With delays in obtaining visas at US consular posts throughout the world, it is welcome news to new F-1 and M-1 student visa applicants that they can now apply for a student visa a year in advance of their program start date indicated on their I-20 form. The Department of State announced this change on February 21 and it can be seen on their website at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/study/student-visa.html
Prior to this change, students could only obtain a visa 120 days before their program start date. Due to the delays in scheduling visa appointments , many student visa applicants found themselves anxiously waiting for a visa appointment not knowing if they would be able to travel to the US in time to start their educational programs. For some graduate students, the risk of not getting to the US to start their programs on time also meant the risk of losing assistantships.
It should be noted that even if an F-1 and M-1 student visa is obtained in advance of the program start date, students cannot enter the US on a student visa more than 30 days before their program start date.