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F-1 Visas for International Students Studying in the United States

Purpose of an F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 classification is for foreign-born academic students studying in the United States.

To obtain an F-1 Student Visa while living abroad, you must:

  • Apply and be accepted to the school where you want to study;
  • Obtain a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status, from the school that has accepted you; and
  • Make an appointment with your local United States consulate to receive approval for your F-1 visa.

Having an approved visa does not mean you will be allowed to enter the United States. A visa allows you to travel to a United States port of entry and request permission to enter. When you arrive at a United States port of entry, an official from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will grant or deny your admission into the Untied States. If you are granted admission, the CBP official will mark the length of your stay on your Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Card, as D/S for "duration of status." This means that you may remain in the United States as long as you continue your course of study.

Applying for an F-1 Student Visa

To qualify for an F-1 visa, you must:

  • Show evidence that you have been accepted by a school approved by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in compliance with the SEVIS program (Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status);
  • Show evidence that you are qualified for your intended course of study;
  • Show evidence that you are proficient in English or that you are receiving training to become proficient in English (unless the school can show why English is not important);
  • Show evidence of residence in your home country and no intention of abandoning it;
  • Show evidence that you have sufficient funds to attend school and live in the United States during your course of study; and
  • Show that you have not applied for attendance at a public elementary school or a publicly funded adult education program.

The consular officer will verify your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status and check to see that your data has been entered into the SEVIS system. If the school has not entered your data into the SEVIS system, the consular officer will deny your request for an F-1 visa.

The consular officer may not issue your F-1 visa more than 120 days before your course of study starts. You may not enter the United States more than 30 days before your course of study starts.

F-2 Visas for Family Members of F-1 Students

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are allowed to accompany F-1 student visa holders on F-2 status.  An F-2 visa holder may stay in the U.S. as long as the F-1 student visa holder remains in valid status.  An F-2 visa holder may not work in the U.S.

Parents, fiancés, friends, and other relatives of an F-1 student must apply for B-2 visitor visa.

News and Resources

U.S. Government Web Sites - Visas for F-1 International Students

USCIS - Students and Exchange Visitors

USCIS - Students and Employment

ICE Updates List of SEVP Approved Schools - Jan. 22, 2010 (PDF)

USCIS Public Notice - Filing Change for Form I-539 Application for Extension/Change of Nonimmigrant Status for the Purpose of Student Reinstatement - Oct. 25, 2006 (PDF)

U.S. Dept. of State - Student Visas

U.S. Dept. of State - Foreign Students (F-1) in Public Schools

U.S. Dept. of State Cable - Student Visa Processing

U.S. Dept. of State Cable - Validity of Student Visas Subsequent to a Break in Studies

U.S. Dept. of State Guide to U.S. Higher Education

U.S. Dept. of State - Foreign Affairs Manual - Students Visas (PDF)

Student and Exchange Visitor Program

SEVIS Fee Processing Web Site

CRS Report - Foreign Students in the United States - Oct. 11, 2006 (PDF)

Other Resources for International Students Who Want to Study in the United States

University of Montana - Missoula - Preparing for your F-1 Student Visa Interview

NAFSA - 10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

NAFSA - International Students Seeking to Study in the United States

Association of International Educators

International Education Service

Institute of International Education

U.S. Journal of Academics

Immigration News - International Students

Open Doors Wider for Skilled Immigrants - Business Week - Jan. 4, 2007

For Foreign Students in US, Financial Aid is Limited - Voice of America - Jan. 3, 2007 (link to audio)

Catch F-2 for Spouses of Foreign Students - Business Week - Nov. 29, 2006

U.S. Eases Visa Process to Encourage Chinese Students - NPR - Nov. 23, 2006 (link to audio)