Complete guide to renewing and extending an F1 visa

As a foreign national you can study in the US with an F-1 student visa. If your student visa expires before your program is over, you may be eligible for an F-1 visa renewal. To renew your F-1 student visa you have to re-apply for the visa from your home country, or another country, at a US embassy or consulate (applying from your country is always preferable).

You only need to renew your visa if you plan on leaving and returning to the US because if your student visa expires, but your Form 1-20 is still valid you can continue your studies. However, you never know when you might need to travel so it’s always good to renew your F-1 visa instead of staying with an expired one. Here you can read all the details about applying for a visa renewal, what other renewing options are available, and you can extend your F-1 visa.

How to Renew My F-1 Visa?

To renew your F-1 visa, you have to follow the same steps you did when you initially applied for the visa:

  1. Fill in your visa application. Even when you apply to renew your visa, you have to fill in the online visa Form DS-160 and print the confirmation page.
  2. Schedule an appointment at the embassy or consulate. Afterward, you should make an appointment at your local embassy or consulate so you can do your visa interview as quickly as possible. However, you may be eligible for a waiver of the interview requirement, if you meet the exemption conditions.
  3. Assemble the required documents. You have to prepare the original documents that were required when you first applied for your F-1 student visa, and if needed, get apostille stamps for your documents and translate them.
  4. Pay the application fee for the visa. If you are required to pay the fee before your interview, make sure you do so since you have to prepare the fee receipt.
  5. Go to your visa interview.  Finally, you can attend the interview for your F-1 visa renewal. If you meet the same requirements you did when you applied initially for your F-1 student visa, you will most likely receive your visa renewal.

After you apply for your F-1 visa renewal, you have to stay in the country from where you applied until your application is processed and you cannot travel to the US. If your application for renewal is denied, you have to return home.

Keep in mind that while you may apply for a renewal of your F-1 visa from another country other than your country of residence, it’s always advisable to apply from home since that will make the application process easier for you and the embassy/consulate.

What Do I Need to Renew My F-1 Visa?

You need to prepare the same documents that were required for your initial F-1 visa application and add some additional documents:

  • Your passport has to be valid for at least 6 months after you plan on leaving the US.
  • Visa picture. You have to upload your visa photo when you fill in your online application, but make sure you get your picture taken so you can have a physical copy in case the digital version fails to upload.
  • Application form. You need to print the confirmation page of Form DS- 160.
  • Form I-20. You must also have your Form I-20 which you receive from your education provider.
  • University records. You must also submit some supporting documents related to your study time in the US:
    • A description of your study program.
    • A description of your research activities in the US.
    • A copy of your school transcripts and CV.
    • A letter of confirmation for your current program.
    • Evidence that you have paid all the visa fees.
    • Evidence of the funding for your study program.
    • Proof that you were not involved in any type of criminal activity during your stay in the US.
    • Proof that you will return to your home country.

Automatic F-1 Visa Renewal

One other way you can renew your F-1 visa without having to apply again is through automatic visa renewal. Automatic renewal means that you can travel to Canada, Mexico, or other US territories for less than 30 days, and when you re-enter the US your visa is automatically renewed.

If you want to use this option, then make sure you plan your travel ahead of time before your visa expires or just after it has expired, and make sure you check whether you need a visa to enter Canada. Once you return, the border patrol officer will validate your status as a student and your F-1 visa is renewed for the remainder of your study program.

Can I Renew My F-1 Visa Before It Expires?

If your visa is about to expire while you are abroad, then you can renew your visa before it expires if you want to re-enter the country. Usually, you have to wait for your visa to expire and then renew it.

How Long Will My New F-1 Visa Last?

Your new F-1 visa is issued for another year. This is usually the maximum validity period that US embassies or consulates issue F-1 visas with, but if you need to stay longer to finish your program, you can apply for another renewal when your current visa expires.

What Do I Do if I Can’t Renew or Extend My F-1 Visa?

Once your academic program and OPT are over, you have 60 days to leave the US and go back to your home country. During your application period, you had to submit proof that you plan to return home once you were done with the program.

However, there are a few ways through which you can try to stay in the US even if the F1 visa will no longer be valid and you will not be able to extend it. The only solution is to change your status.

Option 1

The easiest route that most F1 visa students follow is to get an H-1B visa sponsorship. This changes your status to a nonimmigrant visa and you can stay and work in the US for up to 6 years.

The benefit of the H-1B visa though is that it is a dual intent visa. This means that after 6 years, you can also try to petition and get a Green Card. This will be an Employment-Based Green Card which will allow you to live and work in the US permanently.

If you could not get an employer to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, you can either return to your home country or try more complicated options.

One option is to self-petition for an Employment-Based Green Card. You can make your case that you have extraordinary abilities in the arts, science, business, or athletics and get an EB-1 visa. This is extremely difficult and most of these petitions fail because of extensive requirements.

Option 2

The second option is to become a US investor. You can invest in a US commercial enterprise and create jobs. This could make a case that you are contributing to the economic development of the US and you might get an Investor Green Card or EB-5 visa.

The difficulty in getting this visa is that the requirement for the amount of the investment is too large. You must invest between $500K and $1 million in the commercial enterprise to qualify for an EB-5 visa. As a student who was on an F1 visa until that point, it is highly unlikely that you will have that amount of money saved.

Option 3

The final route is to marry a US citizen. A lot of F1 visa students meet someone and start a relationship with that person which leads to marriage. Once engaged, the F1 visa student would qualify for a fiancé visa and after marriage, they get the IR-1 visa. The IR-1 visa is the spouse of a US citizen visa and it allows you to live and work in the US permanently.

This option is easier than the two previous ones, but you must be careful to not create a fake relationship. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires extensive proof of your relationship to the US citizen. They do this to prevent fake Green Card marriages.

You will have to know the person you are in a relationship with and prove that you have been together for some time. Additionally, once you are married, you need to provide proof that the marriage was legal. You will have to submit your marriage certificate, declarations from your ceremony witnesses, pictures of the wedding, and receipts from your wedding reception or honeymoon.

Can I Extend My F-1 Visa?

You can also extend your F-1 visa if you want to. The process for extension is a bit different than renewing your visa. To extend your visa, usually you have to complete a post-graduation OPT (Optional Practical Training).

An OPT is a work program you can do while on your student visa. You can do the program during your studies or after you finish your studies, but if you want to extend your visa, you should do the work program after your studies are over.

You can work for 12 months under a US employer, part-time or full-time. When your work is finished after 12 months, your employer can sponsor you for an H-1B visa and you can change your status.

Keep in mind that if you are a STEM student, you can extend your OPT for up to 24 months.

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