The F-1 student visa is a gateway for international students seeking to pursue academic and vocational studies in the United States. This nonimmigrant visa allows individuals to enroll in educational programs, from language courses to advanced degree programs, and offers a chance to experience American culture while obtaining
The F-1 student visa is designed for foreign nationals with the intention of studying at accredited U.S. institutions. This includes universities, colleges, language training programs, and other academic institutions. The visa is not intended for primary or secondary education.
The following are the general requirements for applying for an F-1 student visa at a U.S. Consulate and seeking admission with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a Port of Entry to the United States:
- Acceptance to a Qualifying U.S. Educational Institution – Before applying for the F-1 Visa, prospective students must receive acceptance from a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) approved educational institution. The institution will provide the necessary Form I-20, which is required for the visa application and admission to the U.S.
- Financial Support – Applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial resources to cover tuition, living expenses, and other associated costs during their stay in the U.S. This may include bank statements, affidavits of support, or scholarship letters.
- Nonimmigrant Intent – F-1 applicants must prove that their primary intent is to study in the U.S. and that they have a residence in their home country that they have no intention of abandoning.
- Obtain Form I-20 – After acceptance by a U.S. institution, the international student should be provided with a valid Form I-20, which includes important information about the course of study and the institution.
- Pay SEVIS Fee – Before applying for the F-1 visa or status, students must pay the SEVIS fee, which helps support the maintenance of the program.
- Apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad – Prepare and submit the DS-160 Online Consular Nonimmigrant Visa Application, pay the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, schedule and attend a visa interview appointment at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over the applicants’ citizenship or residence. During the interview, Consular Officials may ask the applicant about their background, reasons for pursuing the educational program and future plans, ties to their home country and financial capability (i.e. nonimmigrant intent), which often includes parents’ careers and information for younger applicants who do not have financial solvency on their own. An F-1 visa may be issued within 1-2 weeks of the interview.
- Application for admission at a U.S. Port of Entry with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with all of the documentation referenced above. CBP should admit the international student for “D/S” which means Duration of Status, so long as the individual maintains status with a valid I-20 issued by the school for each semester or period of study.
- Duration of Stay – Students with F-1 visas are typically allowed to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their academic program and a limited period for work authorization, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT).
- Maintaining Status – F-1 students must maintain full-time enrollment, report any changes in their academic program or address to the designated school official, and adhere to the regulations set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Work Opportunities – F-1 visa holders are eligible for certain on-campus and off-campus work opportunities. However, there are strict regulations regarding the number of hours and types of employment. It’s important to check with the University’s Designated School Official (DSO) in the international students’ office. Typically an international graduate receives one (1) year of work authorization after graduation, with the possibility of an additional two (2) year extension for certain Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) graduates who are working for an employer who has enrolled in E-Verify, for a total of three (3) years.
Engage in Future U.S. Immigration Planning Early
For international students who wish to remain in the United States after graduation, it’s important to start planning early in consideration of work-authorized Nonimmigrant Visas and other U.S. immigration strategies. Failure to properly plan ahead may actually result in the inability to remain in the United States, as the H-1B Specialty Occupation visa is often the default and only option for degreed professionals which requires an annual lottery, with limited exceptions.
The above is informational and not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with an experienced business immigration attorney on your specific facts and circumstances before proceeding with any U.S. immigration strategy.