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How to get an F-1 visa (student)

Posted by attorney Todd Gallinger

What is an F-1 visa?

F-1 visas are issued to those who wish to study in the United States at academic schools. Students of vocational schools would need an alternate visa, the M-1.

Who is eligible?

In order to apply for an F-1 visa, you must fulfill several requirements:

  • You, the student, must be enrolled in an “academic" educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;

  • The school must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);

  • You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;

  • You must be proficient in English or enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;

  • You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and

  • You must maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up.

How do you apply?

The application for an F-1 visa includes:

  • Form I-20A-B (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students);

  • DOS Form DS-156 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application);

  • DOS Form DS-157 (Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application for all male applicants between the ages of 16 and 45);

  • DOS Form DS-158 (Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Applicant);

  • SEVIS generated Form 1-20 (provided by your school);

  • A copy of your passport, valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S. and containing at least one blank page; and

  • One 2"x2" color photograph (similar to a passport photo).

You should also be prepared to provide:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous school you attended; and

  • Scores from standardized tests such as the GRE, SAT, GMAT, etc.

How long is it valid?

While on an F-1 visa, you are permitted to stay in the U.S. for the entire period of enrollment in an academic program plus any period of authorized practical training and a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S. The whole period is normally referred to as duration of status and is noted on the I-94 as D/S. You must complete the academic program prior to the date of expiration listed by the designated school official on the I-20AB (a form issued by the school). Do note, however, that you must carry a full time course load (except if you are in your last semester of study).

How long will it take?

It generally takes between thirty and 120 days to file an application for an F-1 visa.

UCSIS begins filing F-1 visas 120 days prior to your intended arrival in the United States. You may submit your application before this; however, it is important to remember that your application will not be filed until 120 prior to your trip. UCSIS will continue to accept applications for F-1 visas until thirty days prior to your intended trip. It is important to remember that the sooner you submit your application, the more likely you are to be approved before your intended trip.

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