F-1 Student Visas

A foreign citizen who wants to enter the United States for educational purposes must first obtain a student visa. To enter the United States to attend a university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution, including a language training program, an individual can seek an F visa. The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that is the most common type of student visa issued by the U.S. government.

An individual seeking an F-1 visa typically needs to meet certain requirements, including

  • Having a residence abroad with no intention to abandon that residence;
  • Having an intent to leave the U.S. upon completing the course of study; and
  • Possessing sufficient funds to be able to pay for the course of study as well as cover other living expenses. This last requirement can be demonstrated through relevant bank statements.

This type of visa is used chiefly for full-time study at a school or college in this country. Students are allowed to live in the U.S. for the “duration of status,” which is the time frame needed to finish the degree. Each applicant must use the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to produce a Form I-20 that is issued by the academic institution and approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Designated School Official (DSO) at the academic institution prepares the Form I-20 on behalf of the student when the student applies to enter the country to attend school. The academic institution is in charge of entering information for the I-20 student visa form into SEVIS.

The term “full-time,” used by the immigration service, is assuming that the individual is obtaining an F -1 Student Visa with the intention of studying full-time. F-1 students are not permitted to seek employment in the U.S., except for fewer than 20 hours per week. Full-time work may be permissible during school vacation periods, such as the summertime.  

The student must clearly show that he or she has no intention of immigrating to the U.S. An F-1 visa applicant with a spouse and children may be able to bring his or her qualifying dependents to the U.S. for the duration of study through an F-2 status. These F-2 dependents may not be employed while in the U.S. Additionally, F-2 spouses cannot enroll in full-time studies at any level. A dependent F-2 child, however, can attend primary and secondary school but may not enroll in any post-secondary education on a full-time basis.

A student and qualifying dependents have an additional 60 days to leave the U.S. after completing the program of study.  There is an option of staying in the U.S. beyond the educational program. After the F-1 student completes his or her course of study, the individual may be able to seek practical training employment authorization, known as “Optical Practical Training (OPT),” for a period of one year after completing his or her degree program. OPT can only begin when the student has graduated or completed the course of study.