The F-1 (Student) Visa Category

The F-1 student visa is one of the most popular non-immigrant visa categories.  Provided that you meet all the requirements, it is relatively easy and quick to obtain and often times does not need the assistance of an immigration attorney.  Most schools have specialized departments which “certify” prospective foreign exchange students and assist them with applying for the F-1.  The purpose of the F-1 is to allow foreign students to enter the U.S. to attend a full-time course of study at a college, university, conservatory, academic high school, or institution with a language training program.   It is a “non-immigrant” category.  That is, it does not confer the holder with the right to live and work permanently in the U.S.  Once your authorized period of stay expires, you are required to leave within 30 days.

To qualify for an F-1, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be proficient in English, unless you are coming to the U.S. to participate in an English language training program.  
  • Establish with documentation that you have sufficient financial resources to complete your education.
  • Be coming for the purpose of enrolling in a full-time course of study by a school approved by the USCIS.
  • Have Form I-20A-B issued by your school. 

As an F-1 visa holder, you enjoy certain privileges.  The most obvious is that you are permitted to enroll in a full-time course of study which leads to a degree or certificate at a U.S. based academic institution.  You may transfer from one school to another or switch academic programs by notifying the change to the USCIS.  You are also authorized to work part time on-campus.  If you can show an unforeseen economic necessity, you may seek off-campus employment after you’ve held F-1 status for at least a year.    The F-1 is multi-use visa in that you are free to travel in and out of the U.S. while in F-1 status.  Your dependants may come stay with you under the F-2 visa category.  They can even pursue their own educational goals without requesting separate F-1 status.

While in F-1 status, you should take care not to do things which would jeopardize your standing.  You will “fall out of status” if the following events occur:

  • You fail to maintain full-time enrollment at an approved educational institution (there are some limited exceptions).
  • You work without authorization, either off-campus without authorization or on-campus more than 20 hours per week during school or more than 40 hours per week when school is not in session.
  • You fail to request a program extension and continue to study past the degree completion date listed in your Form I-20A-B.
  • You transfer schools without following the appropriate procedure (getting a new Form I-20A-B and having it processed by an International Student Adviser at the new school).
  • You do not attend or stop attending the school that the USCIS authorized you to attend. 

In summary, although the F-1 visa has very limited applications, it is nonetheless very useful because it permits foreign students to come to the U.S. to study at American educational institutions.  Also, its time constraints are much more flexible than other types of non-immigrant visas.  Finally, it permits students to work while they are studying as well as after they have completed their education.  A student in F-1 status may easily transition to another type of non-immigrant visa or even an immigrant visa in certain situations.

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