1. Juli 2016

Why you need an organization to go to school in the USA …

… and some more tipps for a US “student exchange”. (“Exchange” does not necessarily mean a reciprocal arrangement, where you would have to host an American here in Europe!)
US Driver License from 2000,
issued to my then 16 years old daughter
Back in 2000 I had organized a year of high school for my daughter, then 16, in Colorado – without the help of an “organization”, i.e. without paying that extra fee.
   The arragements with the host family were private. The school had to be payed tuition though. They sent me a signed form, to be checked by the US visa authorities. But that’s another story, that’s past.
   Her Wyoming driver license was later exchanged for a German one. Read the story (German). – That saved us a lot of money!

Today, after 9/11/2001, US visa have become much more difficult to get. There still are visa that you can get only with a school’s signature: F1 visa.
   F1-visa are for private high schools only, not for public high schools. The schools must have gone through a costly check. “Before you can apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for an F or M student visa, you must first apply to and be accepted by a SEVP approved school”, says http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/study-exchange/student.html
   The problem is “SEVP approved”! SEVP stands for “Student and Exchange Visitor Program”; ICE for “Immigration and Customs Enforcement”. Here you should find SEVP-schools: https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/school-search.
   In our case this would have meant one of two rather expensive and unpractical private schools, with high yearly tuition fees; details below1). We did not further follow this option.  
   SEVP-schools are rare. And we already knew the school we wanted – our host’s children had gone there, it’s nearby, looks good on web.
   For J1-visa, the one we wanted, you need to engage a German organization with an US partner organization, because the States want close control of the student, and apparently have outsourced this. We chose Stepin here in Bonn; they are linked to Pax (“Program of Academic Exchange”) in the US. All our contacts are purely to Stepin, while our US host will have to do with Pax.

This basically is the story: “Why an organization?”

• Arrangement with the host family (in our case)
• Contract with the organization (in our case “Stepin”), about € 10.000 (includes flight, insurance etc.)
• Visa fee € 144 (to be paid by bank transfer2)
• SEVIS I-901 Payment (payable by credit card, even with American Express) $ 180
· No school fees with J1 (see here, German)

1) Details to the SEVP schools we found around Santa Cruz, Ca.:
The two are as follows:
1- Georgiana Kirby Preparatory school which is located in down town Santa Cruz www.kirby.org - It’s easyish to get to i.e. on the main bus transportation lines but is very small only 245 students across grades 6-12. They have an international program (so that there is academic credit I believe) but it is very expensive $23,000 tuition.
2 - Aptos High School, which is the School Board south of me, towards Watsonville www.aptoshs.net. Its student population is about 1400 in grades 9-12. The cost to attend there is cheaper $10,000 (which has to be paid before they will issue something called an I-20, which is what apparently is needed in order for you to get a visa for Carla. There the expectation is that it is much more of an “experience” year and they can’t guarantee that any of their classes would be acceptable “credit” for you locally. The challenge with Aptos High is that even though it is only a few miles away, it is off the beaten path, there is no “public” transportation to that area and it’s too far to walk, so would require organized drop off and pick up every day, which would be a challenge – not impossible – but a challenge. Unfortunate that she wouldn’t be 16, as then she could drive herself to school as necessary.

2) I paid the € 144 visa fee by standard german bank transfer. Perhaps it’s possible to pay by credit card or by immediate bank transfer (»sofort«). Our organization, Stepin, had warned that credit card payments are not possible. 
   The official “Online Banking Funds Transfer & Cash Deposit Instructions” had warned: “Do not alter the CGI Reference number AT ALL (do not include spaces or any other extra characters) or include any other information. If you do not include the CGI Reference EXACTLY AS LISTED ABOVE, your payment WILL NOT be recognized.” (»Als Verwendungszweck müssen Sie Ihre persönliche CGI-Referenznummer angeben, sonst kann Ihnen die Zahlung nicht zugeordnet werden. Sie dürfen die CGI-Referenznummer nicht verändern oder andere Informationen angeben.«). As good German I instinctively had added the keyword visa and the name of my daughter into the subject line – but that really did not matter, despite my anxieties. We were afraid, we’d already be in vacations in Italy …
   A day later I called the visa service at 032 221093243. (032 is a german VoIP-number.) I didn’t have to wait much, and they were very friendly and helpful, spoke perfect German. They offered me a choice of interview time slots in about two weeks time. (According to Stepin you can change the interview appointment time twice without extra payment.) 
   Practically in the meantime the “I-901 Payment Confirmation” had arrived via e-mail.
   The “Appointment Confirmation” prompty came as well. So everything was settled. 
   Now I had to pay SEVIS, $ 180, and get a printed confirmation to show at interview time. Stepin says payment must be done at least three days before the interview. I paid by American Express credit card.  
1" (one inch) = 2,54 cm

The biometric picture must be square (quadratisch), 2 × 2" = 5 × 5 cm, so you might have to make an extra one. See http://www.ustraveldocs.com/de/de-niv-photoinfo.asp (English) or  http://www.ustraveldocs.com/de_de/de-niv-photoinfo.asp (German). Digitally a standard German biometric picture 34 × 45 mm had been accepted.
Covered Entry (Transparent Baldaquin) to the US Consulate in Frankfurt at left. –
Less colorful than at the Berlin Adlon below.

The personal visit at the consulate is to be done by the student alone. You cannot accompany him or her inside the embassy.

Ganz so vornehm war’s nicht vor der amerikanischen Botschaft
in der Gießener Straße in Frankurt am Main,
auch die Umgebung etwas bescheidener.
Aber immerhin: Bei Regen hat man ein Dach drüber.
Hier etwas Werbung fürs Adlon am Brandenburger Tor,
»als Zitat«.
This visit was easy. We had started at five in the morning from Bonn. Carla’s appointment was at 7.15 in Frankfurt – first thing Monday morning. When we arrived at 6.45 a small queue was already wainting, outside, under a baldachin. Friendly german guards in american uniforms helped. Once inside the first fence, Carla showed her papers, then was asked in. In a nearby building there is a deposit for mobile phones and other stuff that must be kept out; you might not want to use that, as you’ll loose your position in the queue. After the secutity check she had to answer some simple question, rather colloquially and friendly, and could then hand in her passport and the papers. She was back within half an hour.
   Apparently the whole “personal” procedure at the consulate is in order to electronically get the fingerprints. The Americans didn’t even take her picture, just asked if the submitted one was recent, as required – the electronically transmitted jpg image in german format must have sufficed. Now we wait for the passport with the visa in (registered) mail. 
   Incidentally: memoir photos are allowed in front of the “tomb” stone announcing the Embassy, no other background please, no buildings. They aren’t architectonically pleasing, anyway.
Deatails modified
  A day later – Tuesday – Carla got a friendly mail “Document Status (US Travel Docs)”: “Dear Carla […], Your document(s) have been collected from the US Embassy/Consulate. The passport number being returned is C73YJL34R and the airway bill for tracking is RB486388627DE110 [numbers modified here, no . at end of paragraph, interesting!]. You have chosen to have your documents delivered to the following location: […]. If you have any issues or concerns, please contact us at www.ustraveldocs.com/de.
   Two days later – Wednesday – the passport was back, via registered mail, including visa and a nice salute! US efficiency at its best.  

Stepin rules out accompaying the student to the US or even visting him or her before March 1, in our case 2017, to avoid uncontrolled separations and lasting homesickness. 

Disclaimer. These hints are to the best of my memory and conscience, but without any guarantee. Things may also be changed at any time by the authorities. So please take care yourself!
                                                                                    July 2016, comments welcome to Fritz Jörn

See my next post in this subject: US High School Parent Information, Nov.2016


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