the US whether it was a student visa or another type. If you violated the terms of a previous US visa, such as overstaying your visa period, you may be ineligible for another visa.

What to do after a visa denial

If your F-1 visa was denied, the consular officer should indicate the reason for denial. In the rare event that they did not, contact them and ask for the reason. After a visa denial, there’s no appeal process. You’ll have to start over and submit a new application, but you should try to find out the reason for denial first so that you can fix it.

You may be wondering what if your visa was rejected or refused? Some people may use the terms visa refusal, visa rejection, and visa denial interchangeably. They actually all have the same meaning. If your visa is not approved, there are three possible courses of action:

  1. Additional documentation is requested for the current application
  2. Additional time is needed to process the current application
  3. The current visa application is denied and a new application is needed

Common types of visa denials

INA section 221(g)Application incomplete and/or additional documentation required – no new application is needed
INA section 214(b)Failure to demonstrate nonimmigrant intent and/or failure to demonstrate tdat you qualify for tde F-1 student visa
INA section 212(a)(4)Failure to show you have sufficient finances to fund your education and living in tde US during school
INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)Previously entered tde US unlawfully or overstayed a visa
INA section 212(a)(6)(C)(i)tdere is evidence tdat you committed fraud or lied in an attempt to get a US visa – tdis is a permanent denial, so you cannot reapply

Source: US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs

An INA section 221(g) denial is unique because you do not need to completely reapply. Instead, you just need to submit the required documentation and your visa processing will continue. You have one year from the date of visa refusal to complete the application.

Tips for reapplying after student visa denial

Keep in mind that having a visa application denied may mean that the US government will look closer at any other immigration applications you submit in the future. Do not reapply until you are certain that you addressed the reason for the denial.

In most cases the consular officer will indicate the reason for denial. However, sometimes their decision may be more discretionary than objective, and it can be harder to discern what you need to change. If this is the case for you, consider reapplying at a different consulate or embassy if possible, but still take time to prepare as much as you can.

Before reapplying, consider these questions:

  • What questions did the consular officer ask during the interview and how did you answer them?
  • How did you explain your overall plan for your education?
  • Is there additional information you can provide to clearly establish your intent to leave the US?
  • How did you present yourself at the interview and what will you do differently?
  • What new documents will you include in your reapplication?
  • Does the consulate have any special rules for reapplying?
Interstride tip: Start the reapplying process as soon as possible because the next available visa interview appointment may be a long time away, and it’s essential to secure your visa before the school year begins. Check other consulates in your country as they may have earlier appointment times available.


While a student visa denial can be scary, it doesn’t have to be. The key is understanding why F-1 student visas get rejected so that you can avoid those mistakes or correct them if needed. The top reason for denial is not proving intent to leave the US after graduation. Other common reasons include not proving your qualifications for the academic program or lack of financial means to pay tuition and living expenses. However, with the right preparation, you can successfully complete the F-1 visa application process whether it’s your first time applying or you’re reapplying after a denial.