F-1 Visa – Students in Academic & Language Programs
Purpose of the F Visa Classification
- The F-1 Visa non-immigrant classification is available to individuals who wish to enter the United States solely and temporarily to pursue a full course of study in an academic program.
- F-1 Visa status allows foreign students to take advantage of the educational institutions available in the United States.
- F-1 Visa students are permitted to work in the United States while engaged in a full course of study, whereas M-1 vocational students are not permitted to engage in employment while studying.
- After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), imposed stricter deadlines, limitations, and compliance requirements on both educational institutions and foreign students seeking F-1 visa status.
- In 1996 Congress placed new limits on elementary and secondary school students in F-1 status. The Immigration and Nationality Act bars F-1 status for students who seek to attend a public elementary school or a publicly funded adult education program. That section also prohibits F-1 students from attending a public secondary school unless the aggregate period of F-1 status does not exceed a year and the student reimburses the school for the full amount of unsubsidized costs.
- If a student is admitted in F-1 status, the spouse and minor children accompanying the F-1 student are eligible for admission in F-2 status.
- Family members, on F-2’s, may not attend school full time without changing status to F-1, except that a child may attend elementary school through twelfth grade.
- Furthermore, the F-2 spouse and the minor children of the F-1 student may not accept employment.
Points of Interest
Special rules exist for Canadian or Mexican nationals who wish to remain residents of their respective countries and commute to an approved school within the United States for part-time study. More information is provided below in the Helpful Advice for F-1 Students section.
1. Definition of F-1 Visa: Student in Academic or Language Program
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the immigration regulations, a foreign student may qualify for a non-immigrant F-Visa if he or she:
- Is a bona fide student;
- Has a residence in a foreign country that he or she has no intention of abandoning;
- Is qualified to pursue a full course of study at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the United States;
- Seeks to enter the United States temporarily; and
- Is entering the U.S. solely for the purpose of pursuing a course of study at an academic institution or in a language training program in the United States.
2. Procedure for F-1 Student Status
Admission to a school that has received approval to admit foreign students and a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20) issued in the student’s name by the admitting school.
Application to United States Consulate for an F- Visa.
Inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry.
3. Step One: Admission to a qualifying school. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (1).
The starting point for every F-1 student is to gain admission to a school that has received approval to admit foreign students. Schools that can admit F-1 students include colleges and universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, private elementary schools and language schools. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) approves the schools that can admit foreign students.
At each approved school a Designated School Official (DSO) handles the administrative aspects of the school’s F-1 program. The DSO provides immigration officials with information about admitted students through an internet based tracking system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
After obtaining admission to a qualifying school, the school will complete a SEVIS Form I-20 and then send it to the student. This form will indicate when the student is expected to complete the course of study, the date for the student to report to school and the date by which studies should be completed.
4. Step Two: Inspection by a United States Consulate. 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (d).
The student then applies for an F-1 visa by submitting an application to a United States consulate in the student’s home country.
Basic application package for a nonimmigrant visa:
- Form DS-156, Nonimmigrant Visa Application;
- Form DS-158, Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant;
- A valid, unexpired passport;
- Passport-type photograph; and
- Application fee, if any.
Note that males between the age of 16 and 45 must also use Form DS-157.
The student should also be ready to prove or provide:
- Evidence of intention to return to a foreign residence, i.e., nonimmigrant intent. INA § 101 (a) (15) (F).
- Documentary evidence of financial support in the amount indicated on Form I-20. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (1) (i) (B); 22 C.F.R. § 41.6 (b) (1) (ii). The document generally used to establish financial support is Form I-134, an Affidavit of Support, usually executed by a relative. Evidence of the student’s own assets or of a scholarship from the school or other sources may also be used.
- Evidence of English language proficiency or demonstrate that the student will receive training to become proficient. 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (b) (1) (iii).
If the consulate approves the visa application, he or she will place an F-1 visa in the student’s passport. Once a visa is issued, the student may travel to the United States and may enter the U.S. up to thirty days before the commencement of his or her studies. 8 CFR § 214.2 (f) (5).
5. Step Three: Inspection at a United States Port of Entry and Admission.
8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (1).
Admission of F-1 Visa Student.
At the port of entry the student must present a passport with the F-1 visa stamp, the Form I-20, evidence of nonimmigrant intent, and evidence of financial support.
If satisfied with the student’s application, the inspecting officer will issue a Form I-94, which will indicate the student’s F-1 admission and duration of status, and will return the I-20 form to the student.
The officer will also use SEVIS to notify the school of the student’s admission into the United States.
As proof of the student’s lawful admission to the country, many schools require the student to present his or her adjudicated I-20 form to the school’s registrar before commencing classes.
6. Duration of F-1 Status
F-1 students are normally admitted for “duration of status.” Duration of status is defined as the time necessary to pursue a full course of study at any educational level in the same school, and any authorized practical training. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (5) (i).
Full course of study. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (6).
- Students must be pursuing a full course of study at a school approved for attendance by foreign students that leads to the attainment of a specific educational or professional objective.
- However, the DSO may allow an F-1 student to engage in less than a full course of study on account of academic difficulties, medical conditions, or if in the final term the student dos not require a full course load.
- A reduced course load must consist of at least six semester or quarter hours, or half the clock hours required for a full course of study.
- A student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of the DSO is considered out of status.
- Transferring or changing educational levels. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (8).
- F-1 students who wish to transfer schools must notify their current school of their intent to transfer and must obtain a new Form I-20 from the new school.
- An F-1 student who was not pursuing a full course of study at his or her current school is ineligible for school transfer and must apply for reinstatement or may depart the country and return as an initial entry in a new F-1 nonimmigrant status.
- An F-1 student who continues from one educational level to another is considered to be maintaining status, provided that the transition to the new educational level is accomplished according to the transfer procedures outlined above. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (5) (ii).
- Temporary Absence and Vacations. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (4).
- An F-1 student returning to the United States from a temporary absence of five months or less may be readmitted for school attendance if the student presents a current Form I-20 properly endorsed by the DSO for reentry or a new Form I-20 if the information on the current Form I-20 has substantively changed.
- An F-1 student is considered to be in status during the annual (or summer) vacation if the student is eligible and intends to register for the next term.
- Extension of duration of status. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (7) (iii).
- A school must indicate on its issued I-20 form when the student is expected to report for classes and when to complete the course of study.
- An F-1 student is generally not required to apply for an extension of stay as long as the student is maintaining status and making normal progress toward completion of his or her educational objective.
- If the F-1 student is unable to meet the program completion date on the Form I-20, the student may be granted an extension by the DSO if the DSO certifies that the student has continually maintained status and that the delays are caused by compelling academic or medical reasons.
- A DSO may not grant an extension if the student did not apply for an extension until after the program end date noted on the Form I-20.
- Preparation for departure. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (5) (iv).
- A sixty day period is allowed for departure from the U.S following completion of studies.
7. Employment Opportunities for F-1 Visa Students.
On-campus employment. Can begin as soon as admitted as F-1 Visa Student.
Off-campus work authorization. Severe economic hardship only.
Practical Training. Off-campus work authorization that permits an F-1 student to engage in employment related to his or her field of study.
8. Change of Status.
Prospective F-1 Visa students and use of the B-2 Visa.
A student may wish to travel to the United States to learn more about a school, or may need to come for an admission interview or entrance examination. Additionally, a school may have accepted a student, but has not yet issued a Form I-20.
In these situations, the U.S. consul may issue a B-2 visa annotated “Prospective Student.”
This annotation theoretically enables the student, once in the United States, to seek a change to F-1 student status without incurring the possibility of a denial because of an alleged failure to disclose the student’s true purpose in coming to the United States.
However, as a practical matter, this kind of visa issuance has become more difficult to obtain since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Applying for a Change of Status to F-1 Visa Student. INA § 248; 8 C.F.R. § 248.
Must send Form I-539 to the DHS service center with jurisdiction over the individual’s place of temporary residence in the United States.
- Accompanying the Form I-539 must be the required filing fee;
- The I-20 form issued by the school the student wishes to attend;
- Evidence of financial support;
- A copy of the student’s Form I-94;
- Evidence that the student has maintained lawful nonimmigrant status since entry; and
- Evidence of a residence abroad that the student has no intention of abandoning.
The DHS is often skeptical of applications seeking a change to F-1 status because the department believes that such requests sidestep the usual student visa issuing process conducted at U.S. consulates abroad. Because the government exercises discretion in deciding whether to grant a change of status, the DHS scrutinizes B-2 to F-1 change requests for evidence of the applicant’s preconceived intent to apply for a change to student status.
The DHS looks closely at dates in its attempt to uncover any such preconceived intentions. For example, it pays particular attention to:
- The date of the applicant’s admission to the United States;
- The date on which the Form I-20 was issued;
- The date(s) on which evidence of financial ability was generated; and
- The date on which the applicant submitted his or her Form I-539 application seeking a change of status.
Generally, if these events occurred in a rapid sequence of events following the applicant’s entry into the United States, the DHS may deny a change to F-1 status based on an alleged preconceived intent to seek student status.
An application for change of status is more likely to be successful where the applicant can demonstrate that he or she came to the United States in a different nonimmigrant status, maintained that status, and now is seeking a change to F-1 status because of a subsequent change in circumstances. The DHS is more likely to view a request as genuine where there is a substantial interval between the applicant’s arrival in the United States and the subsequent change in circumstances.
9. Violation of F-1 Student Status and Reinstatement.
Procedure. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (16) (i).
A student who has violated status may be reinstated to lawful student status.
A student seeking reinstatement files a Form I-539 application for reinstatement with the immigration office that has jurisdiction over the student.
The student should mark clearly on Form I-539 and the accompanying letter that the papers are an application for reinstatement.
Accompanying Form I-539 should be an updated or initial I-20 form, the appropriate fee, financial documentation, and a written statement making the case for reinstatement.
Factors considered for reinstatement. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (16) (i) (A) – (F). The DHS may grant the request if the student:
- Has not been out of status for more than five months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement, or if the student can demonstrate that failure to file within five months was the result of exceptional circumstances;
- Does not have a record of repeated or willful violations of immigration regulations;
- Is currently pursuing or intends to pursue a full course of study at the approved school;
- Has not engaged in unauthorized employment;
- Is not deportable on any other ground; and
- Establishes that the violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control, or that the student would suffer extreme hardship if not reinstated.
10. Helpful Advice for F-1 Visa Students.
Financial Support and Nonimmigrant Intent Issues.
U.S. Consuls commonly refuse to issue a student visa where the student has failed to show (1) proof of sufficient funds to cover expenses or (2) proof of nonimmigrant intent.
Therefore, the student should concentrate on compiling complete and credible evidence to assure the consul that he or she will not become a public charge or resort to unauthorized employment to maintain financial solvency during the stay in the United States.
In considering a student’s financial resources, the U.S. consul will examine two issues: First, whether funds are available to cover all expenses for the initial year of study; and, second, whether adequate funds will continue to be available from reliable sources for the balance of the student’s anticipated duration of study.
The student should be prepared to document the following:
- Financial aid from the school in the form of a scholarship, fellowship, assistantship, grant or loan;
- Financial aid from the student’s home government;
- Financial aid from private organizations or institutions;
- Personal resources;
- Funds from close family members; and
- Financial evidence to assure an ability to depart from the United States once studies are complete.
The student must also carefully document the ties to his or her country of origin. It may be helpful to indicate employment opportunities available in the student’s home country that require the skills that the student seeks to obtain with a U.S. education
A U.S. consul may require an F-1 student to submit an appropriate bond to the DHS to ensure that the student will depart upon the completion of studies or in the event of failure to maintain student status. 22 C.F.R. § 41.6 (c).
Border Commuter Students. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (18).
Border Commuter Student status allows students who reside in Canada or Mexico to enter the United States in order to attend school on a part-time basis.
A border commuter student is defined as a national of Canada or Mexico who is admitted to the United States as an F-1 nonimmigrant student to enroll in a full course of study on a part-time basis in an approved school located within 75 miles of a U.S. land border.
The student must maintain residence in his or her country of nationality, and seek admission to the United States at a land border port of entry.
However, border commuter students are granted entry only for their current school term and may not engage in employment in the U.S. except for curricular practical training or post-completion optional practical training.
11. For More Information on F-1 Visas