Top 5 Facts You Need to Know About F-1 Student Visas
by Jennifer A. Grady, Esq.
If you are interested in coming to the United States as a student, the F-1 visa may be your best option. Foreign nationals may enter the United States as nonimmigrants in order to engage in academic studies in the U.S., subject to certain restrictions. These students, who can range from elementary school students to doctoral candidates and persons engaged in postdoctoral studies, are classified in the F visa category. Students in vocational or nonacademic programs may be been admitted only in the M visa category, which has much greater limitations than are placed on the F category. In addition, students in academic programs can also be admitted to the U.S. in the J visa category for exchange visitors, if the school sponsors an exchange visitor program recognized by the U.S. Department of State. Below are the Top 5 Facts you need to know about F-1 Student Visas:
1. Full Course of Academic Study Required.
Foreign students must be enrolled in a full course of study, not part-time studies (although a limited exception exists for certain border commuter students). Enrollment in an elementary school, academic high school, college, university, seminary, conservatory, or language training program qualifies as “academic” study. An “academic” student can be seeking a bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D. or other graduate-level degree, or be engaged in postdoctoral studies. Other programs, including those offered by technical and business schools, and vocational high schools, are considered vocational, requiring the issuance of an M visa.
2. The Student Must Have Sufficient Means of Financial Support.
Students must also demonstrate, prior to the granting of a visa, that they have sufficient means of support to cover them through their full academic program. Only in the most limited circumstances are students granted authorization to work because of financial need.
The financial support requirement is the one that causes denial of student visas to many aliens. The student must demonstrate that he or she has funds currently at his or her disposal for the coming academic year, and that, barring any unforeseen change in circumstances, adequate funds will be available in the same amount throughout the student’s academic program. Funds available to the student include financial aid and fellowships, personal funds and funds from his or her family, and from his or her government.
3. Spouses and Family Members May Enter the U.S. With the Student, but They Will Not Be Allowed to Work.
Although the spouses and family members of students may enter the U.S. with the principal student in the F-2 visa category, under no circumstances may they be granted permission to work. Unlike some students who enter in an exchange-visitor program sponsored by their school (J-1 status), F-1 students are not subject to any special requirement to return to their home countries for two years prior to accepting employment here as a nonimmigrant or prior to immigrating. Family members of the foreign students may enter the U.S. in the F-2 visa category. Eligible family members include the F-1 student’s spouse, and minor children (under the age of 21).
4. Students May Only Attend Schools Approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
Only schools approved by the DHS may issue Form I-20 to a prospective student certifying his or her eligibility for attendance. F-1 students cannot pursue a course of study at an institution that is not approved for attendance by foreign students. The F-1 regulations provide that a student seeking initial admission in F-1 status must intend to attend the school specified in his or her visa, or, when the student is exempt from the visa requirement, the school specified on the Form I-20. If, however, the student changes schools after the F-1 visa is issued, he or she will need to obtain a new visa based on the I-20 issued by the new school. A student who never registers at the school listed on the F-1 visa after an F-1 admission will be considered to be in violation of status and will not be afforded any grace period for departure.
5. English Language Requirements.
The school must certify to one of the following on Form I-20:
A.) The student has satisfied the school of his or her proficiency in English, usually through the passing of an English language entrance examination, such as the TOEFL examination;
B.) The student will be enrolled in courses in a language in which the student is proficient;
C.) The student will be enrolled in a full course of study consisting of both academic courses and English instruction; or
D.) The student is enrolled in a language training program constituting a full course of study.
Unlike most other nonimmigrants who are given a definite period of stay in the United States, foreign students are permitted to remain in the U.S. for the “duration of status.” Duration of status means that a student remains in valid status during enrollment in any number of academic programs (e.g., high school followed by college followed by master’s degree), plus any periods of authorized practical training, and a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S.
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*This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. This article does not make any guarantees as to the outcome of a particular matter, as each matter has its own set of circumstances and must be evaluated individually by a licensed attorney.