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F-1: Student Visa

F1 visa category is reserved for academic students enrolled in colleges, universities, high schools, language training programs, and other academic institutions. The other student visa is M-1, for non-academic vocational studies. Spouse and unmarried children under 21 of a student may come to the United States in F2 or M2 visa status.

What are the requirements for F1 student visas?

  • You must be attending an academic institution or a language-training program;
  • You must be enrolled as a full-time student;
  • The school must be approved by the USICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to accept foreign students;
  • You must show sufficient financial support to complete the study;
  • You must prove that you do not intend to abandon your foreign residency.

How do I apply for an F-1 visa if I'm outside the U.S.?

If you have been accepted to a SEVP-approved school, you can expect to receive a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status. Bring the form I-20, visa application forms (DS-156, DS-158, and DS-157 for certain applicants), and evidence of financial support to the appropriate US consulate to apply for an F-1 student visa. You should also bring other supporting documents including previous transcripts and test scores such as TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc. Your spouse and/or children should accompany you to the interview, but with separate applications, if they intend to come with you under F2. They may also file F2 applications later while you are already in the US.

How to prove that I have sufficient funds to support my study?

A consulate officer will look at your documents during the interview and determine whether you have enough money for self-support. The best evidence is financial aids offered by the school, such as fellowships, scholarships, teaching/research assistantships and tuition waivers. The type and amount of the aid is indicated on Form I-20.

If you do not receive financial assistance, or if it is insufficient, you need to present other materials such as recent bank statements and income verification. Be prepared to explain the sources and availability of the funds during the visa interview. It is never a good idea to have an influx of new money, or a large sum, deposited into your bank account a few days before the statement is issued. The officer will certainly suspect they are borrowed to inflate your savings.

U.S. consulates are well aware of the economy and history of local regions. They understand the fact that many working families in countries like China or India do not have enough funds to support a full-time student to live and study in the United States. So some form of school financial aid is almost necessary in many cases. However, the situation has changed lately due to the economic growth in these countries and many students are able to obtain F1 visas without school assistance.

Can I work as an F1 student?

Yes. F-1 students may be eligible to work on-campus or off-campus, full-time or part-time, with proper employment authorization. Click here for more details on F-1 employment options. Contact your school's foreign student advisor if you have questions. Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of immigration terms and will have severe consequences. F2 dependents are not allowed to work.

Can an F-1 student apply for green card?

There is no clear guidance or regulation from the USCIS regarding whether a student is still under F-1 status if s/he has applied for I-485 adjustment of status. Since a student visa doesn't allow "dual intent" as in H or L visas, it seems that filing a green card application - a clear indication of immigrant intent - would terminate one's F1 status immediately. However, there have been strong arguments, precedent cases and even informal remarks from USCIS personnel that indicate one may, in fact, maintain both F1 and AOS status.

Since USCIS may issue new guidance on this matter in the future, students under this situation must be even more careful with their status issues and on- or off-campus employment opportunities. We definitely recommend applying for EAD along with your 485 application. Additionally, an advance parole (AP) is absolutely necessary if you intend to travel abroad, not only to avoid abandonment of your AOS, but also because you will have a hard time explaining to a consulate officer why you still qualify for an F1 nonimmigrant visa.

How long can I stay in the U.S. as an F1 student?

When you enter the US, an immigration officer at the port of entry will issue you an I-94 card that indicates your non-immigrant status (F1) and your authorized stay. It is typically "Duration of Status" or "D/S" on a student's I-94 card, meaning that you may remain in the U.S. as long as you are enrolled in the school to complete your academic program. After the program ends, or your practical trains period ends, you will have 60 days to depart the U.S.

Do not confuse your authorized duration of stay with the visa validity, which is an expiration date specified on your passport's visa page. You may travel to the US border at any time before your F1 visa expires, but your authorized stay (an actual date or D/S) will be granted by USCIS at that point.

Can I change my nonimmigrant status to F1?

If you are already in the United States under another nonimmigrant status, you must file Form I-539 to change your status to F1 student. You need to submit original Form I-94, and will be issued a new one once your application is approved. Other requirements such as financial support and non-immigrant intent must still be met.

Can I transfer to a different school?

Yes. You must notify your current school and work with the designated school official (DSO) to transfer your SEVIS record. You also need to obtain a new I-20 from your new school, and give the completed I-20 to your new DSO within 15 days of transfer date.

Can I travel outside the US?

Yes. You may return to the US after an absence of no more than five months. You must have a new F1 visa if your original one has expired. Have your designated school official sign your I-20 before leaving the US.

Can F-1 students attend public high schools in the U.S.?

Yes, but with several restrictions. Section 625 of Public Law 104-208 sets a limit of 12 months for an F-1 student attending public secondary/high schools. In addition, the F-1 student must pay the full tuition by repaying the school district for the unsubsidized, per capita cost of providing the education to him or her. Also, students in F-1 status are prohibited from attending public elementary schools.

Note that the limitations above do not apply to F-2 dependents, who are allowed to attend public K-12 schools (kindergarten, elementary, and up to high school).

How do I know if a particular school is SEVIS-approved?

You should contact the school before you apply for admission, and should be informed immediately whether they are authorized to accept foreign students. In addition, check the list of Sevis Approved Schools (see link above), which is updated by ICE on a regularly basis.

A school not currently approved must file Form I-17 electronically through the SEVIS program in order to accept international students. Institutions of higher educations must submit evidence that their course credits are accepted by other accredited schools; and public or private high schools must meet state and/or local regulations, among others. Although public elementary schools are not eligible to admit F1 students, a private elementary school may be approved if it meets certain requirements including being accredited by a DOE certified agency.

What is SEVP? What is SEVIS?

Congress mandated a fee-based system to better keep track of international students and exchange visitors in the United States. To accomplish this task, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) under U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is the database that allows SEVP to track international students, exchange visitors and their dependents to ensure that they are in the United States for the purposes they stated.

What are SEVP fees?

ICE published a new fee schedule that goes into effect on October 27, 2008:

Form I-901 Fee Schedule for Students, Exchange Visitors and Schools (10/27/2008)
Fee changes
Old Fee
New Fee
Nonimmigrant students $100 $200
Most exchange visitors $100 $180
Au Pair, Camp Counselors, Summer Work/Travel Program $35 $35
Government sponsored exchange visitors $0 $0
School Certification $230 $1,700
School site visit $350 $655
Recertification of SEVP certified schools $0 $0
Petitions for change in ownership of certified SEVP schools $230 $1,700
Additional campus site visit $350 $655

Can I travel to Canada or Mexico with an expired F-1 Visa?

If you have been out of the U.S. for thirty days or less in contiguous territory (Canada and Mexico), you qualify for nonimmigrant visa automatic revalidation. However, if you applied for a visa while in Canada or Mexico, and it was rejected, you will not be able to enter the U.S. under automatic revalidation process. See other restrictions here.

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