What is an F-1 visa?

The F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to study in the United States at various educational institutions certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). This may include enrolment in all forms of academic programs at various accredited U.S. educational institutions. It is important to note that the foreign national must first be accepted by an accredited U.S. institution before he or she can apply for the F-1 visa. Likewise, the student’s duration of stay in the United States will be based on the length of the academic program that the foreign student is enrolled in.

What are the eligibility requirements?

  1. Acceptance in an SEVP approved institution – You must be admitted into a Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) listed institution and enrolled as a full-time international student. The institution wherein you are admitted will issue a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Status, signifying your acceptance in the academic program.
  2. Proof of strong ties to your home country – If you are coming to the U.S. as a student, you must prove that you intend to return to your home once your program ends. Ties to your home country may include assets, family and a job offer. This list is in-exhaustive. If you need advice on demonstrating ties to your home country, we will be glad to help.
  3. Financial Capability – Applicants for the F1 visa must also provide proof of financial sufficiency. Essentially, this must cover fees and living expenses for the duration of study. You can demonstrate this with bank statements in your name or other assets that are readily available for your use.
  4. English Language Proficiency – The U.S. is an English-speaking country, so international students are expected to demonstrate a level of command suitable for the program they are enrolled in. You may be required to take either TOEFL or IELTS, depending on the specific requirements of your program. If you are enrolling in business programs like an MBA, a GRE or GMAT score may be required in addition to an English Language Test.

How do I apply for an F1 visa?

If you are outside the United States:

Once you meet the requirements for the F1 visa as outlined above, you may proceed to submit your application. Your educational institution (sponsor) will enrol you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and issue you the Form I-20. The form will bear all details about your program of study and financial sufficiency. You will need this form to complete your visa application and attend an interview. So, you must present the correct information to your school.

Once you have the Form I-20, you may complete your F1 visa application, a.k.a Form DS-160, online, pay the MRV Fee of $160.00 and schedule your interview appointment. This is normally done online through the visa appointment services site. All the completed forms and confirmation page must be printed and presented alongside your valid travel document, passport size photo, application fee payment receipt and eligibility documents during your interview appointment.

It is important to reiterate that the F non-immigrant visa is issued at U.S. embassies and consulates outside the U.S. In other words, you apply for an F1 visa from your country of origin or place of permanent residence.  

If you are in the United States:

If the foreign national is currently in the United States and is in valid nonimmigrant status, he or she is eligible to file for the Form I-539, Application to Change Nonimmigrant Status, F-1 Classification, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The same eligibility requirements as discussed above will apply. This process will require the foreign student to pay the USCIS filing fee of $370.00 and biometric fee of $85.00.

It is important to note that filing the Form I-539 Application to Change Status, F-1 Classification must be done timely. This means that the I-539 application, along with the documents to prove eligibility, must be submitted to USCIS within the validity period, but no sooner than 60 days after arrival date.

F1 Visa Refusal

F1 visa refusals could be due to a couple of reasons. Common reasons include misrepresentation, previous overstays or violation of nonimmigrant status in the United States, health challenges, involvement in criminal or terror activities etc. In addition, some applications are denied due to insufficient information or failure to demonstrate strong ties to home country.

F1 visa denial is a disappointing experience that you should avoid. Therefore, it is crucial to seek expert guidance during your application. If you have been denied, do not lose hope. You may be eligible for reapplication or waiver, depending on your circumstances. Get in touch with us for assistance.

Working as an F-1 Student in the U.S.

There are conditions tied to working as an F-1 student. You must be familiar with these conditions to avoid breaching your visa terms and ensure the maintenance of your status. 

As an F1 visa holder, you can work up to 20 work hours/week during term time and up to 40 hours during breaks in your first academic year. You are also restricted to on-campus jobs. However, from the second year, you are allowed to work an off-campus job under the following categories:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

The goal of CPT is to provide students with real-world experience in their field. It can be undertaken as an internship, practicum or any other work experience related to your degree. Similarly, the primary purpose of OPT is for international students to acquire practical experience in their field. If you decide to undertake an OPT, it must be related to your study area. Full-time CPT undertaken for 12 months or more makes you ineligible for OPT.

STEM OPT allows students in STEM programs to extend their stay in the U.S. for up to 24 months to work in a related field.

Note that working in the U.S. without authorization is a violation of the terms and conditions of your F-1 nonimmigrant status, which may lead to visa revocation. Please contact our office if you need legal advice and professional guidance.

How do I stay in the U.S. upon the expiration of my F1 Nonimmigrant Status?

Upon completing your program, you have up to 60 days to depart the United States or apply to change your F-1 status to another nonimmigrant classification in order to remain in the United States lawfully. You may want to consider applying for a job under the nonimmigrant H-1B category, become an investor or self-petition as an individual with extraordinary ability. These options have unique requirements, potentially leading to Green Card. 

Get in touch with us! If you are applying for an F1 visa, you can save time and prevent avoidable denials with the right guidance. At Perry & Alznauer, we specialize in U.S. Immigration and Nationality Law. For us, the tiniest detail matter and we are committed to helping you get it right at first try. Our testimonials are pointers to our high professional and quality orientation.