Any international student wanting to study in the United States will need to obtain a student visa to enter and remain in the U.S. Most students are issued with an F-1 visa for a temporary period of several years, depending on the length of the proposed study program course. This article discusses the F-1 student visa as well as the process on how to obtain a F-1 study visa.
What are the requirements to obtain an F-1 student visa?
Before you can apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for an F student visa, you must first apply to and be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school. Visit the Department of Homeland Security website to see a list of approved programs and search for SEVP-certified schools.
After you have been accepted into a designated school, you must also be able to prove that you:
- have a residence abroad with no intention of abandoning,
- intend to depart from the U.S. upon completion of the course of study,
- possess adequate funds to pursue the proposed course of study
How do I apply for an F-1 student visa?
If you wish to apply for an F-1 student visa, you must provide a SEVIS Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status, provided by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and filled out by both you and the school. SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and up to date information on non-immigrant students. The school is responsible for entering applicant’s information for your student visa form into SEVIS. The consular officer will need to verify your record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application.
This form is significant because it informs the government that a person is eligible for an F-1 visa. It certifies that:
- an applicant is or expects to be a "bona fide" student,
- the applicant meets the admissions requirements,
- applicant will participate in a full course of study, and
- the applicant proved that the applicant has enough financial support to study and live in the U.S. You will also need to submit a correctly completed Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
For more information or assistance with your application, please contact our experienced immigration and visa attorneys today! We offer a free initial consultation.
What documentation will I need to apply for a U.S. student visa?
You will also need to provide the following with your application for an F-1 student visa:
- a valid passport,
- one 2 x 2 photograph,
- a receipt to prove payment of the visa application fee,
- the SEVIS fee receipt (SEVIS I-901).
You should also be prepared to provide:
- Transcripts/diplomas from previous institutions attended,
- scores from tests required by the educational institution such as the SAT, GRE, etc.,
- financial evidence that shows that you or your sponsor have sufficient funds to cover tuition and expenses during the period of intended study. For more information on financial ability, please read more here.
Will I have to attend an F-1 visa interview at a U.S. Embassy?
An interview at the consular section of the U.S. Embassy is part of the F-1 visa application process. Applicants ages 14-79 are required to have an interview and few exceptions exist (see below). Specific appointment scheduling, applicable fees and embassy instructions vary so you need to check with your local embassy.
* If you are a citizen of Canada, you are not required to attend an F-1 visa interview and will be admitted into F-1 student visa status at the U.S. Port of Entry, upon review of your SEVIS Form I-20 and supporting documents from a U.S. Customs officer.
Contact our immigration attorney for information on the different procedure for obtaining a student visa for Canadian citizens.
When should I apply for my U.S. F-1 student visa?
Applicants are encouraged to apply for visas early to provide sufficient time for visa processing. F-1 visa applicants should be aware that embassies are able to issue student visas 120 days or less in advance of the school registration date. Visa applications are time sensitive and any errors or problems may cause you costly delays and risk your visa opportunity.
How long is my F-1 student status valid for?
If you successfully obtain an F-1 visa, you will usually be admitted to the U.S. for the duration of your student status, meaning as long as the program length listed on your Form I-20. If an F-1 visa holder has completed the course of studies shown on their visa application, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed an additional 60 days to prepare for departure from the U.S. or to transfer to another school.
However, legal status is different from a visa expiration date. Legal status in the U.S. is determined by your arrival and departure record and the expiration date found on Form I-94, not the expiration date found on your F-1 visa. For more information, please read here.
Can my family join me in the United States if I obtain an F-1 nonimmigrant visa?
An F-1 visa holder may bring along his or her spouse and/or children. Dependents of an F-1 visa holder will be designated as an F-2. Proof of the F-1 visa holder’s relationship to his or her spouse and/or children is also required, i.e. marriage licenses, birth certificates, etc. The spouse must also be one that is recognized by the United States and any children must be under the age of 21 and unmarried to qualify as dependents. It is best to apply for F-1 and F-2 visas simultaneously, however, if the spouse and/or children must apply at a different time, a copy of the F-1 visa holder’s passport and visa, along with other requirements must be submitted as well.
Can I transfer to a different school while on an F-1 student visa?
All F-1 visa students are allowed to transfer between SEVP-certified schools. The transfer process is a way to electronically transfer SEVIS records and preserve the same SEVIS identification number for the F visa student. The transfer process sets a date on which responsibility for the student record transfers and helps ensure that the new school updates and activates the student’s record. Once the record has been released to the new school, the Designated School Official at the new school can enter information into the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status.
On-Campus Employment on an F-1 Visa
The U.S. government allows F-1 visa holders to work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week during the school year. F-1 students also have the option to work on-campus for up to 40 hours a week during breaks and the summer.
Off-Campus Employment on an F-1 Visa
F-1 visa holders may obtain work authorization due to unexpected, extreme financial hardship. Interested F-1 students must prove they have less money than previously thought, examples include large currency devaluations, political strife in their home country, unexpectedly large medical bills, loss of a parent’s job, etc. Students must apply with USCIS before starting work. Working without following the regulatory guidelines is a serious status violation. Students terminated for unauthorized employment are not eligible for reinstatement. They must leave the United States immediately.
If you need assistance for obtaining an F-1 student visa, contact our experienced U.S. immigration attorney now for a FREE consultation.