F-1 Visa (Academic Student)

   
Overview

The F-1 visa program is a student visa available to those whom wish to take up full-time academic studies at a school within the United States.  Some examples of schools that may qualify for study are universities, colleges, seminaries, and language training programs.  The F-1 visa program has grown over the years, and today hundreds of thousands of F-1 visas are issued each year.

How to Qualify

Per USCIS guidelines, the following requirements must be met:

- You must be enrolled in an "academic" educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program
- Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
- You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution
- You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
- You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study
- You must maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up.

Prior to applying for the F-1 visa, the individual needs to have been accepted into an accredited program.  The school will issue an I-20 which details the program start date, end date, and program name.  The school creates a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record and the aspiring student pays the SEVIS fee.  Depending on whether the individual is inside or outside the US, they would then either file for a change of status within the US (if eligible), or apply at a consulate for the F-1 visa stamp. 

The F-1 visa holder can enter the US up to 30 days prior to the program starting.

F-2 Visa For Dependents

Unmarried children under the age of 21 and the spouse of the F-1 holder may apply for a F-2 visa to accompany the F-1 visa holder during the program.   F-2 visa holders are not eligible to work within the US while in F-2 status. 

An F-2 spouse may not engage in a full course of study, but may engage in study at an SEVP-certified school in the United States as long as they are enrolled in less than a full course of study. The F-2 spouse may still engage in study that is merely avocational or recreational in nature.

F-2 children may enroll in K-12 school; however, if the F-2 child wishes to study in a post-secondary setting, it must be at an SEVP-certified and less than a full course of study.

Employment Authorization

 F-1 students are not automatically authorized to work in all locations.  In limited circumstances, the student can work on-campus or at an educational affiliate off-campus. 

Otherwise, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) may be granted if the Designated School Official (DSO) completes the I-20 endorsement page.  CPT is any alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or other type of required internship or practicum offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the individual’s school. CPT must be an integral part of an established curriculum.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that allows an F-1 holder to gain practical training experience either while school is in session, during breaks, or after successfully completing the course of study.  The OPT employment must be directly related to the course of study under F-1.

To work under OPT, the individual needs to apply for an Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) and the EAD must be granted prior to work starting.  OPT can be granted for up to one year.

STEM OPT Extension (STEM)

For individuals whom completed an F-1 program and received a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics,  a 24 month extension of OPT may be available.  STEM may be granted for work with an e-verify compliant employer and the granting of STEM must be approved by the Designated School Official for the F-1 program.  While a change of employers is possible, working while on STEM OPT, the work must be related to the study of the F-1 program.

Can An F-1 Holder Apply For Permanent Residence?

While the F-1 program prohibits immigrant intent, an individual may change their mind during their stay and hope to seek permanent residence.  If you are in a F-1 program or have completed a F-1 program, we recommend you speak in an immigration attorney about your individual options.

For more information about the F-1 program and how to apply, please visit this link.