What is an F-1 visa?
The F-1 student visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows international students to enter the United States and study at institutions certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). It is the most popular type of student visa for students who wish to study at a US university or college, and you can only apply for your F-1 visa after an accredited US institution has accepted your application.
As an F-1 student, the length of your stay will vary based on the program you enroll in. The I-20 form provided by the university you wish to attend will indicate the expiration date of your program. You will need to earn your degree before the indicated deadline date and this will give you an idea of how long you will be able to stay in the United States.
F-1 Visa Requirements:
If you want to apply for an F-1 student visa, there are a number of regulations to bear in mind. In order for your application to be accepted you must meet these requirements:
Institution Certification: The college or university where you plan to study must be approved by SEVP Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
Full-Time Enrollment: You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution during the academic session.
English Proficiency: You must meet the English proficiency score required by the institution you are attending or be enrolled in courses that will help you improve your English proficiency.
Sufficient Funding: You must demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to finance your studies and living expenses while in the United States.
Valid Passport: Your passport must be valid for travel to the United States for at least six months after your program completion date.
Residency in your home country: You must have a residency in your home country to return after completing your degree.
How to apply for an F1 visa?
Any international student wishing to study in the United States will need to obtain a United States student visa. Most students are issued an F1 visa and the general outline/process flow for obtaining an F1 visa is as follows:
Be accepted into a SEVP-approved school:
Before you can apply for the F1 student visa to the United States, you must apply to and be accepted by a SEVP-approved school.
Pay your SEVIS fee and receive your I-20:
Once accepted, you will be required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee which is $350, in order to be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Then, your school will provide you with an I-20 form. This form will be presented to the consular officer when you attend your F1 visa interview. If your spouse and/or children plan to reside in the United States with you while you study, they will be required to have an individual Form I-20, but will not be required to be enrolled in SEVIS.
Complete the visa application:
Applying for the F1 student visa may vary depending on which US embassy or consulate you are dealing with. You will be required to pay a non-refundable visa application fee. An online visa application is available that allows you to fill out and print the DS-160 form to bring to your F1 visa interview.
Schedule and Prepare for your Interview:
You can schedule your F1 visa interview with the US embassy or consulate. Waiting times for interview appointments vary by location, season and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early. An F1 student visa for the USA can be issued up to 120 days before the start date of your course of study. You will only be able to enter the United States with an F1 visa 30 days before your start date.
The following documents are required for the F1 visa interview:
- A valid passport
- The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160
- The receipt of payment of the registration fee
- A passport photo
- A Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status (F1) (Form 1-20)
Additional documents may be required to prove your eligibility for the F1 student visa, including academic transcripts, diplomas, degrees or certificates. Test scores such as TOEFL, SAT, GRE, or GMAT may also be required, as well as proof of your intent to leave the United States once you complete the program and proof of your financial stability.
Attend your F1 visa interview:
Your F1 visa interview will determine whether you qualify to receive an F1 student visa for the United States. Assuming you have prepared the appropriate documents and meet all the requirements for the F1 visa, your visa will be approved at the discretion of the consular officer.
You may be required to pay a visa fee. Fingerprint scans will be taken for documentation. Your passport will be taken so you can get your visa and you will be informed when you can get it back, either by collection or post.
Please note that visa issuance is not guaranteed. Never make final travel plans until you have your visa approved. If your visa is denied, you will be given a reason based on the section of the law that applies to your ineligibility. In some cases it is possible to submit a waiver of ineligibility.
F1 Visa Processing Time:
In most cases, you will receive the answer about this visa immediately after the interview. At the end of the visa interview, the interviewer may congratulate you on obtaining the visa or provide you with a document informing you of the reason for the refusal. This is because the processing of this type of visa actually takes place before the interview. The interview is the last step for the US embassy to evaluate whether to issue the visa.
There are, however, cases where the F1 visa response and processing takes a few days, so you should be patient if this happens.
Can F-1 International Students Work in the US?
Yes, you will be able to work in the United States on an F-1 student visa. However, you will have to follow some rules and restrictions for the F-1 visa:
- You may only work part-time on campus while your academic semester is in progress
- You can only work a maximum of 20 hours per week
- You may be able to work off-campus with approval from your university
When should I apply for the F1 visa?
After being admitted to the institution of your choice, you can apply for your visa 120 days before the scheduled start of the program. You cannot apply earlier, but applying later may cause a delay due to processing times. So, as soon as the 120 day countdown begins, be sure to apply.
Can I stay longer than my visa allows?
After your visa expires, you have a 60-day grace period to prepare to depart for your home country. If your visa does not cover all the time you will spend in school in the United States, you will need to request a renewal or extension. Extensions are approved only if you can demonstrate that you will complete your degree in the United States and intend to return as soon as it is completed.
Can I work as an international student in the United States?
You can work as an F1 student but only for short periods of time as your visa is student and not work. You can work part-time on campus during school sessions and full-time during breaks. If you want to work off campus, you have two options.
If, for example, you find a job that requires a different type of visa, other than F1, then you are also entitled to change status. You just need to follow the instructions of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and your employer or other applicant.
Can F1 students apply for permanent residency?
Even if you have demonstrated strong ties to your home country, if you want to apply for a Green Card, you can do so with an F1 visa. It’s a complicated procedure, though. You must self-petition as a person of extraordinary ability, get married in the United States, or demonstrate that you will invest $500,000 in the U.S. economy.
If these are not feasible for you, but you still want to stay in the US, the easiest way is to change the status to a different type of visa such as an H-1B visa and get sponsored by your employer.