The F visa for academic students
Qualifications for the F visa:
To be eligible for an F-1 or F-3 student visa, a foreign national must meet the following criteria:
- S/he has a permanent foreign residence and does not intend to abandon it;
- S/he has applied to, been accepted by and enrolled full-time in an academic or language training program at a DHS-approved educational institution in the U.S.
- S/he has obtained a SEVIS I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) form and paid the SEVIS fee;
- S/he is proficient in English or enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency; and
- S/he can prove ability to support herself/himself during the entire course of study.
To search for a DHS-approved school, please visit http://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/school-search. (Note: a different criterion applies to F-3 students; see below for details).
What is "full-time enrollment"?
To be designated as a full-time program, a course of study must meet one of the following criteria:
- Postgraduate/post-doctoral: the institution's Designated School Official (DSO) has certified the program as full-time;
- Undergraduate college or university: the program requires the student to enroll in the number of semester hours per term that he institution considers full-time;
- Post-secondary non-vocational (e.g. junior or community college): 12 clock hours of instruction per week, and credits must be able to transfer to at least three schools;
- Language, liberal arts, fine arts or other non-vocational programs: 18 clock hours per week if mostly classroom instruction, or 22 clock hours per week if mostly lab or studio;
- Private high school, middle school or elementary school: the number of hours of instruction per week that the DSO certifies is required for normal progress toward graduation.
It should be noted that in all cases, online classes are limited to three credit-hours, and no online language study programs are allowed.
What is SEVIS?
SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a nationwide, Internet-based system that the U.S. government uses to store information on non-immigrant students, exchange visitors, and their dependents. You are first entered into SEVIS (by a Designated School Official) when your initial I-20 is created.
When your initial I-20 is printed out, it comes with a barcode and a unique SEVIS ID number. This SEVIS ID should stay with you for as long as you study continuously in the U.S. even if you change your major or transfer to a new school. (If you are out of the U.S. for more than five consecutive months, then you will need a new I-20 to re-enter the U.S.).
When you enter the U.S., your arrival is recorded in SEVIS at your port of entry. After you begin your studies in the U.S., SEVIS maintains personal information about you and your academic status. In other words, SEVIS tracks whether you are maintaining F-1 status.
F-2 visas for the spouse/minor children of an F-1 student
The spouse and minor children of the F-1 student may join the student in the U.S. by obtaining F-2 visas. The spouse of the F-1 student may not accept employment or attend school, unless the studies are recreational in nature. Children in F-2 status are eligible to attend public or private schools in the U.S. from elementary through 12th grade.
F-3 student visas for Canadian and Mexican nationals
The F-3 visa category was created for citizens and residents of Canada and Mexico who live within 75 miles of the U.S. border and commute to the U.S. temporarily to engage in full- or part-time academic studies. Students in F-3 status may not reside in the U.S., and their spouses and children are not eligible for dependent visas.
- Important information for all F-1 students
- Entry and duration of status (D/S) for F-1 students
- Working while in F-1 status
- OPT extension for STEM degree students
- Transferring schools while in F-1 status
- Changing to F-1 from B-1/B-2 or another nonimmigrant status