This article was designed to help international students and their families understand all the details about the F1 visa, the application process and how to qualify for it.
There are a few exceptions, but in general anyone who intends to stay in the USA to study or live must obtain either a temporary or immigrant visa by the US Department of State. If you wish to study in the USA you will most typically be issued a non-immigrant visa called an F1 (F2 for dependents) and can choose to attend one school types that are listed above.
The F1 visa process is relatively simple but can be time consuming, so it’s important to start this process as soon as possible to ensure that any delays won’t affect your education. Perhaps one of the lengthiest steps towards becoming an international student can be applying to a US school that has been approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). It’s also important to keep in mind that while there are many great institutions across the country, not all are equipped to handle international students and the administration that is required, so it’s important to verify that the school you would like to attend is approved well before filling out any applications, writing any essays or providing references.
After receiving acceptance by the school of your choice, you will be officially enrolled into the SEVP and are required to pay a one-time application fee. After all fees are paid and your account is in good standing, what is called an “I-20” form will be provided by your institution or educational program. This form will allow you to schedule an interview appointment with a local US embassy or consulate to be granted an F1 visa and officially become an international student!
Specific instructions for how to apply for your F1 visa will be listed on the website of the US embassy or consulate that you plan on visiting, but regardless of where your visa appointment may take place you will need to provide the same kind of documents and address the same kinds of questions.
In order to qualify and as part of the F1 visa interview process, potential international students will need to prove the following:
It’s essential to remember that F1 visas are intended for full-time students and are not designed as work visas. With this in mind, international students are typically able to work 20 hours a week on campus when school is in session and full-time while school is in recess, but you may need to seek approval from the Department of Homeland Security and the International Office at your school first. Working illegally while on an F1 visa is a serious violation of the regulations, and could result in deportation.
Additionally, F1 visa holders are eligible to apply for permission to work off campus for up to 12 months. This permission is called Optional Practical Training (OPT) and allows F1 students to train, and thus work, in a field that is related to their field of study. For more information, be sure to contact an international student advisor at your school, but OPT is traditionally used in the following situations:
Students on an F1 visa are required to study at the academic institution through which their visa application was filed and granted. However, in some situations international students are able to transfer institutions if the student completes or leaves their current program with confirmed plans to study at a different US institution the following academic semester.
Students are not required to immediately return home upon completion of their program on an F1 visa. Instead, F-1 visa holders can remain in the US for up to 60 days after completing their academic program or OPT training. Any students wishing to remain in the States after their program must change their visa status, re-enroll in a higher program, or have the option to transfer to a new school and receive new visa documents.
If you have any questions about the visa process, an academic advisor at your school can often be a great resource. In terms of ensuring you have adequate health insurance for your studies in the United States, be sure to contact us for plan suggestions and guidance.