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F-1 - Overview

Everything you need to know about F1

If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study of less than 18 hours per week, you may be able to do so on a visitor visa. You should inquire at the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If your course of study is more than 18 hours a week, you will need a student visa. Please read this information for general information on how to apply for an F1 or M1 student visa. For additional student related information, visit the EducationUSA website created by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to learn about educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study, opportunities for scholars, financial aid, testing, admissions, and much more.

In most countries, first time student visa applicants are required to appear for an in-person interview. However, each embassy and consulate sets its own interview policies and procedures regarding student visas. Students should consult Embassy web sites or call for specific application instructions.

Keep in mind that June, July, and August are the busiest months in most consular sections, and interview appointments are the most difficult to get during that period. Students need to plan ahead to avoid having to make repeat visits to the Embassy. To the extent possible, students should bring the documents suggested below, as well as any other documents that might help establish their ties to the local community.

Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. It is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.

When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa?

  • Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Students may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so.
  • The consular officer may need to get special clearances depending on the course of study and nationality of the student. This can take some additional time. For more information on applicants who may have additional processing requirements see Special Processing Requirements.
  • Students should note that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 120 days or less, in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required.
  • Students are advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start/report date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S.
  • A beginning student who wants an earlier entry into the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa. A prospective student notation will be shown on his/her visitor visa and the traveler will need to make the intent to study clear to the U.S. immigration inspector at port of entry. Before beginning any studies, he or she must obtain a change of classification, filing Form I-539, Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status, and also submit the required Form I-20 to the Department of Homeland Security office where the application is made. Please be aware that there is an additional fee of $140 for this process, and that one may not begin studies until the change of classification is approved.
  • Continuing students may apply for a new visa at any time, as long as they have been maintaining student status and their SEVIS records are current. Continuing students may also enter the U.S. at any time before their classes start.

On campus/off campus employment

  • F1 Students are permitted to work for 20 hours on campus. Some examples of on campus employment are Graduate Teaching/Research assistant ships, Server/Cashier in the cafeteria, Teller in the School credit union, Administrative assistant in various departments, Assistant in the Library to shelve or checkout books.
  • F1 students can also work for business that are on campus but are not owned by the school. For example, the campus book store might be owned by Barnes and Noble and F1 Student is authorized to work for the campus book store.
  • F1 students can engage in 40 hours of full time work on campus during summer semester.
  • Off campus employment for F1 students is prohibited by the INA act, unless the employment is a part of CPT/OPT or off campus employment due to economic hardship of massive proportions. Such employment must be authorized initially by the Designated School Official (DSO) in the International student office and eventually by USCIS. Form I-765 is used for an EAD. One should contact the School DSO in such situations for advice.

CPT Curricular Practical Training

  • Curricular Practical Training is on the job training F1 students receive, while they are pursuing their degree.
  • CPT can be done full time or part time adjusting the number of credit hours taken during that semester.
  • Schools administer the CPT program and every school has its own set of requirements. School DSO authorizes the CPT on the I-20. F1 Students do not need to file I-765 application for authorization to work using CPT.
  • F1 students should plan well ahead of time, if they intend to engage in CPT and gain valuable experience.

OPT Optional Practical Training

  • OPT is different from CPT in that OPT can only be done as soon as the requirements for degree are met.
  • OPT also needs an authorization from the DSO and USCIS. (I-765)
  • As does CPT, OPT requires student to work in the field of his study.
  • Generally, OPT is issued for 12 months and at the end of the OPT, Student should make necessary arrangements to move out of the country or maintain proper status. Students move on to a dual intent visas such as the H1B visa sponsored by their employer. Students who wish to pursue higher education go back to school in F1 Status.
  • From Apr 1 08, Department of Customs and Border Protection, an agency with in the DHS, which oversees the SEVIS program has extended the OPT program to 27 months to facilitate smooth transition of F1 students to H1B Visa. Such extension provided an opportunity to employers who cannot procure a H1B visa in the lottery for a F1 student on OPT to retain him/her and apply for a H1B visa again in the next USCIS fiscal year.
  • A period of 27 months was chosen with a hope that proper legislation will be in place by that time to ensure the smooth transition from F1 visa to H1B visa.
  • Students will be granted an EAD for a period of 12 months and the student should contact the DSO for filing an extension for the next 15 months.

I20/Visa extension

  • F1 Student who wishes to extend his/her stay in the united states should contact the International office in the school along with pertinent documentation such as letter of acceptance for higher studies or another degree from same or different department in the school.
  • F1 students who get an I20 extended can continue to stay in the US even if their visa is expired. For all re entry purposes, F1 students should have a valid visa.

Out of status

  • Going out of status while being on F1 status can cause serious problems in the immigration journey. Students should be mindful about losing legal status and should contact the DSO at the International office on all grace periods between transitions from a non immigrant visa such as F1 to a dual intent visa such as H1B.
  • Students in or outside the U.S., who have been away from classes for more than five months, will likely need a new visa to enter the U.S.
Away from Classes
  • Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay in the U.S. and Being Out of Status

1. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Information on successfully maintaining your immigration status while a student or exchange visitor can be found on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website.
2. Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the DHS causes you to be out-of-status in the United States, which is a violation of U.S. immigration laws. This may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the U.S. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
3. Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized, even by one day, results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with immigration law, INA 222(g). In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.

Beyond authorized stay

Student visa while Green card is pending

An individual in United states on student visa has two option:

  • The individual while on student visa, can apply for Green card through his or her immediate family member who is a United States Citizen. While the individuals Green card is pending it is important that he or she maintain his or her valid status either by staying on F1 visa or by changing the visa status to some work visa.
  • The individual while on student visa, can apply for green card through future employer.

Any individual on work visa while his green card is pending or is in process of applying new green card don't have to change his or her status in order to attend school or university for further studies. As long as the individual working on the work visa maintains his or her status, he or she can attend the school for further studies part time.

Further info and discussions

F1-H1 related posts

ICE: Student Reference

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