Students wanting to study full-time courses as defined by the academic educational program, are most commonly granted F-1 visas. However, to apply for a student visa, the student must first obtain a Form I-20.
What is a Form I-20?
After a school has accepted a student into one of their academic programs, it will issue to the student, what is known as a Form I-20. Without this, a student will not be able to get an F-1 visa.
To obtain an I-20, a student must submit to the academic institution, where he or she has chosen to study, a complete application, a letter of Financial Certification and pay the required application and processing fees. After all documentation is complete, most institutions usually process the I-20 in 3-5 working days.
The expected date of completion of the course of study is also noted on the I-20. An extension to this may be granted if the school certifies that the student failed to meet the completion date because of compelling medical or academic reasons, such as a long illness or a change in the students major or research topic.
Financial Certification is a guarantee that a student has sufficient funds to be able to pay tuition and living expenses while studying at his/her chosen school. This may consist of:
- A current bank statement or letter from the bank, indicating that you have enough funds to support your education and stay;
- A letter of support from your parent(s) or guardian (from anywhere in the world), along with their bank statements, showing that they have sufficient funds and are willing to underwrite your education and stay.
This proof of financial support will be required by the American Embassy or Consulate in your own country as well, when applying for the F-1 visa.
Transfer to a Different School
To transfer to another school, the student must make sure that he/she notifies his/her present school of the intent to transfer while still registered as a student. Before the student is allowed to transfer to another school, he/she must be “in status” with his/her present school.
What does “in status” mean?
“In status” means that the student has met the requirements of the school that issued the Form I-20. These requirements are usually that the student has paid all fees, maintained a certain attendance rate and/or any other particulars that the school may consider.
If a student does not meet these requirements, he/she would be considered “out of status”, and would have to apply for a fresh I-20 from the new school as well as get their student status for the visa reinstated. For this, the student would have to reapply directly with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and pay the filing fees.
Application for a Student Visa
Foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. may apply for an F-1 or M-1 visa provided they meet the following criteria:
- The student must be enrolled in an ‘academic’ educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
- The school must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
- The student must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
- The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
- The student must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
- The student must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up.
If your visa is rejected, you can always reapply provided the grounds for denial can be overcome by providing additional documentation. Some of the more common reasons for rejection are lack of adequate financial documentation, insufficient evidence to show he/she is ‘a serious student’, inadequate evidence to substantiate that the student will be returning to his/her own country after completing his/her studies.
Maintaining an F-1 Status
USCIS requires that all F-1 students must take 18 hours or more of classes per week to maintain F-1 status. Most schools require even more, so it is best to contact the school’s official for specific information.
Difference between an F-1 and F-2 Visa
The F-1 visa is for the student who will be studying in the United States. The F-2 visa is for the spouse or dependent children of an F-1 student. They are allowed to stay for the same period of time as the principal F-1 student, but are not authorized to work.
Employment for Foreign Students
Foreign students may be authorized to be employed under the following circumstances:
- On-Campus Employment: An F-1 student may be employed on-campus for up to 20 hours per week while the school is in session, and full time during the holidays. This work may be carried out without permission from the USCIS. However, the student must get a letter from the school’s foreign student advisor or another appropriate official at the school stating that the student is authorized to perform the on-campus work. The student may obtain a valid Social Security Card by presenting this letter, a copy of his/her I-20, ID and a valid passport to the local office of the Social Security Administration.
- Off-Campus Employment: An F-1 student who has completed one full academic year, and has obtained reasonably good grades, may work off campus up to 20 hours per week while the school is in session, and full time during the holidays, by obtaining written permission from the school’s foreign student advisor or another appropriate official at the school. Employers of F-1 students must follow certain procedures established by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), like filing a Labor Attestation with DOL, etc.
- Practical Training: This is a legal means by which F-1 students can seek employment and training in fields related to their area of study. (Students who study English as a Second Language are not eligible for such training.)
Under the current regulations, there are two forms of practical training available:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Alternate work/study programs, internships, co-operative education programs or any type of required practical which is offered by sponsoring employers through co-operative agreements with a school is considered to be curricular practical training. To qualify for CPT, a student must have been in F-1 status for nine consecutive months except in the case when a student is required to begin practical training immediately in his chosen subject. The practical training must be related to the student’s major area of study and must be required for the program of study. A designated school official may authorize this type of practical training by endorsing the student’s I-20. Employment Authorization from the USCIS is not required.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT): After graduation, a designated official from the school may recommend to the USCIS that the student be allowed to participate in a one year period of practical training, (unless the student has a STEM degree), provided the student has not engaged in a year or more of curricular practical training. The student must then apply to the USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by submitting a completed I-765 application, his/her I-20 bearing the recommendation of the school official and the I-765 filing fee to an USCIS District Office. The student must apply for the EAD 90 days before completion of his/her studies and up to 30 days after completion.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information (SEVIS) Program
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a government, computerized system that maintains and manages data about foreign students and exchange visitors during their stay in the United States. It is part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). This program is now managed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Click here to read further details and FAQs on SEVIS.
A student who participates in a exchange student program which includes studying, observing, doing research or receiving any other training and wishes to come to the United States for the duration of this period is granted a ‘J’ visa. This program must be partly or wholly funded, directly or indirectly, by an agency of the U.S. government or by the government of the student’s nationality or his last country of residence.
Click here to read a detailed article on ‘J’ visas.
USCIS InfoLinks :
The information in this article is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship between Jethmalani & Nallaseth and the viewer.