- Q: What is an F-1 Visa?
- Q: How and where do I apply for an F-1 visa?
- Q: What documents do I need in order to apply for an F-1 visa?
- Q: I am already in the U.S. with a temporary non-immigrant visa, can I change my current status to F-1 status and, if yes, how?
- Q: How long can I stay in the U.S. on an F-1 visa?
- Q: Can I work while in the United States on an F-1 Visa?
- Q: What are my employment options as an F-1 Visa holder?
- Q: Can I change my academic program and, if yes, what are the procedures?
- Q: Can I change my F-1 status to another non-immigrant status?
- Q: Can I travel abroad while I am in the United States on F-1 status?
A: Given that people seek entry into the U.S. for various reasons, the U.S. immigration laws have various categories of visas to suit various needs. F-1 visa is a type of non-immigrant visa issued to foreign students who want to follow a program of study or pursue their education in educational institutions in the U.S., which include primary schools, secondary schools, universities, and other tertiary institutions. It comes under the F visa category, which is issued to citizens of other countries to enable them to obtain education in the U.S.
However, foreign students cannot attend adult education programs and elementary schools (grades K-8) funded with public money with F-1 visas. If you want to attend public secondary schools, you will only be issued an F-1 visa if you show proof of full and unsubsidized payment for the program. With F-1 visa status, you are limited to a maximum of one year of high school. The regulations on public funded elementary and secondary schools do not apply to private elementary and secondary schools. Thus, foreign students seeking to pursue their education in private and secondary schools can be issued an F-1 visa if the schools that gave them admission issue them with the Form I-20, which is a certificate of eligibility issued by U.S. schools and educational institutions to foreign students they give admission.
F-1 visas can only be issued to foreign students pursuing a full-time education program in the U.S. Before any foreign student can be issued this type of visa, the person has to show that he/she has sufficient funds to take care of his/her personal needs and is capable of paying for the program of studies as well as accommodation throughout the period of his/her stay in the U.S. This is because foreign students with F-1 visas have limited employment opportunity in the U.S.
If you are an F-1 student, you are required to complete your program of studies at the end of the period stipulated in your I-20. However, you are allowed to remain in the U.S. for a maximum of 60 days after the completion of your programs, unless your F-1 status has been extended by the appropriate authority.
Note that Spouses and children of F-1 visa holders can also pursue their education in the U.S. However, they will require F-2 visas, and not F-1 visas, in order to join the F-1 visa holder and study in the U.S. F-3 visas are issued to those that attend education programs in the U.S. from their country of origin.
For detailed information on the options available to you and for expert help on your immigration process, you should contact our office and speak with our experienced and professional attorney.Q: How and where do I apply for an F-1 visa?
A: Before you apply for the F-1 visa, you need to obtain the I-20 form from the university or institution you want to attend. A university or school will only give you admission and the Form I-20 if you satisfy its admission requirements. Each university has its own admission requirements. Check the website of the university or school you want to attend to know its admission requirements before applying for admission. You can also contact the international students’ office or department of the university to find out what is required from you before you are issued an I-20 form. Most schools and universities will require you to provide necessary documents showing that you have sufficient funds to pay for the program and take care of yourself during your study in the U.S. without taking any employment, academic credentials to determine your eligibility for the program, and health insurance to take care of your medical expenses.
Once the school or university is satisfied with your application, you will be issued with the Form I-20, which you will use to apply for an F-1 visa. However, before the Form I-20 is issued, you will be required to pay a non-refundable application fee known as the SEVIS I-901 Fee. Once the payment is made, you will be registered in the SEVIS, which is an acronym for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. The university will now issue you the I-20 form, which the consular officer will ask for on the interview day. You are ready to apply for your F-1 visa when you receive your I-20 form.
F-1 visa application is made at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country of origin or the country of your permanent residence. You can also apply for an F-1 visa at any U.S. Consulate in other countries. However, it is advisable to apply for an F-1 visa in your country of origin or country of permanent residence because it is easier to be issued an F-1 visa if you apply at the country of your origin.
The process of application may not be the same in all countries. So, it is advisable that you check the website of the U.S. Embassy in your country, country of permanent residence, or the country you want to apply from to find out the application process. Generally, applicants are required to pay a non-refundable visa application fee, complete and the print the Form DS-160 after making the visa application payment, and then attend an interview in the U.S. embassy.
The interview is the final stage of the F-1 visa application process. The U.S. embassy or Consulate where you make the application will schedule the interview. The wait time for the interview depends on a number of factors including season, location, type of visa, and others. You are advised to apply for the visa on time in order to avoid any delay. The visa will be issued if you have all the supporting documents and you are able to satisfy the consular officer during the interview.
Note that you can be issued an F-1 visa in advance of 120 days before the date of the beginning of your program. However, you are not allowed to enter the U.S. with the F-1 visa until 30 days before the beginning of your program.
For detailed information on the options available to you and for expert help on your immigration process, you should contact our office and speak with our experienced and professional attorney.Q: What documents do I need in order to apply for an F-1 visa?
A: The following documents will be required when you apply for an F-1 visa:
Before the interview, you are required to pay a non-refundable visa application fee and then provide the receipt on the interview day. You should also provide one passport photograph, Form DS-160's confirmation page, the original interview appointment letter and a copy of it, the original SEVIS Form I-20 issued to you by a U.S. university, college, or school duly signed by an official of the institution and you, a copy of the Form I-20, Original and a copy of SEVIS Fee Receipt I-901's proof of payment and a valid passport (your passport must be valid for at least six months after your entry into the U.S.; if you just renewed your passport, you have to include your old passport)
Evidence of sources of finance/income
- You have to provide the following documents as evidence of financial sources:
- proof of liquid assets and readily available funds to take care of your personal needs and pay for your education
- employment letter
- pay stubs
Note that if you are being sponsored by your parents, a family member, any other person, or a business, you have to provide a notarized Form I-134 (Affidavit of Support), tax returns and bank statements of your sponsor covering a period of 6 months. If you took out loans from a bank to pay for your school fees, you should come to the interview not only with the application for the loan but other official documents which can be used to verify the approval of the loan (if only a modest amount is obtained as a loan, you will also be required to show additional liquid assets). If you are given a scholarship by any organization or the university that offers you the admission, your Form I-20 will give details of your scholarship if you have one.
Note that the above-mentioned documents are just suggested documents. Your ability to sponsor your education is not proven by any specific documents. Just come to the interview with all necessary financial documents that show you or your sponsor have adequate funds for your studies in the United States.
You should support you application with the original of your academic credentials and certificates, transcripts of your high school diploma or degree transcripts, depending on the program you are doing, approved test scores such as TOEFL, GRE, LSAT, GMAT, and SAT and your grade reports from your previous institution.
Note that you may be able to apply for an F-1 visa if you have not obtained your degree certificate in so far as you provide a provisional certificate and grade reports. If the institution that gave you admission does not require you to take TOEFL or GRE, you should request the university to issue you a letter stating the same.
For detailed information on the options available to you and for expert help on your immigration process, you should contact our office and speak with our experienced and professional attorney.Q: I am already in the U.S. with a temporary non-immigrant visa, can I change my current status to F-1 status and, if yes, how?
A: Yes, you will be able to change your current status to F-1 visa status. In order to change your current non-immigrant visa to an F-1 visa status, you have to first apply for admission in any USCIS approved education institution. Check the website of the university or any other educational institution you choose to find out what their requirements for admission are. For further inquiry on admission requirements of the university you want to study in, visit the international admission department of the university. They will be able to answer all your questions regarding admission requirements.
Complete the international admission application form of the school. Most schools accept online applications, as well. If you meet the admission requirements and the school or university admission department is satisfied with your application, the school's DSO will issue you the Form I-20 and add your information on the SEVIS database after you have made the non-refundable payment.
When you have obtained the Form I-20, you can apply to USCIS for a change of a temporary non-immigrant visa. The documents you require in order to apply for a change of your current status to F-1 visa status are the SEVIS fee receipt, Form I-20, Form I-539 (change of status application), copy of your passport, proof of sufficient funds for the program, and a copy of your entry visa.
After making your application for a change of status with all the necessary documents to USCIS, you are legally allowed to remain in the U.S. until a decision is made on your application. It takes a maximum of 2 to 4 months for USCIS to send you a reply. You can track your application status from the USCIS Case Status website. However, there is no certainty that your application for a change of visa status will be approved by USCIS. You may be denied a change of status on two major reasons – late application and lack of sufficient funds. Therefore, in order to avoid a denial of change of temporary non-immigrant status to F-1 status, you have to apply on time and have sufficient funds for the program of study you want to do. If you would like your children and spouse to be with you and study in the U.S. as well, they should apply for F-2 visas. However, they can only apply for F-2 visas if you are successful with your application for a change of status.
A: An immigration officer will issue you an I-94 card at the port of entry when you arrive in the U.S. The I-94 card shows your F-1 status (which refers to the non-immigrant status given to you by the USCIS to enable you pursue your program of studies) and your authorized stay. This means that you can stay in the U.S. legally to complete your education. On the completion of your program of studies, you are entitled to a year of OPT/CPT and a 60 day grace period before returning to your country of origin or country of permanent residence.
In a situation where you are not able to complete your program of studies within the period of time stipulated in your Form I-20, your status is no longer valid unless you are allowed some additional time by the foreign student advisor of your school to complete your program of studies. However, you are required to apply for additional time at least 30 days before the expiration of the duration previously stipulated in your Form I-20. If your application is accepted, you will be given an additional one year to finish your educational program.
If you are out of status as an alien student, it is possible for it to be reinstated if you request for reinstatement from USCIS and if you meet the requirements. For your request to be considered, you have to provide the following documents:
- Form I-20
- Filing Fee
- Form I-94 (for yourself and each member of your family)
- Form I-539 (with a red inked notation at the top right hand side to show that you are filing it for reinstatement purposes)
- Supporting statement which must indicate that you are pursuing or will pursue a full-time program of study; that you have not done unauthorized work; that the violation of F-1 status was a result of situations beyond your control; that you will be subjected to extreme hardship if your status is not reinstated; and that you are not in deportation or removal hearings
Note that as an alien student with F-1 status, you do not need to apply for an extension of stay. You are permitted to remain in the U.S. even with an expired F-1 visa in so far as you are pursuing a full-time program of studies and you are maintaining your status. You cannot renew your visa while in the U.S. Visa renewal can only be done outside of the U.S.
However, if as a result of medical reasons or compelling academic reasons, you have a need to extend your stay, you and your DSO should complete the Form I-538 of USCIS. The form should be sent to the student data centre of USCIS at least 30 days before the end of the program of study as stipulated in your form I-20.
A: The F-1 visas are issued to international students primarily to enable them study in the U.S. Thus, there are strict restrictions on employment for students with F-1 visas. However, they are allowed to engage in certain types of compensated employments. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) defines a compensated employment as a type of work done in order to get some benefits, which include off-campus, on-campus, part-time and full-time work.
Students with F-1 status require employment authorization if they are paid or given any benefits such as hourly wage, salary, books, fees, transportation, supplies, and the likes in exchange for the work they do or if the persons usually holding their positions are paid. F-1 visa holders are also allowed by USCIS to work under the optional practical training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to enable them practice what they studied for sometime before returning to their country of origin or country of permanent residence.
Limitation on employment
There are some limitations on the employment of students with F-1 Visas which include the following:
- Holders of F-1 visas are limited to 20 hours of work per week when their schools are in session. However, during vacation periods, they can work as long as they want. There are no limitations on work duration during these periods.
- Students with F-1 visa working under OPT or CPT are not expected to work for more than 12 months. The 12 months work periods can be used for both OPT and CPT.
- Students working under OPT are not allowed to accrue over 90 days of unemployment
- Students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are permitted to take a 29 month employment under OPT. This is in compliance with the interim order passed on 8 April, 2008.
Taxation on benefits obtain for work done
If you are working as a foreign student with an F-1 visa, you are not expected to pay Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes for both Medicare and social security for the first five years of your stay in the U.S. with F-1 status. However, you are required to pay other local, state, and federal taxes.
Note that taking any employment without authorization from USCIS is considered illegal and a violation of the terms and condition of the F-1 visa. Such violation of terms and condition of F-1 visa status is taken seriously.
A: Though your employment option is limited, you are allowed to take off-campus, on-campus, part-time, and full-time employment under certain conditions. You can discuss your employment options with a foreign student advisor of your university or school. Below are various employment options for international students with F-1 visas and their requirements.
As a foreign student, you are permitted to take on-campus employment under the following conditions:
- You must be in good academic standing.
- You must not work more than 20 hours per week when your university is in session. (There are no limitations on work duration during vacations periods.)
On-campus employments includes work given and paid for by the university that issued you the Form I-20, work done for a business inside the school premises which is providing services directly to the students, and work done in another place that has educational affiliation with your university (the off-campus employment must constitute an integral part of your program of studies in the university).
Students with an F-1 visa can take off-campus employment under CPT for a period of one year. The eligibility for off-campus employment includes the following:
- You must have completed 2 semesters of studies (excluding summer) with F-1 status.
- The work to be done must be an integral part of your program of study.
- You should have been registered for internship for academic credit.
- You must have an internship job offer.
There are no limitations on work duration for full-time off-campus employment. But if you have a part-time off-campus employment, you are limited to 20 hours or less of work per week.
Note that you are no longer eligible to apply for post-completion optional practical training (OPT) if you are given the authorization to take a full-time employment for one year under curricular practical training.
OPT pre-completion of studies employment option
To be eligible for OPT pre-completion of studies employment you must have completed 2 semesters of studies, excluding summers, as F-1 status. Your employment also must be related to your area of studies. There is no limitation on work duration during vacation periods but you are limited to 20 hours of work per week when the school is in session.
Note that the time spent for work during pre-completion OPT employment is part of the 12 months post completion OPT given by USCIS to international students with F-1 visas. Thus, the number of months remaining is the number of months you will work during your post-completion OPT.
OPT Post Completion of Studies Employment
It has the same eligibility and work duration with OPT pre-completion of studies employment option.
Note that if you complete your program and take up another higher degree program, you are entitled to additional 12 months of OPT.
Employment with an international organization
Students with F-1 visas are allowed to work for recognized international organizations in so far as their F-1 visa status is still valid. There are no limitations on work duration for such employment.
Severe Financial Hardship Employment
International students with F-1 visas who are facing serious financial hardship may be allowed to work if the financial needs result from unforeseen circumstances. Secondly, they should have tried other employment options and none worked out for them. They are also required to obtain approval from the International Student Services (ISS) office. Employment under severe financial hardship has no limitation during vacation periods. However, students working under financial hardships are limited to 20 hours of work during the academic year.
A: Yes, it is possible to change your academic program to another one. However, if you are changing your academic program as stipulated in the Form I-20, you should apply for a new I-20 that will reflect the changes in your academic program. Once you request a new I-20, the International Student Services (ISS) will update your SEVIS and inform the USCIS of the changes in your program of studies. If you are changing your current academic program, here are some steps you should follow:
- Obtain a new Form I-20 for the new program of study and then fill out the student part of the form.
- Send the form to the foreign student advisor at least fifteen days ahead of the start of the new program.
- Pages 3 and 4 of the Form I-20, which is the student copy pages, will be returned to you by the foreign student advisor.
- Endorse Form I-20's page 1.
Similarly, if your current degree is about to end or you are about to complete the OPT and you have obtained a new admission to start another academic program for a higher degree, you are required to apply for an update of level during the 60-day grace period allowed on your current F-1 status and not after it has expired. However, you are only qualified to request a change of level update if the new program will begin within 5 months from the time you make the request.
If you are about to complete a program of study leading to an award of a bachelor degree and you have obtained admission for a master degree, a new Form I-20 will be issued to you. But if you are changing from a PhD program to a Master's degree program or from a Master's degree program to a PhD degree program, you are required only to request ISS to issue you a change of level I-20.
Procedure for a change of level
- Fill out and submit the request form for change of level to ISS, including all the supporting documents.
- ISS will process your request within one week.
- An email will be issued to you when the request has been processed and your document is ready for collection.
Note that if you are traveling for summer and your new program of study is beginning during the fall quarter, you are required to request and obtain a new I-20 before traveling. You are supposed to travel with a new document that will show the changes in your program of study since you will be returning in the fall quarter to continue with your studies.
A: You are given the F-1 status and visa primarily to enable you pursue your education or attend a program of study in the U.S. and you are expected to pursue this purpose. But if you later have a change of purpose, you can change your F-1 status to the non-immigrant status you want in so far as you meet the requirements. Getting a new status can be challenging and somewhat stressful. There are two different ways through which you can change your F-1 status to another non-immigrant status. The following are your options:
Option 1: Apply for a new visa outside of the U.S. As visas are not issued in the U.S., if you prefer applying for a new visa, you have to leave the United States to your country of origin or your country of permanent residence or another country of your choice. Apply for a new visa that will enable you to obtain the new status you want. The advantage of this option is that it does not take much time for the new visa and new status to be issued. Secondly, you will achieve two things at the same time, a new visa and a new status. However, it can be expensive given the travel expenses.
Option 2: You can also change your F-1 status in the U.S. If you prefer changing your status in the U.S., you are required to apply for a change of status to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If your application is accepted, a new status will be issued to you but your visa will not be changed because visas are not issued in the U.S. It may take up three to six months for your application to be processed. As you cannot start pursuing your new objective until your status is changed, it is advisable that you apply for a change of status some months ahead of the start date of your new program.
When you apply for a change of status in the U.S., you are expected to remain in the U.S. until your application is processed and a new status is given to you. If you travel out of the U.S., the application will be cancelled. If a new status is given to you and you travel out of the U.S., you are required to obtain a visa stamp that will suit the new status, unless you take a short trip of not more 30 days to Mexico or Canada.
Note that it is possible for your application for a change of your F-1 status to be denied. If it is denied, you may be required to leave the U.S. immediately. You are not eligible to change your F-1 status if you have reached the expiration date of your authorized stay. A violation of the terms and conditions of your current status also disqualifies you from applying for a change of status.
A: International students studying in the U.S. with F-1 status can travel outside of the U.S. However, before you travel out of the country, there are some documents that you should check in order to determine your eligibility to return to the U.S. You must make sure that your I-20 form is still valid. You should also notify the DSO for the endorsement of your Form I-20. For your I-20 to be endorsed, you have to meet certain requirements. Evidence of your health insurance and current details of your financial support will be required. You are also required to provide evidence of your current student status, your passport, Form I-20, I-94, and other necessary immigration documents. Detailed information about your planned travel (such details as the mode of transportation, destination, reason for the travel, and duration of the travel) is also required. If you are traveling with your dependants who are F-2 visa holders, they will be also required to provide the above-mentioned documents. You should also ensure that your F-1 visa is still valid. If it has expired, then you have to apply for a new visa at the U.S. Embassy in the country you visited or your country of permanent residence or your country of origin.
However, if you are going to stay outside of the U.S. up to 5 months and above, it is advisable that you first discussed it with your counselor before you travel. This is because, before you will be allowed to re-enter the U.S. in order to continue with your studies, a new I-20 has to be issued to you. There are also special DHS rules guiding such travels. These rules have to be applied, as well.