- You may come to the U.S. as a full-time academic or language student enrolled in a program leading to a degree or certificate. (The only students not requiring student visas are tourists who are taking a class or two for recreational purposes or those who have a spouse or parent in the U.S. with an A, E, G, H, J, L, or NATO visa or status.)
- You can transfer from one school to another or switch academic programs by going through a simple procedure to notify INS of the change.
- You may work legally in a part-time job on campus. Also, you may get special permission to work off campus if it is economically necessary or if the job provides practical training for your field of study. You may also work for certain employers who can't find American workers to fill the positions.
- You may travel in and out of the U.S. or remain there until the completion of your studies, up to a maximum of eight years.
- VIsas are available for accompanying relatives.
- You must first be accepted as a student by an approved school in the U.S. before you can apply for an F-1 visa. (As a prospective student, you may come to the U.S. as a tourist for the purpose of locating a school you wish to attend. Once accepted by the school, you can apply for your student status without leaving the U.S.)
- You may not work legally off campus without special permission.
- You are restricted to attending only the specific school for which your visa currently has been approved.
- Accompanying relatives may stay in the U.S. with you, but they may not work.
What Steps are Needed To Get a Student Visa?
Step 1: The first step in obtainging F-1 status is to get accepted into a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS) approved school, college or university. Most colleges and universities already have BCIS approval and so do many private grammer schools, junior high and high schools. Prospective students must meet the standards set by the school for admitting international students. For example, many schools require foreign students to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as part of the F-1 application process. Schools usually waive the test, however, if the student is from a country where most residents speak English. In addition, schools that offer classes in the student's own language, or classes in English as a Second Language (ESL), do not usually require the TOEFL.
You need to write to the school of your choice, obtain an application form, and make an application. The school will then notify you of your acceptance and send you a Form I-20 to use in applying for the F-1 visa.
Step 2: After you are accepted at a school, college, or university, you must apply for the F-1 visa at the American consulate in the country where you are located. At this point, in addition to submitting the special documents provided to you by the school, you will also need to show two things:
- You have enough money or financial support to study in the U.S. without working, and
- You do not intend to stay in the Untited States permanently.
Showing That You Can Support Yourself While Studying
F-1 students must show that they can pay for tuition and living expenses before they can obtain an F-1 visa. The INS Form I-20 which is issued to you by the school, estimates the cost of one year's study at the school. If you apply for a F-1 visa, you must show that you have the money to pay the cost of the first year of study. You must also have dependable financial resources for the remainder of your educational program.
One way you can prove your ability to pay for educational and living expenses is through an Affadavit of Support. Someone in your immediate family, like a parent, brother, or sister, usually completes the Affadavit of Support, which should be dated less than six months from the date it is submitted to the consulate. An Affadavit of Support from someone other than a member of your immediate family, while permissable, is not as helpful.
If you have the personal resources to pay for your own education, you won't need an Affadavit of Support. However, you will need to show that you can support yourself throughout your course of study by presenting evidence of bank accounts, a trust, or other income that will cover your tuition and living expenses.
Showing That You Do Not Intend To Stay In The United States
This is often difficult to do. You must demonstrate to the consular officer that you have very strong ties to your home country and that these ties compel you to return after your studies are over.
This may be done by showing that you have very close family members who are staying in your home country, such as your wife and children. Or you may be able to show that you have a good, stable, high-paying job that will be kept open until you return. You might also be able to show that you own substantial property or a business that you have to return to.
Can My Spouse and Children Come With Me While I Study?
As an F-1 student, your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 years old can come with you to the U.S. in F-2 status. However, you will need to supply the American Consulate with significant proof of substantial financial resources, because your family members will not be entitled to work. In many developing countries, obtaining F-2 visas is very difficult for the wife and children of an F-1 student. That is because the American Consulate often believes that if the family accompanies the student to the United States, the student will not want to return home.
Is It Possible To Work While I am In F-1 Status?
Although to obtain an F-1 visa, you must be able to support yourself without working, there is the opportunity to work in certain circumstances. Some forms of employment may be authorized by the Designated School Official (DSO), while other forms of employment require approval by BCIS prior to starting work.
As an F-1 student you may work up to 20 hours a week on-campus while school is in session and also full-time during vacations and breaks. Working on-campus means employment on the school premises or at an affiliated off-site location. You will need to go to the DSO to approve this type of employment.
Off-Campus Programs and Internships
The BCIS calls training programs and internships "curricular practical training." In order to take advantage of curricular practical training, however, you must participate in a work-study program that is part of a degree requirement or regular course of study. In most cases, you cannot qualify for curricular practical training untill you have been enrolled in school for at least nine months. One exception is if you are enrolled in graduate studies that require immediate participation in curricular practical training. You will need to get the DSO to approve this type of employment.
"Optional" Practical Training Prior to Completion of Studies
F-1 students can work off campus in a field related to their studies if they work no more than 20 hours a week while school is in session. You can work full-time during vacations and recess periods. The BCIS will, however, deduct time spent in practical training prior to completion of studies from the 12-months full-time employment available for practical training after completion of studies. You will need to get DSO to approve this type of employment and to apply to BCIS for a work authorization document.
Practical Training After Completion of Studies
F-1 students are entitled to a maximum of one year practical training after they complete their studies. The INS deducts time spent in pre-degree completion practical training from the 12-month maximum. You will need to get your foreign student advisor to approve this type of employment and to apply with the Immigration and Naturalization for a work authorization permit.
Employment Authorization Based on Severe Economic Hardship
Where unforeseen circumstances lead to a change in your economic situation, you may be able to obtain permission to work off-campus in any job of your choosing. You can work 20 hours per week while school is in session or full time during vacation periods. To qualify, in addition to providing evidence of the unforeseen circumstances, you must have completed one academic year in F-1 status, be in good academic standing and obtain employment authorization from the BCIS.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About F-1 Status
1. Can I get financial aid while in F-1 status?
In general, you will be required to pay for your education without financial aid. For example, international students are not eligible for U.S. government and state aid. A few colleges, however, do provide privately funded scholarships to deserving international F-1 students. In addition, some colleges offer financial aid for students, particularly graduate students, through J-1 exchange visitor programs.
2. How can I remain in the U.S. after my studies end?
If you graduate with a Bachelor's Degree (a four-year college degree), you may qualify for H-1B status. H-1B status allows college graduates to work in a field related to their studies for up to six years; H-1B status is granted initially for a period of three years, and can be renewed for an additional three-year period. Often international students apply to change to H-1B status prior to the end of their practical training period.