F-1 Student Visa

F-1 Student Visa

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What is an F-1 visa?

An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States government to international students who wish to study in the United States. 

This visa category is specifically designed for individuals who intend to enroll in academic programs, language training programs, or other educational courses at accredited institutions in the U.S.

The prospective student must show that he or she has sufficient funds to pay for the education without having to work in the U.S., and that he or she has sufficient preparation to complete the course of study.

While students are allowed to work part-time during their study in the United States, it must not be seen as essential source of income, or as a way of paying for their study program.

The F-1 student can stay in the U.S. for the duration of their status (as long as they are in a full-time course of study) in accordance with the course of study indicated on their SEVIS Form I-20.

F-1 students are monitored by a “designated school official” (DSO) at the educational institution.

At the completion of their program, many students may be authorized to stay in the United States for “practical training” or postgraduate work related to their study.

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of F-1 students are eligible to apply for F-2 visa.

Key points about the F-1 visa:

  • Student Status: The F-1 visa is granted to individuals seeking to pursue a full course of study at an approved educational institution in the U.S. This can include universities, colleges, language schools, and other educational programs.
  • Duration: The F-1 visa allows students to stay in the U.S. for the duration of their academic program, including any practical training or optional practical training (OPT) that may follow their studies.
  • Requirements: To qualify for an F-1 visa, applicants generally need to be accepted by a U.S. educational institution, demonstrate sufficient financial resources to cover tuition and living expenses, and have a non-immigrant intent (meaning they intend to return to their home country after completing their studies).
  • Work Opportunities: F-1 visa holders are usually allowed to work on-campus during their studies and may also be eligible for off-campus employment under certain circumstances. Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) OPT extensions provide opportunities for F-1 students to work in their field of study for a limited period after graduation.
  • Dependents: F-1 visa holders’ spouses and children can also enter the U.S. on an F-2 visa. While F-2 dependents can accompany the F-1 student, they are generally not permitted to work or study full-time.
  • Maintaining Status: F-1 visa holders must maintain a full course of study, make satisfactory academic progress, and adhere to the regulations governing their visa category. If they wish to transfer to a different school or extend their program, they need to follow the proper procedures.
  • Travel and Re-entry: F-1 visa holders can travel outside the U.S. and re-enter as long as their visa is still valid and they have the necessary documentation, such as an I-20 form endorsed for travel by their Designated School Official (DSO).

F-1 visa requirements

The requirements for obtaining an F-1 visa to study in the United States can vary slightly depending on the specific circumstances and the U.S. embassy or consulate where you apply. 

However, here are the general requirements that applicants typically need to fulfill:

  • Acceptance by a U.S. School: You must have an official acceptance letter from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved U.S. educational institution, such as a university, college, language school, or vocational program.
  • Sufficient Funds: You need to demonstrate that you have enough financial resources to cover tuition, living expenses, and other associated costs during your studies in the U.S. This may involve providing bank statements, sponsorship letters, or other evidence of financial support.
  • Non-Immigrant Intent: You must intend to return to your home country after completing your studies in the U.S. This is to show that you do not intend to immigrate permanently to the U.S.
  • Full-Time Student: You must be enrolled as a full-time student, which generally means taking a minimum number of credit hours or courses per semester as determined by the institution.
  • English Proficiency: Most institutions require proof of English language proficiency. This could be demonstrated through standardized tests like TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System).
  • Form I-20: Once accepted by a U.S. school, they will issue you a Form I-20, which is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. You will need this form to apply for the F-1 visa.
  • Visa Application: Complete the online visa application form (Form DS-160) and pay the associated fee.
  • Visa Interview: Schedule and attend a visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Be prepared to discuss your educational plans, financial situation, and ties to your home country.
  • Passport: You need a valid passport that will remain valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S.
  • Photographs: Provide passport-sized photographs that meet the U.S. visa photo requirements.
  • SEVIS Fee: Pay the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee, which is required to support the administration and maintenance of the SEVIS program.
  • Additional Documentation: Depending on your circumstances, you might need to provide additional documents such as transcripts, standardized test scores, proof of previous education, and any relevant work experience.

How to apply for an F-1 visa?

Applying for an F-1 visa to study in the United States involves several steps. Here’s a general outline of the application process:

Step 1. Receive Acceptance from a U.S. School:

  • Apply and gain admission to a U.S. educational institution approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Once accepted, the school will send you a Form I-20.

Step 2. Pay the SEVIS Fee:

  • Before applying for your visa, you need to pay the SEVIS fee. Visit the SEVIS I-901 Fee Payment website (https://www.fmjfee.com/) to pay the fee online and receive a payment receipt.

Step 3. Complete the Online DS-160 Form:

  • Fill out Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) on the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website. This form collects your personal and travel information.

Step 4. Pay the Visa Application Fee:

  • Pay the visa application fee, which can vary depending on your country and the type of visa you are applying for. Payment instructions can be found on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.

Step 5. Schedule Visa Interview:

  • Create an account on the U.S. embassy or consulate website in your home country.
  • Use your DS-160 confirmation number to schedule a visa interview appointment. Interviews are typically conducted at the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will apply.

Step 6. Gather Required Documents. Gather all necessary documents, which may include:

  • Passport valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S.
  • DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Visa application fee receipt.
  • SEVIS fee payment receipt.
  • Form I-20 issued by your U.S. school.
  • Passport-sized photographs that meet U.S. visa photo requirements.
  • Transcripts, standardized test scores, and other academic documents.
  • Proof of English language proficiency.
  • Proof of financial support.

Step 7. Attend Visa Interview:

  • Arrive at the U.S. embassy or consulate on the scheduled date and time of your visa interview.
  • Bring all the required documents with you.
  • Be prepared to discuss your educational plans, financial situation, ties to your home country, and other relevant topics.

Step 8. Visa Decision:

  • After the interview, the consular officer will make a decision on your visa application. If approved, you will receive your passport with the F-1 visa stamped in it.

Step 9. Plan Travel to the U.S.:

  • Once you have your F-1 visa, you can make travel arrangements to the U.S. Remember to enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days before the program start date on your Form I-20.

Step 10. Arrival in the U.S.:

  • Upon arrival in the U.S., you will go through immigration and present your passport with the F-1 visa and your Form I-20 to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.

Step 11. Maintain F-1 Status:

  • It’s essential to adhere to the rules and regulations of your F-1 visa, including maintaining a full course of study, following any work restrictions, and keeping your Form I-20 updated.

F-1 visa checklist of documents

Preparing a comprehensive checklist of documents for your F-1 visa application is essential to ensure that you have everything you need for a successful application. 

Keep in mind that specific requirements can vary depending on your country and the U.S. embassy or consulate you’re applying to. Here’s a general checklist to help you get started:

Before the Visa Interview:

  • Passport – Valid passport with an expiration date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S.
  • DS-160 Confirmation Page – Printed confirmation page of the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) form.
  • Visa Application Fee Receipt – Proof of payment for the visa application fee.
  • SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt – Proof of payment for the SEVIS fee.
  • Form I-20 – The Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status issued by your U.S. educational institution.
  • Passport-Sized Photos – Recent passport-sized photographs that meet U.S. visa photo requirements.
  • Acceptance Letter – Official acceptance letter from the U.S. school where you plan to study.
  • Proof of Financial Support – Documents demonstrating sufficient funds to cover tuition, living expenses, and other costs. This may include bank statements, affidavits of support, scholarship award letters, or financial guarantees.
  • Transcripts and Academic Documents – Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, and other academic records from your previous educational institutions.
  • Standardized Test Scores – If required by your U.S. school, provide standardized test scores like TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT, etc.
  • English Language Proficiency Proof – Proof of English language proficiency through test scores or other means, if applicable.

During the Visa Interview:

  • Visa Appointment Confirmation – Printed confirmation of your visa interview appointment.
  • Travel Itinerary – Details of your travel plans, including intended arrival and departure dates in the U.S.
  • Educational Plans – Information about your intended program of study and the reasons for choosing that specific institution and course.
  • Ties to Home Country – Documentation that demonstrates your intention to return to your home country after completing your studies, such as a job offer, family ties, property ownership, etc.
  • Additional Documentation – Any other documents specifically requested by the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country.

Remember that this checklist is a starting point. Always check the official website of the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country for the most up-to-date and specific information about required documents for F-1 visa applications. It’s also a good idea to consult with your U.S. school’s international student office or designated school official (DSO) for guidance on preparing your application.

F-1 visa fees

The fees associated with obtaining an F-1 visa to study in the United States can vary depending on factors such as your country of origin and the specific U.S. embassy or consulate where you’re applying. Here are the common fees you might encounter:

  • SEVIS Fee: This fee supports the administration and maintenance of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The SEVIS fee for F-1 students is $350. However, this fee can change over time, so it’s important to check the official SEVIS fee payment website for the most current fee amount.
  • Visa Application Fee: The fee for the visa application itself, known as the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee, can vary based on your country and the type of visa you’re applying for. The current MRV fee for an F-1 visa is $185.00. Check the U.S. Department Fees for Visa Services page for the most current information on F-1 visa fees.
  • Optional Fees: Depending on your situation and needs, you might incur additional costs for services such as expedited visa processing, document translation, or other services offered by the U.S. embassy or consulate.

Remember that visa fees are typically non-refundable, even if your visa application is denied. Therefore, it’s essential to carefully prepare and submit your application to maximize your chances of approval.

F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training)

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period of temporary employment in the United States that allows eligible international students with F-1 visas to gain practical work experience related to their field of study. 

OPT can be used before or after completing a degree program, and it is designed to provide students with real-world experience in their chosen profession. Here are some key points about F-1 OPT:

  • Eligibility: To be eligible for F-1 OPT, you must:
    • Have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year (typically two consecutive semesters or three quarters).
    • Have maintained lawful F-1 status throughout your academic program.
    • Apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Duration: F-1 students can generally be approved for up to 12 months of OPT per higher level of study. For example, if you complete a bachelor’s degree, you can apply for and be granted up to 12 months of OPT. If you later complete a master’s degree, you could potentially apply for an additional 12 months of OPT.
  • Pre-Completion OPT: Students can engage in pre-completion OPT while they are still enrolled in their program of study. However, the total amount of pre-completion OPT used will be subtracted from the available 12 months of OPT.
  • Post-Completion OPT: Post-completion OPT begins after you complete your degree program. You can apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date.
  • STEM OPT Extension: Students who have earned degrees in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields may be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension after their initial 12 months of OPT. This allows for a total of up to 36 months of OPT.
  • Application Process:
    • Obtain a recommendation for OPT from your Designated School Official (DSO) at your educational institution.
    • Prepare and submit Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) to USCIS.
    • Include the required documents and fees with your Form I-765 application.
    • USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if your OPT application is approved.
  • Employment: During the approved OPT period, you can work in a job directly related to your field of study. You can work for multiple employers and engage in multiple short-term jobs, as long as they are related to your major field of study.
  • Unemployment Limit: During the initial 12 months of OPT, you are allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment. For the 24-month STEM OPT extension, an additional 60 days of unemployment is allowed, resulting in a total of 150 days over the entire OPT period.
  • Reporting Requirements: It’s important to report any changes in employment, address, or other relevant information to your DSO to maintain your F-1 status and comply with OPT regulations.

F-1 OPT is a valuable opportunity for international students to gain practical experience in the U.S. after completing their studies. 

Be sure to consult with your Designated School Official (DSO) at your educational institution for guidance on the OPT application process and any specific requirements.

What options do I have after my F-1 visa expires?

After your F-1 visa expires, you have several options to consider depending on your circumstances, goals, and eligibility. It’s important to explore these options and take appropriate steps to maintain legal status in the United States or plan your departure if necessary. Here are some options to consider:

Apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension or STEM OPT Extension:

  • If you are eligible and have not used up your allowed OPT or STEM OPT extension period, you can apply for an extension to continue working in the U.S. This can provide you with additional time to gain practical experience related to your field of study.

Change to Another Visa Category:

  • Depending on your qualifications, skills, and potential job opportunities, you might explore other non-immigrant visa categories that could allow you to continue working or living in the U.S. Examples include H-1B (specialty occupation), O-1 (extraordinary ability), and more.

Enroll in a New Program of Study:

  • If you wish to continue your education, you can apply to another academic program and obtain a new Form I-20. This would allow you to maintain F-1 status and stay in the U.S. as a student.

Apply for a Change of Status:

  • If you have a valid reason and eligibility, you can apply to change your non-immigrant status to a different visa category. This process involves submitting a formal application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and meeting the requirements of the new visa category.

Depart the U.S. and Reapply:

  • If none of the above options are suitable or available to you, you might need to plan to depart the U.S. before your F-1 status expires. If you plan to return for further studies or other purposes, you can apply for a new F-1 visa in the future.

Apply for employment-based temporary work visas:

  • H-1B – You will need to have a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you for a this temporary work visa
  • O-1 – You will need to have a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you for this visa category designed for extraordinary people
  • L-1 – If you worked for an international company that has a U.S. branch, you might be eligible for this temporary intracompany transferee visa

Apply for self-petitioning green card:

  • EB-1A visa for extraordinary people
  • EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver)

Apply for an employment-based green card:

  • You need to have a U.S. employer who is willing to sponsor you for an employment-based green card: EB-1B, EB-1C, EB-2 and EB-3

Apply for a marriage green card:

Consult an Immigration Attorney or Advisor:

  • Given the complexity of immigration matters, it’s often advisable to consult an immigration attorney or an advisor at your educational institution. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific situation and help you explore the best options available to you.

It’s important to note that overstaying your visa or violating your status can have serious consequences for your immigration record and future prospects in the U.S. Therefore, it’s recommended to explore your options early and take the necessary steps to ensure you are in compliance with U.S. immigration regulations.

Related Links:

Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application

How to Fill Out Form DS-160

How to Change Your Immigration Status From F-1 to a Marriage Green Card