F-1 VISAThe Way to Study in the United States
The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued to foreign nationals who wish to pursue a course of study in the United States. If your plan is to attend either a college, university, seminary,conservatory, high school, private elementary school, or some other academic institution, such as a language training program in the United States, then you must apply for and be issued an F-1 student visa in order to lawfully live and study in the U.S.
The process to apply for this visa depends on whether or not you are already in the United States or are outside of the U.S. But in either case, the first steps are to find a school that offers the program you wish to study, and to verify with that the school is approved by the U.S. government to issue I-20s for student visas.
Applicants who are already in the U.S.
If you are already legally in the United States on a different, valid non-immigrant status, then you will need to take the following steps to apply for this visa:
- Apply for and be admitted to a degree or certificate program in the United States.
- Your school’s international student advisor will issue you your I-20 document. If you can provide a number of necessary documents, such as proof of funding for your course of education and proof of your current status.
- Once the I-20 is issued, you will need to file for a change of status with the USCIS. This can be filed at a USCIS service center or online. In many instances, you can begin your course of study while your change of status request is pending. However, if you are changing your status from B-1 or B-2 visitor status to F-1 student, then you cannot begin your course of study until your change of status application is approved.
There are exceptions to this rule. Certain non-immigrant visas will not allow you to change your status to F-1 in the United States this easily while others will not allow for this change of status at all. For example, if you have a J-1 visa and are subject to the two year residency restriction, you do not qualify for change of status to F-1 in the U.S. You must apply at a U.S. consulate abroad instead.
K-1 visa holders, visa Waiver visitors who came to the U.S. through ESTA, transit visitors without visas, C visa holders or crew members are not eligible to apply for a change of status to F-1. Foreign nationals who came into the United States without inspection or have been out of valid status are also not able to change status to F-1 status.
Applicants who are not currently in the U.S.
If you are currently outside of the United States and will apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad:
- You will have to prove that you do not intend to stay in the U.S. beyond your course of study. The immigration law requires each student visa applicant prove that they have a residence in their home country and that they do not intend to permanently immigrate to the U.S. You also have to prove that you are qualified to pursue a full course of study and that you will only study at the designated institution as indicated in your SEVIS record.
- Once you determine that you are qualified, you need to apply for and be admitted to an approved course of study in the United States.
- Once you are admitted, the school will issue you a SEVIS Form I-20, which you will need to apply for your F-1 visa at the U.S. consulate.
- Along with your I-20 form, you will need to supply a separate form and additional documents to the U.S. embassy to help prove that you satisfy the criteria for an F-1 visa. You must prove that you have no intent to permanently immigrate to the U.S. and that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States.
- Once the consular officer determines your eligibility, you will receive an F-1 student visa stamp in your passport, which you can use to travel to the United States to begin your course of study.
Many times it is difficult for students to prove ties to their home country. This is because most students are still rather young and typically do not have many assets that typically serve as sufficient evidence for this important criteria. How to successfully overcome this requirement will vary on a case by case basis and you can discuss with your immigration lawyer what documents will be most helpful to your case.
Maintaining your Student Visa
Once you are admitted into the U.S. as a student, you are admitted for D/S or Duration of Status. That means that your status in the U.S. is dependent upon you going to school and maintaining your status as determined by your school – studying a minimum amount of hours and fulfilling your academic requirements. If you do not do so, or fail to show up for classes without school authorization, your school will automatically notify the immigration service about your lapse in status. This is why it is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before filing for your application.
You need to make sure you are aware of the provisions of your visa. If you are interested in staying in the U.S. temporarily to work after your schooling, you will need to consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your options. Call our office to consult with an immigration lawyer if you are ready to start the process.