F-1 Visa - How to Apply for a USA Student Visa
A student visa (F or M) is required to study in the United States. Foreign nationals may not study after entering on a visitor (B) visa or through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), except to undertake recreational study (non-credit) as part of a tourist visit. For more information on the VWP, see Visa Waiver Program.
There are a few exceptions, but generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. You must have an F-1 visa to study in the United States.
Students who wish to study in the US need to learn everything about the F-1 student visa application process. The United States is an ideal and one of the top destinations for international students to further their academic studies abroad. Over one million international students are currently studying abroad in the United States.
You also can be among these students studying in the US. All you is some proper preparation and guidance. Your course of study and the type of school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F visa or an M visa. Continue reading to learn more about the F-1 visa.
This article summarizes the step-by-step guide to the US visas and every other information you need to help you understand what an F-1 visa is all about the visa rules, and requirements.
Understanding US F Visa
In the US, F visas are a type of non-immigrant student visa that allows international students to pursue education (academic studies or language training programs) in the country.
However, there are three types of F visas, they include F-1 visas for full-time students and F-2 visas for dependents (spouses and children) of F-1 visa holders, and lastly the F-3 for "border commuters" who reside in their country of origin while attending school in the United States. F-3 visas are granted only to nationals of Mexico or Canada and these visa holders may study part- or full-time.
Moreover, F-1 visas are only issued in the US embassies and consulates outside the United States. However, a change of status and extension of stay may be possible within the US.
What is an F-1 Visa?
F1 visas are non-immigrant visas designated for students who wish to continue their education within the United States. It is issued to international students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program at a US college or university.
An F1 visa allows international students to study full-time at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) approved university in the United States. It allows a student to temporarily live in the United States for a defined period while studying at a school, college, seminary, or conservatory. F1 students must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status.
Moreover, all foreign students who attend an academic program within the US are required to attain a temporary visa to enter the country. Unless the person is already a US citizen or green card holder, all prospective students will have to apply for a visa to study in the United States.
However, the only type of program that does not require an F1 visa is a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution. These types of programs require an M visa instead, except for language training programs.
Eligibility Requirements for F-1 Visa
Moreover, there are four qualification criteria international students must meet to be eligible for an F-1 visa. They are as follows:
F1 applicants must have a foreign residence and must intend to return there upon the completion of their studies. An F1 visa is a non-immigrant visa and therefore, does not grant permanent residency in the United States. Since the student would need to return to their home country after their academic program ends. The F1 visa applicant must have official residency in a foreign country.
Therefore, if an interviewer can tell that you intend to become a permanent resident of the United States, your F-1 visa will more than likely be denied. The purpose of student visas is to further educate yourself and then bring your newfound knowledge back to your country of citizenship, not to remain in the United States.
Moreover, while on your F1 visa, you may only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted. The college or the university where you plan to study needs to be approved by SEVP Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
Furthermore, prior admission to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) approved school is necessary to qualify for an F1 visa. Admission to the school must be done before you submit your visa application.
Many of the visa application steps require forms submitted by the program. So you will be unable to complete many of the visa application steps without prior admission. For instance, during your interview, you will need to prove acceptance by a US institution or language school previously approved by the SEVP.
However, remember that home schools, preschools/ daycares, public elementary/ middle schools, and distance education/ online schools are automatically ineligible to be SEVP schools.
3. Financial Support
The F1 visa requires proof of sufficient financial support to fund the studies and living expenses of a visa applicant who plans to study in the US as legal employment opportunities will be limited.
However, this does not mean that F1 students are not eligible for scholarships. International students are encouraged to apply for scholarship funds and organizations to lower their financial burden.
Some documents to show proof includes scholarship notifications, bank statements, or previous year’s tax returns. This shows the student’s living and school expenses while in the US will be covered as legal employment opportunities in the US are limited to student visa holders.
4. Strong home country ties
Another important part of the qualification criteria for an F1 visa is proving strong ties to your home country. This validates that you intend to return to your home country after their academic program ends, as an F1 visa only allows temporary residency.
If you don’t prove and submit documents that you have strong ties to your home country and intend to go home after your educational program ends, it will be more difficult to get an F1 visa. Keep in mind that if your visa interviewer believes you do not plan to return to your home country once your academic program ends, they will likely deny your visa application.
Moreover, you can provide this proof by showing that in your home country, you have family or relatives that you need to take care of, a job offer waiting, property such as a home where you plan to reside after your program, or a family business you want to take over. However, if you do not have any of these reasons, then you can demonstrate how you plan to use your US education in your home country instead.
F-1 Visa Application Process
The F-1 visa process can be stressful and confusing, especially for international students who have never had to deal with the visa process before. But you shouldn't worry too much about that. We have put together this step-by-step guide to help you navigate through the F-1 visa process.
Apply to a SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) School
Firstly, you will need to apply and be accepted to a SEVP school. You can find a full list of SEVP schools through the Department of Homeland Security’s website. After your SEVP-approved school accepts your enrollment, you will be added to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
SEVP uses SEVIS to track and monitor schools; exchange visitor programs; and F, M, and J nonimmigrants while they visit the United States and participate in the US education system.
Pay the SEVIS fee, and receive an I-20
You must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to continue your processing. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System need to have your fee before the DS-160 is completed. After paying the fee, your chosen institution’s international student office will send you an I-20 form. You will have to keep this form safe, as you’ll need it for your visa interview.
Once you fill out the form, you will be able to apply to a US embassy or consulate for your F-1 visa. However, the steps required will vary across different US embassies or consulates. Therefore, ensure that you check their official website for detailed information. Moreover, you will have to complete and pay for an online non-immigrant visa application, DS-160.
F-1 Visa Interview
Once you've completed the Form DS-160. The final step will be scheduling an appointment for a visa interview. This needs to be done at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live.
Moreover, you will need to pay the $160 application fee before your interview and pay an issuance fee as well, but this depends on your nationality. However, the visa issuance fee is only due after your interview, if your visa gets approved.
Meanwhile, you will be required to attend the interview at a US embassy or consulate. At the interview, you will be questioned on things such as previous test scores and your finances, and the other criteria we mentioned in the eligibility requirements. The consular officer interviewing you will ask you questions to determine whether or not to approve your F-1 visa.
Once your interview is complete, you will receive a decision on your application. And if successful, be issued a visa to study in the US. Moreover, keep in mind that wait times vary by location, country, and year. However, you can check the current wait time for your location online through the Bureau of Consular Affairs website. If you don't receive your F-1 visa at least 30 days before the start date of your academic program. Otherwise, you will not be able to enter the United States.
F1- Visa Interview Documentation
Moreover, there are a few documents you will need to bring to your visa interview. They are as follows:
- An unexpired passport that is valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the US.
- The nonimmigrant visa application form (DS-160) confirmation page
- Application fee payment receipt
- A passport-sized photo that conforms to the US State Department requirements
- Form I-20 that was issued by your chosen SEVP certified academic institution
- Other requested documents such as:
- Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended.
- Standardized test scores are required by your US school.
- Proof of ties to your home country, as well as proof of funds to support you and pay for your studies while you are in the United States
Here are some of the common F-1 visa questions:
Can I work while on an F-1 visa?
F-1 vis holders are not allowed to work off-campus during the first academic year. But, the USCIS does sometimes grant permission to accept off-campus employment after the first year of study subject to special circumstances, conditions and restrictions. However, students can work on campus without any special permission from USCIS. When working on campus, the student is limited to working less than 20 hours a week. Or 40 hours during extended holidays or academic breaks.
Can I bring my family with me on an F-1 visa?
Yes, however, your spouse and unmarried minor children who intend to reside with you during your study may apply for F-2 visas. Moreover, your school must issue them an individual Form I-20, although SEVIS is not required. You must provide a copy of your F-1 visa and provide proof of relationship.
Can I remain in the US after my studies?
There are some immigration programs and visas available for F-1 visa holders. This is after the completion of their studies in the US.