F1 Student Visa
An F1 visa is issued to international students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program at a US college or university. F-1 students must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. They can remain in the US up to 60 days beyond the length of time it takes to complete their academic program, unless they have applied and been approved to stay and work for a period of time under the OPT program, as described below. F1 students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date on their I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) which is provided by the US college or university that the student has been accepted to and will attend.
In order to qualify, applicants need to satisfy several strict criteria:
- Must have a foreign residence and must intend to return there upon completion of studies;
- Can only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted;
- Must have sufficient financial support;
- Must have strong ties to home country (e.g. job offer letter upon completion of studies, assets, bank accounts, and family).
- F1 students have limited rights to work during school, and can remain for 12 months (or up to 29 months for STEM students) after completing their degree to work under the OPT (Optional Practical Training) program. Spouses and minor children obtain F-2 visa status and are not authorized to work in the U.S.
In our Working in the USA section, we provide detailed guidance on the various employment opportunities for F1 students in the USA. Generally, immigration regulations are very strict with respect to working while carrying a student visa. F-1 status, which is the most common status for full-time international students, allows for part time, on-campus employment (fewer than 20 hours per week.) Jobs available on campus typically do not pay much, certainly not enough to finance a university education. Do not count on this kind of a job for anything more than a supplement to other funds.
An F-1 student is generally entitled up to one year of post-completion option practical training, or OPT. Authorization for this type of practical training may be granted for a maximum of 12 months and only starts once you have graduated or completed your course of study. Students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can extend their OPT authorization for up to 29 months. Please visit our Working in the USA section for complete information regarding OPT and other permitted employment for F1 students.
Speak to the international students department of your university to get the necessary forms to apply. They will inform you of the different practical training options available to you. Find out about your practical training options when you start to study so you can adequately prepare for the future.
Applying for an F1 Visa
Different universities have different admission policies. Your university will inform you what they need from you in order to determine that you are academically eligible. Amongst other requirements, you will need to show the school that you have enough money to support yourself while studying without having to work and you may have to show health insurance in order to cover any medical expenses should you need any medical assistance. Always protect yourself by keeping a copy of everything that you fill out and send off.
Once the university has determined that your application is complete and you are academically eligible, they will issue an I-20 form to enable you to apply for your student visa.
Applicants for student visas should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. This will normally be your home country, the country in which you live. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
Although the process may vary or require additional steps, depending on your country and embassy or consulate, you will need the following when applying for your student visa:
- You will have to pay a non-refundable application fee. This means that if your visa does not get approved, you will not get your money back.
- All applicants will need to complete and submit DS-160, the online application for a non-immigrant visa.
- A DS-157 form for all males aged 16-45.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application.
- Photos. You can upload a digital photo that is:
- In color
- Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm) or 50% and 69% of the image's total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
- Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance
- Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background
- Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
- With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open
- Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis
When applying for a student visa, you will have to prove to the consular officer that you have strong ties to a residence in a foreign country, which will likely will be your home country, that you have every intention of returning to your home country, and that you will leave the United States when you have completed your studies.
You should take as much evidence as possible to show that you have ties to your home county. Such evidence can include, but is not limited to:
Ownership of property, proof of immediate family that is still based in your home country such as your parents, brothers, sisters, evidence of a mortgage payment, letter from a future employer stating that you have a job offer when returning home, assets, a car or anything else that can show that your intention is to return to your home country.