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Understanding the F-1 visa renewal process

Frequently asked questions for student visitors

Finally obtaining your F-1 student visa is a great milestone, but keeping your F-1 visa in "lawful" status is equally important. The following addresses some of the most frequently asked questions about the US F-1 visa renewal process.

How long until a student visa expires?

Once you have an F-1 or M-1 student visa, it's valid until you complete the course of study you selected when you applied. For example, if you wanted to travel to the US to complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree, your student visa would expire once you graduated from the program.

What if my program takes longer than I expected, or I decide to pursue a master’s degree in the field?

You might be eligible to extend your stay for academic purposes. You can apply by submitting Form I-539, known as an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. In order to successfully extend your stay, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Your original nonimmigrant admittance to the US was valid, and your current F-1 visa remains in good standing

  • You have had a clean criminal history since entering the US

  • You have no history of admission violations

  • Your have a valid passport from your country of origin

The Application to Extend Nonimmigrant Status typically only applies if you're trying to extend your original course of study. If you want to enroll in a new academic program, such as a master’s degree program, you'll usually need to renew your F-1 visa. That's a much more detailed process.

How do I renew an F-1 visa if my course of study has concluded?

Unfortunately, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs makes no distinction between applying for a visa and renewing a visa. Students wishing to pursue an alternate course of study have to apply all over again.

More specifically, you'll need to submit a new application and attend an interview at your native embassy or consulate – which will require travel back to their nation of origin. Continuing students must also show that their SEVIS records are current. However, they're generally not required to wait for approval before returning to the US.

In some cases, you may be able to have the interview requirement waived through the Interview Waiver Program. Eligibility for a waiver depends on the unique factors of your case, and a waiver is not guaranteed. Getting a waiver is particularly difficult if you're pursuing an alternative course of study.

What happens if my course of study is complete and I remain in the United States?

Once the underlying reason for your F-1 visa (i.e., study abroad) has concluded, your visa expires and is no longer useful. Intentionally remaining in the United States on an expired student visa counts as unlawful presence, and may result in removal proceedings (e.g., deportation).

To avoid deportation, you should consider ways to lawfully remain in the US. Some potential options include alternative visa arrangements or gainful employment with a sponsor.

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