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F-1 Visa: What is this US Student Visa & How Do I Get One?

The F-1 student visa is a nonimmigrant visa allowing foreign students to come to the US and attend US colleges or universities but can also include some other approved academic institutions and earn a full degree at all levels from Undergraduate to Masters to PHD.

Generally if you are doing a high-school exchange program you would be on a J-1 visa (althougth there a few exceptions).

It also can be used to attend Higher Education English Language schools in the US for students to improve there English and obtain certification at the end that is Internationallly recognized. Often many foreigners take this route as it can be hard to accepted either initially or especially transferring with the proving of available funds requriement and actually paying for a US college.

F-1 visa Requirements

1. Unless you are attending an English Language school, you generally must be fully proficient in English to participate in all aspects of the University/College classes. There are a couple of rare exceptions where the University you are attending may make an allownce to teach you extra English classes but this is not common. Many Universities may make you sit some sort of entrance test or submit a lot of documentation proving your English ablities.

2. You have to prove prior to starting the course to the University and then officially signed off on by the USCIS that you have enough funds to pay for education and living expenses prior to receiving your approval to begin studying. This can be a steep requirement even for State Universities.

This requirement varies state by state and college by college. However for example your living expenses proof in New York is a lot higher than states in the middle of the US like Ohio for example. With the private universities which are generally the most well known ones like Harvard, Yale, etc., foreign students except on scholarship generally have to pay the large tuition fees in full up front.

3. The institution has to be approved by the USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Service). Most institutions have been approved long ago, this generally applies to the more obscure new schools that noone may have heard of.

4. The Institution has to issue you Form I-20A-B which is essentially there satisfaction that you meet all requirements like funding, english competency, academic pre-requisites, etc.

Pros & Cons of the F-1 Visa

– The main benefit of course is that you can earn a US degree or certificate which is well respected around the world and also participate in campus life in the US which opens up a lot of opportunities to you
– You Transfer from one school to another or switch academic programs by notifying the change to the USCIS
– You can legally work part-time on campus and have access to OPT (Optional Practical Training) which allows you to work in the US for a period of time, usually around a year max for undergraduate students and a max of 2 years for post graduate students.
NB: You cannot work legally off campus unless your Institution approves it which is hard to get as you often have to prove economic hardship. Generally no institution will authorize this regardless in your first year of study. In reality many people do work off campus however this may effect your chance of a Green Card/Permanent Residency later in life.
– You can travel freely in an out of the US as long as your visa is valid and your I-20 form is signed by the Instituition
– You can bring your dependents on the F-2 visa but they cannot work.
– You cannot apply for a Green Card directly from an F-1 visa status

You can generally stay as long as it takes to finish your studies and you can extend your stayon the F-1 visa relatively easily by being approved by the appropriate school officials. The I-20 extension should be filed along with your passport, Form I-94, Arrival-Departure document, a letter stating the reason for your extension.

A lot of people change from the F-1 visa to the H-1B visa or for Australians, change from the F-1 visa to the E-3 visa after completing their studies so they can continue to live and then work normally in the US.

Hopefully we may see you as a student in the US sometime soon 🙂