This article will provide the details of the F1 visa, its requirements, application process, and what you can and cannot do if you have this visa.
What is an F1 Visa?
The F1 visa is a US student visa that is given to international students who want to attend educational institutions in the US. It covers levels from elementary school to university and graduate school, including other degrees. If one of these institutions accepts you, then you apply for the F1 visa.
Nationals who are part of the Visa Waiver Program cannot start their education in the US without an F1 visa. However, if you get accepted in a non-credit bearing course in the US, they could apply for a B visa or go through the Visa Waiver Program without needing to get an F1 visa.
The F1 visa does not have a cap, meaning that all students who manage to fulfill the requirements and have a successful application will get the visa. With the F1 visa, you can live and study in the US, get a driver’s license, open a bank account, travel in and out of the US anytime, as well as work under certain conditions and restrictions. You can also transfer schools if you get accepted to an institution which you like better.
This type of visa F1 however, is given to those who can prove that they have strong ties to their home country and intend to return. The F1 visa is given by the reason that the person will go to the US and increase their skills and knowledge so as to develop their own home country.
F1 Visa Eligibility
To get the F1 visa you must meet some specific conditions, such as:
Get an admission offer from a SEVP accepted institution
The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has a list of schools, universities, and other institutions which meet the conditions and accept international students. To qualify to even apply for an F1 visa, a student must first apply and get an admission offer from such a SEVP accepted to a school.
It is recommended that before applying to your preferred schools or universities, you should first check the SEVP and see if those institutions are listed there. If yes, you can proceed to send them any documents that they require to make an admission decision. If not, you should not apply since you will not get the F1 visa even if you are accepted into the school.
Have strong ties to your home country
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.
Prove financial eligibility
The J-1 visa holders have sponsors who pay for their stay in the US, while the F1 students should prove that they have sufficient funds in their bank accounts to cover the expenses of studying and living in the US. This does not mean that F1 students are not eligible for scholarships. In fact, you are encouraged to apply for scholarship funds and organizations to lower your financial burden.
Be proficient in English
International students must prove that they can speak and understand English at a level which enables them to enroll in an academic program. Students can prove their language proficiency by taking standardized English proficiency tests such as the TOEFL or the IELTS.
F1 Visa Application Process
To apply for the F1 visa, there are several steps you need to take. The steps depicted here are usually the norm for applying for an F1 visa; however, depending on the US Embassy and the location you are applying from, there might be differences.
After you are admitted into the institution of your choice, you can apply for the visa 120 days before you are scheduled to start your program. You cannot apply any earlier, but applying later might cause you a delay due to processing times. So as soon as the 120-day countdown begins, make sure you submit your application.
Get your admissions documents from the SEVP institution
After you apply and are accepted into the school you want to attend, they will have to complete some procedures so that you can apply for the F1 visa. The most important document you need to have is Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Without this form, you will not be able to apply for an F1 student visa and attend your interview.
Apply online through the DS-160 form
After you get your Form I-20, you can start the usual application process. This includes filing the DS-160 form online with the necessary information about your visa status.
Pay the application fee
The application fee for the F1 student visa is $160. You must pay this fee and get the receipt, which you will need later for your interview documents. You might have to pay additional fees based on your country of origin and the US Embassy you are applying from.
Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee
When you are admitted by the SEVP institution, your school immediately registers you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). To have full registration, there is a SEVIS I-901 fee. For the F1 visa, this fee is $200.
Schedule your F1 visa interview
After filing the DS-160 form and paying the fees, you will need to schedule your interview. The F1 Visa interview is a mandatory step before you get your F1 student visa. Try to schedule it as early as possible, since there might be delays due to the heavy workload of the US Embassy. When you schedule it, you will receive an interview appointment letter which you will need later on in the application process.
Submit the file with documents
Before you go to attend your interview, you should prepare your file with the F1 visa required documents. You are required to submit a list of standard required documents for every US visa, and also the documents required for an F1 visa as follows:
- Two photographs meeting the US Visa Photo Requirements
- Documents which prove your previous education and current qualifications:
- Original transcripts
- Standardized test scores (TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT, etc.)
- Acceptance letters from the educational institution which accepted you
- Previous degree diplomas
- Your Form I-20 states the amount of funds you need to finance your education and living in the US. You must submit documents which prove you have that amount readily available. This can be done by submitting various documents, such as:
- Bank statements for the last 3 years
- Tax records for the last 3 years
- Pay stubs of previous employment
- If you have received a scholarship, you also need to submit proof of it
- Paying a semester’s or a year’s worth of tuition is also a good idea, but not mandatory
- If you are supported or sponsored by someone else in the US, you will need to submit Form I-134, Affidavit of Support and bank statements for the last three years of that person.
- If you are funding your US education through a loan, you must also show proof of the approved loan
To get informed about the necessity of having health insurance coverage as an international student in the USA read the F1 visa insurance article!
Attend the visa interview
When you go to attend the visa interview, the questions will mostly revolve around your reasons for going to the US and the institution you are going to. The interviewer will try to assess whether you intend to return to your home country after you complete your degree.
When your visa is approved, it might be for the full time that you will be in school in the US, or for less. If your degree program is 2 years and you only get the visa for 1 year, you should then later apply to renew it.
If you are renewing your visa you should follow the same procedure. You might be able to waive the interview on the reason that you have already done it once and your intent is to continue your education for the remaining years to get your degree.
If your visa is approved, you are allowed to depart for the US 30 days before your program begins. You cannot enter the US any earlier than that.
F1 Visa Processing Time
The F1 visa processing time is much shorter than other visas. The processing of this type of visa actually happens before your interview. The interview is the last step for the US Embassy to assess whether they should give you an F1 visa or not.
In most cases, you will get the response on this visa immediately after the interview. At the end of the visa interview, the interviewer might congratulate you for getting the visa or will provide you with a document letting you know the reason for denial.
There are, however, cases where the response and processing of the F1 visa takes a few days, so you should be patient if that happens.
What Can I Do With an F1 Visa?
Extend the period of stay
The validity of your F1 visa is for as long as it is stated on your I-20 form and I-94 form which is given to you when you enter the US. After your visa expires, you have a 60 day grace period to prepare your departure to your home country. If your visa doesn’t cover the whole time that you will be in school in the US, you will have to apply for renewal or extensions. The extensions are approved only if you can prove you will be completing your degree in the US and you intend to return as soon as it is over.
Change your visa status
If you, for example, find a job that requires a different type of visa, other than F1, then you are also eligible to change status. You just need to work through the instructions of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and your employer or another petitioner.
Apply for a Green Card
Even though you have proved that you have strong ties to your home country, if you want to apply for a Green Card, you are allowed to do so on an F1 visa. It is a complicated procedure, though. You must either self-petition as a person with extraordinary abilities, get married in the US or prove that you will invest $500,000 in the US economy.
If these are not feasible for you, but you still want to remain in the US, the easiest way is to change status into a different type of visa such as an H-1B visa and have your employer sponsor you.
Working as an F1 Student
You may work as an F1 student but only for short periods of time since your visa is a student and not a work visa. You are allowed to work part-time on campus while school is in session and full time during breaks. If you want to work outside of campus, you have two options.
Curriculum Practical Training (CPT)
This means that the educational institution you are attending requires you to work as part of the curriculum. You have to complete the practical training in order to graduate. This training or practical work must be in your field of study and must be approved by your Designated School Official (DSO).
You are allowed to begin your CPT after 9 months of enrollment in your degree. There is no limit on how long the CPT can last, but if it is for more than 12 months, you will not be allowed to apply for post-graduate Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
The OPT program is designed for international students to get experience in the US. You can start your OPT before or after graduation, but the maximum amount you can work is 12 months. Your work must be related to your field of study. If you are in a STEM-related subject, you can file for an OPT extension of another 24 months.
You can start your OPT if you and your Designated School Official (DSO) file for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This is done by filing Form I-765. If you are successful during your OPT, your employer could agree to sponsor you for an H-1B visa from which you can also apply for a Green Card.
Can I Bring my Family Members to the US as an F1 Visa Holder?
In case you have dependents, such as a spouse or unmarried children under 21 years old, they are allowed to come to the US too. This can be done with an F2 visa.
The F2 visa has no cap and dependents should just fulfill the requirements and complete the application procedures to get the visa. To be eligible for an F-2 visa, you must fulfill the following criteria:
- Be the spouse of an approved F1 visa holder, or
- Be the unmarried child under 21 years old of an approved F1 visa holder
- Have the financial means to support the family during your stay in the US
Traveling Outside of the US
F1 visa students quite often have to travel abroad. They travel during university breaks or in case of emergencies. The travel can be to their own home countries or to other countries.
If you are an F1 visa student wants to travel abroad, before they plan and book their travel they must follow some instructions. The instructions are to ensure that they can enter the US again. If you are an F1 visa student who wants to travel.
F1 Visa Renewal
If your study program takes 1 year to graduate, the Embassy will most likely give you a visa that is valid for 1 year. However, in some cases when a program is longer, the Embassy may issue a visa that is valid for less. In this case, it is the best option to renew the F1 visa. There are two ways that this can be done:
- By going to the US Embassy for renewal;
- By using the Automatic Visa Revalidation option;