The F1 visa is a student visa that enables foreign nationals to study in the US at accredited academic institutions. In some cases, F1 students may work while enrolled in school. Prior to or upon graduation, the student may engage in practical training for up to 12 months.
If you are going to the US primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study of less than 18 hours per week, you may be able to do so do so on a tourist visa. You should inquire at the appropriate US Embassy or Consulate. If your course of study is more than 18 hours a week, you will need an F1 or M1 student visa.
In most countries, first time student visa applicants are required to appear for an in-person interview. However, each embassy and consulate sets its own interview policies and procedures regarding student visas. Students should contact the American Embassy or Consulate for specific application instructions.
Keep in mind that June, July, and August are the busiest months in most consular sections, and interview appointments are the most difficult to get during that period. Students need to plan ahead to avoid having to make repeat visits to the Embassy. To the extent possible, students should bring the documents suggested below, as well as any other documents that might help establish their ties to the local community.
Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. It is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.
When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa?
Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Students may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so.
The consular officer may need to get special clearances depending on the course of study and nationality of the student. This can take some additional time.
Students should note that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 90 days or less, in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 90 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required.
Students are advised of the law, which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the US 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the US.
A student who wants to enter the US more than 30 days before course start date must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa. A prospective student notation will be shown on his or her visitor visa and the traveler will need to make the intent to study clear to the US Immigration Inspector at Port of Entry (POE). Before beginning any studies, he or she must apply for a change of nonimmigrant status, and also submit the required Form I-20 to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service) office where the application is made. Please be aware that one may not begin studies until the change of nonimmigrant status is approved.
What is Needed to Apply for a Student Visa?
It is important to remember that applying early and providing the requested documents does not guarantee that the student will receive a visa. Also, because each student's personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. For that reason, the guidelines that follow are general and can be abridged or expanded by consular officers overseas, depending on each student's situation.
All applicants for a student visa must provide :
- A Form I-20 obtained from a U.S. college, school or university. Be sure to provide all four pages of the I-20 form. The form must also be signed by the applicant and by a school official in the appropriate places;
- Form DS156, Nonimmigrant Visa Application together with a Form DS158, Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant. Both forms must be completed and signed. A separate application form is needed for children, even if they are included in a parent's passport;
- All male nonimmigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must complete and submit a Form DS157, Supplement Visa Application in addition to the DS156 and DS158. Some American embassies and consulates also require female and other male applicants to complete the DS157. Applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception are required to complete the DS157. Seven countries are now designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Libya.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States;
- One photograph 2 inches square (50x50mm) for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background;
- A receipt for visa processing fee. A receipt showing payment of the visa application fee for each applicant, including each child listed in a parent's passport who is also applying for a U.S. visa, is needed;
IMPORTANT: Each American Embassy and Consulate has different visa application procedures and requirements. You should contact the consulate or our office at Michael@mmlawnyc.com for information regarding the local rules.
All applicants should be prepared to provide :
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended;
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.;
- Financial evidence that shows the applicant or applicant's parents who are sponsoring applicant have sufficient funds to cover the tuition and living expenses during the period of intended study. For example, if the applicant or applicant's sponsor is a salaried employee, present income tax documents and original bank books and/or statements. If applicant or his or her sponsor own a business, present business registration, licenses, etc., and tax documents, as well as original bank books and/or statements.
Applicants with dependents must also provide :
- Proof of the student's relationship to his or her spouse and/or children (e.g., marriage and birth certificates.)
- It is preferred that families apply for F1 and F2 visas at the same time, but if the spouse and children must apply separately at a later time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder's passport and visa, along with all other required documents.
How long may I stay on my student visa?
When the applicant enters the United States on a student visa, he or she will usually be admitted for the duration of student status. That means the applicant may stay as long as he or she is a full time student, even if the F1 visa in the passport expires while in the US. For a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed the following additional time in the US before departure:
- F1 student - An additional 60 days, to prepare for departure from the US or to transfer to another school.
- M1 student - An additional 30 days to depart the US (Fixed time period, in total not to exceed one year). The 30 days to prepare for departure is permitted as long as the student maintained a full course of study and maintained status. An M student may receive extensions up to three years for the total program.
As an example regarding duration of status, if the student has a visa that is valid for five years that will expire on January 1, 2001, and the student is admitted into the US for the duration of his studies (often abbreviated in your passport or on the I-94 card as "D/S"), he may stay in the US as long as he is a full time student. Even if January 1, 2001 passes and his visa expires while in America, he will still be in legal student status. However, if he departs the US with an expired visa, he will need to obtain a new one before being able to return to America and resume his studies. A student visa cannot be renewed or re-issued in the United States; it must be done at an Embassy or Consulate abroad.
There are certain restrictions on attending public school in the US. Persons who violate these restrictions may not receive another visa for a period of five years.
The restrictions apply only to students holding F1 visas. They do not apply to students attending public school on derivative visas, such as F2, J2 or H4 visas. The restrictions also do not apply to students attending private schools on F1 visas.
The restrictions are :
- Students who attend public high schools in the US are limited to 12 months of study. Public school attendance in the US prior to November 30, 1996 does not count toward this limit.
- F1 visas can no longer be issued to attend public elementary or middle schools (Kindergarten to 8th grade) or publicly-funded adult education programs.
- Before an F1 visa for a public school can be issued, the student must show that the public school in the US has been reimbursed for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of the education as calculated by the school. Reimbursement may be indicated on the I-20. Consular officers may request copies of canceled checks and/or receipts confirming the payment as needed.
To consult an immigration lawyer regarding the F1 or M1 Student Visa, please call us at (212) 947-7534 or e-mail us at Michael@mmlawnyc.com . An attorney in our office would be happy to assist you.