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In this article we will explain in detail everything you should know about the F-1 student visa, its purpose, the application process and how you can qualify for one.

If you want to study in the United States, chances are that you will need to have this visa. The course of study and the type of institution will determine whether you need an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa. Our experienced immigration lawyers in New Jersey will advise you in this process. With more than 10 years helping foreign students, we will be able to give you the best possible legal support.

Contact us today by calling, emailing, or scheduling an appointment at our Newark or Ridgewood offices in New Jersey offices. 

The US F-1 Student Visa In 2024

Alien nationals who wish to study in the US should be aware of the F-1 visa application process. More than a million foreign students are studying in the United States today, and with a little guidance, you can be one of them, too.

To help you start this process, we have created this informative guide to the F-1 category.

What Is The F-1 Student Visa?

The F-1 visa allows foreign students to enter the US for full-time study at an academic high school, college, seminary, university, conservatory, or other language training institution or program. 

The international student must be enrolled in a study program or curriculum that, upon completion, will obtain a degree, diploma or certificate. In addition, the school must be authorized by the US government to accept international students.

student visas in the united states

Foreign students will not be able to study in the US under the Visa Waiver Program or on a visitor visa (B-1 visa and/or B-2 visa). However, they can pursue non-academic recreational studies. 

Benefits Of The Student Visa

  • Travel to the US to study in a program that gives you a certificate, diploma or title.
  • Transfer to a new academic program. As long as this change is notified to USCIS.
  • Possibility of accepting a job within the campus, as long as it complies with certain conditions and restrictions.
  • You may be eligible to apply for a work permit outside of the academic organization.
  • Possibility of getting a practical training (CPT).
  • Travel in and out of the US.
  • Remain within the US until completion of studies.
  • Be accompanied by spouse and children.
  • Make new friends.
  • Enjoy the diversity of the USA.

Requirements To Qualify For An F-1 Student Visa 

To qualify for the F-1 visa, the international student must:

  • Be enrolled in an academic educational program, vocational program, or language training program. 
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution.
  • Have command of the English language or be enrolled in courses to obtain such command.
  • Have sufficient income to cover their expenses throughout the course of study.
  • Maintain a residence abroad that you do not plan to abandon. 

Additionally, the school must be approved by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

These eligibility criteria apply to both F-1 and M-1 visas.

University Admission Requirements

American universities have different admission policies. Your college will tell you what you need to be academically eligible. The two most common requirements are usually:

  1. Show the school that you have enough income to support yourself while you study in the US without having to work.
  2. Have health insurance to cover medical expenses in case you need medical assistance.

F-1 Student Visa Application Process

To apply for the F-1 visa you must follow these steps:

  1. Apply to a SEVP-approved school in the US. Once accepted, complete your registration to be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.
  3. Wait until you receive the Form I-20 issued by the SEVP-approved school.
  4. Complete Form DS-160 online.
  5. Submit a photograph that meets the requirements.
  6. Pay the F-1 visa application fee.
  7. Schedule the visa interview with the US embassy or consulate.
  8. Attend the interview.
f-1 student visa for the united states

Documents Needed For The F-1 Visa Application

  • Valid passport with at least 6 months validity.
  • Printed DS-160 form confirmation page.
  • Printed copy of the SEVIS I-901 payment confirmation.
  • A passport-type photo.
  • Proof of payment for the F-1 visa application.
  • School transcript and official test scores cited on the college application.
  • Diploma (if applicable).
  • Form I-20.
  • Bank statements or other proof of finances.
  • Evidence of your intent to depart the US upon completion of your academic course of study.

When Should The F-1 Visa Be Applied For?

Once the international student is admitted to the academic institution of their choice, they can apply for the F-1 visa with a term of 120 days before the scheduled date to begin their study program.

It is not possible to submit an application earlier and submitting it later could cause a delay.

Interview For The F-1 Student Visa

During the interview, the consular officer may ask some of the following questions to determine if you are eligible for the F-1 visa:

  • Are you a legitimate student?
  • Do you have enough resources to pay for your studies?
  • Do you plan to return home after finishing your degree?
  • Why did you choose that university?
  • What other US universities did you apply to?
  • What do you plan to do after graduation?
  • How will you pay for your education?
  • Do you plan to work during your time in the US?
  • Do you have relatives in the US?

Upon completion of the interview and acceptance, you are granted the F-1 visa and authorized to study in the US.

What Is The Processing Time For The F-1 Student Visa?

In some cases, the alien applicant will receive a visa response immediately after the interview. However, there are cases where the response and processing may take a few days.

In case the visa is denied, the officer in charge will inform you of the reason for the denial.

group of students in the united states

Why Can My Student Visa Be Denied?

US immigration law may deny your F-1 visa application. If denied, the reason and the section of law under which it was denied will be shown on your document. 

  • Typically, some applications are denied because the applicant does not provide the necessary information or is ineligible for other reasons. 
  • Of course, if you don’t meet any of the requirements shown in this article, don’t expect to be eligible to study in the United States.

For example, if you do not demonstrate strong enough ties to your country of origin, you may be denied an F-1 visa under section 214(b) of the INA.

To avoid this, you must prove your strong ties to your country of origin, such as your assets (house, land, vehicle and others), bank accounts, family or a job offer letter upon completion of studies.  

Other reasons for this visa to be denied are:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation.
  • Unlawful presence in the US.
  • Reasons related to crimes or offenses.
  • Health-related matters.

Can I Work With The F-1 Student Visa?

F-1 students may not work outside the university perimeter the first academic year. However, they can accept a job within the enclosure as long as it complies with the stipulated conditions and restrictions. 

After the first academic year, F-1 students can participate in 3 types of employment outside the academic boundary. These types are:

  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
  2. Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  3. Optional hands-on training for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students.

Considerations To Take Into Account

  • If there is a special scenario (severe economic difficulty or need special help) F-1 students may be eligible to work outside the university perimeter. 
  • M-1 students can participate in practical training only after completing their studies.
  • Any training employment for both F-1 and M-1 students must be related to their study and authorized by the designated school official. 

Generally, only non-citizens with a work permit issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for a social security number. 

If you are wondering if it is possible to work in the United States illegally, check our article dedicated to this topic to find information about it.

Can I Enroll In A School While I Don’t Have Student Status?

Some statuses allow you to enroll in a school while others do not. For example, the B-1 and B-2 visas do not allow this, but the E classification (E-1 visa and E-2 visa) does, as long as it does not interfere with your E status.

Alien individuals in a nonimmigrant status that does not allow them to enroll in school must first obtain F-1 or M-1 status. Enrolling in a school with a status that does not allow such action would result in a status violation.

Those who have violated their status will not be able to extend or change it. 

How To Change F Or M Status From Another Nonimmigrant Status?

If you have a nonimmigrant status that allows you to change to another nonimmigrant status, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Being lawfully admitted to the US under nonimmigrant status.
  • Also, your nonimmigrant status remains in effect.
  • You have not violated your status.
  • You have not committed any crime or other action that would make you ineligible to change your status.

Before USCIS approves your change of status application, you must do the following:

  1. Apply for and receive acceptance from the SEVP certified school.
  2. Obtain an initial I-20 form from the school.
  3. Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
  4. File Form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.

You can obtain more information regarding changes in status of this visa on the USCIS website.

Can I Travel Outside The US On A Student Visa?

If you are a student on an F-1 visa and want to travel abroad, you must:

  • Notify your Designated School Official (DSO). They will provide you with the necessary policies and rules that apply to you.
  • Make sure you have a current Form I-20. It is important to have a valid I-20 for the time you travel.
  • Have a valid passport. Make sure your passport is valid for both leaving and re-entering the US. If it is expiring soon, you may be able to send it to a consulate in the US and renew it before you travel or renew it while you are in your home country and then return to the US.
  • Check the validity of the F-1 visa. Your student visa must be valid the entire time you are traveling. If the visa is about to expire, apply for a new one before you travel. You will not be able to enter the US with your expired visa.
  • Have all the necessary documents. Our immigration attorney will be able to help you with this process.

How Long Is The F-1 Student Visa Valid For?

Once the F-1 visa is approved, the time of its validity can be for the full time you study in the US. If your study program lasts one year, it is likely that the US embassy or consulate will grant you a visa valid for one year.

On the other hand, if the study program is for 2 years and your F-1 visa is only valid for one year, you must renew the visa. 

Can I Stay Longer Than My Visa Allows?

After the F-1 visa expires, you have a 60-day grace period to leave the US and return to your home country. If the visa period does not cover the entire time of your studies, you must apply for a renewal or extension. 

In order for your extension to be approved, you must show that you intend to complete your studies, earn a degree in the US, and return to your home country as soon as the academic year is over.

In our article on staying with a tourist visa in the United States, we talk about the risks of extending your stay beyond what is allowed. We also give you legal options to solve this situation.

How Can I Bring My Family Members To The US With An F-1 Visa?

In case you have dependents, such as a spouse and/or unmarried children under 21 years of age, they may be eligible for the F-2 visa.

The F-2 visa has no limit and dependents only need to meet the requirements and complete the application process. To be eligible for this visa, the following criteria must be met:

  • Be the spouse of an approved F-1 visa holder, or
  • Being an unmarried child under the age of 21 of an approved F-1 visa holder.
  • Have financial means to support the family during their stay in the US.
u. s family based immigration

If you want further information on the subject, we invite you to read our section on family based immigration to the United States.

Maintain F-1 Visa Status

International students must actively maintain their F-1 status to continue studying within the United States. To do this, they must comply with university regulations, codes of conduct and the requirements or conditions established by the visa. Thus:

Upon Entering The US:

  • You must ensure that you enter the US within 30 days before the study program begins. You will not be able to enter the country before the 30 days mentioned.
  • Once you arrive in the country, you must contact your designated school official.
  • Upon arrival at your college, you must contact your designated school official again by the start date shown on the I-20 form.

While Studying In The US:

  • You must enroll in a full course of study.
  • Attend all your classes and maintain high academic standards. 
  • If you need more time than stated on the I-20 form to complete your program, please contact your designated school official to discuss possible extension options.
  • If you wish to change or drop classes, you must first speak with your designated school official.

How Much Does The F-1 Student Visa Cost?

Generally, the cost of this visa is usually $510 in total. Due to the fees of:

  • Form DS-160: $160.
  • SEVIS: $350.

 How To Pay The SEVIS I-901 Fee?

  • National students from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, or Kenya must pay by money order, Western Union Quick Pay, or certified check drawn on a US bank. Other foreign students also have the option to pay at by credit card.
  • SEVP will accept third party payments, so another individual can pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to the beneficiary student using the same payment methods.

You can get more information on the SEVP website or by calling their customer service center: (703) 603-3400.

What Is The Difference Between The F-1, M-1 And J-1 Visa?

The main differences between these three types of visas are:

  • F-1 visa. Is meant for international students who wish to pursue a full-time language, degree, or academic program (graduate, master’s, certificate, diploma and others.) at a US school, university, or college. 
  • M-1 visa. It is for foreign students enrolled in non-academic programs or vocational study programs. These can be: dance courses, cooking, music, photography, design, art, pilot course and others. Unlike the F-1 visa, the M-1 visa is valid for one year only, although it can be extended up to 3 years.
  • J-1 visa. It is a visa for foreigners who wish to travel to the US under an academic or cultural exchange program. It is usually the most common among professors and researchers. 

Can I Get The Green Card Through The F-1 Visa?

It is not possible to obtain the Green Card directly through the student visa, since you must demonstrate that you have strong ties with your country of origin. However, you can get the Green Card through other means, either:

  • Marrying a US citizen.
  • Through a family petition.
  • Demonstrating that you will invest in the US economy. 

If none of these are feasible for you, you may be able to change your status to another type of visa, such as the H-1B visa, through sponsorship by a US employer.

Our attorney Carolina T. Curbelo can help you determine what options you really have to obtain permanent residence in the US and perhaps, over the years, be eligible for American citizenship as well.

A Prestigious Law Firm In New Jersey To Obtain Your F-1 Student Visa

The Curbelo Law firm has been helping and advising hundreds of international students seeking to pursue academic studies in the US for more than 10 years now. Thanks to our team, many of those students are now professionals with a US degree. 

If you need legal assistance on the F-1, M-1, J-1 student visa or any other, do not hesitate to contact us. You can book your professional consultation today.