With so many great schools to choose from, America continues to offer fantastic educational opportunities to people around the world. Thanks to the F-1 visa, or student visa, foreign nationals can obtain temporary permission to come to the U.S. and pursue any number of courses of study.
In some cases, students can even get permission to work while they’re here. This page was designed to give foreign nationals some basic information about the Student Visa, also known as the F-1. Read on to learn more about the following topics:
- F-1 Basics
- Applying for an F-1 Visa
- Student Visa and Employment
- Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?
It is important to remember that while this page discusses certain legal concepts relating to immigration law, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking directly with an attorney. The law can be complex and the bureaucracy intimidating. An experienced immigration lawyer can help clients avoid costly, time-consuming mistakes.
In order to qualify for an F-1 Student Visa, the foreign national must have a permanent residence in his or her home country with no intention of abandoning it. The applicant must be entering the U.S. solely for the purpose of pursuing an academic education full time and also have sufficient monetary support so there’s no need to resort to unauthorized U.S. employment for financing.
The applicant must be proficient in English or undergo training to become proficient in English. The program the F-1 applicant enrolls in must culminates in a degree, diploma or certificate, and the school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
The types of institutions a person can attend on an F-1 visa include: Colleges, universities, junior colleges, fine arts schools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, among others. An article posted in the non-profit publication China File noted that Chinese secondary school students are overwhelmingly enrolling in private schools. Citing data maintained by Department of Homeland Security, the article described how 58 percent of the F-1 visas issued in the first three months of 2015 to Chinese high school students were for Catholic or Christian schools.
It’s important to keep in mind that each of these different types of schools entail varying definitions of what constitutes a full course of study. An immigration attorney can be helpful in clarifying some of these differences.
Applying for an F-1 Visa
The process of obtaining a Student Visa begins by applying to a school certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Such schools are listed through a website managed by the Department of Homeland Security. SEVP is an organization that bridges various government organizations that have an interest in maintaining information on student nonimmigrants.
Upon being accepted to the SEVP-certified school, the foreign national will be given a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-120). In addition to filling out this form, the applicant must pay a SEVIS fee, and fill out an application for nonimmigrant visa (DS-160), and potentially submit to an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
Once a Student Visa is granted, the foreign national will be allowed to enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days before the start of their chosen educational program. The duration of the visa typically coincides with the duration of the program. Pursuit of further education (a master’s degree for instance) could qualify a student for a longer stay.
In March of 2016, the New York Times published an article on a young Indian woman who recently obtained a master’s degree and hoped to take advantage of new federal guidelines allowing certain foreign students to stay in the country up to seven months longer than before in order to continue practical job training. The program is known as the STEM Optional Practical Training Program.
Student Visa and Employment
Typically, for the first academic year, the F-1 student is not permitted to work off campus. A student can work on campus in such positions as might be found in a bookstore, library, or on campus commercial vendors. However, a student who performs research off site may be considered on campus if the employer is contractually affiliated with the school.
Under certain circumstances, a student with good standing may obtain permission to work off campus if it is determined by a designated school official that the student is suffering from severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances. In this case, the student can only work 20 hours per week while school is in session. A specific example of Student Visa recipients suffering economic hardships, can be found in the case of Syrian F-1 students who are experiencing hardship as the result of civil unrest in their home country.
Similar allowances exist for Nepalese F-1 students who were affected by the April 25, 2015 earthquake.
Other instances where Student Visa holders might be granted permission to work off campus include practical training programs, as well as internships.
The U.S. Department of State currently lists the application fee for an F-1 student visa at $160. In addition, the applicant is required to pay a SEVIS fee, which generally costs $200. The SEVIS fee is used to administer the SEVIS program, which oversees the student exchange process for multiple federal agencies.
It’s important to remember that each applicant’s situation is different, and as a result, different fees can apply. An experienced immigration attorney will be able to help.
Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?
Federal law does not require any applicant for Student Visa or F-1 visa to retain a lawyer in order to apply. However, the process involves a bureaucratic machine with many moving parts. This includes college administrations, Department of State officials as well Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The process can be intimidating, even for a gifted student.
A qualified immigration attorney can help clients potentially avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes. If you or a family member are a foreign national interested in pursuing an education in the U.S., please contact our office to see how we can assist you.