The F-1 Visa, a type of nonimmigrant visa, is the most common student visa. In 2017, the U.S. issued just under 400,000 of these visas. It allows qualified, full-time students (about twelve credit hours/semester) to complete academic or english-language programs in the U.S. Academic programs can range from an undergraduate degree to a Phd to seminary. It has to be a pre-approved program by the U.S. government (don’t worry, they have an exhaustive list online). You also have to show that you are financially able to support yourself throughout your degree, since legal work options are limited. Financial support can mean that you yourself can pay for it, or your parents have the means to pay, or some other group/organization can pay.

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What are the initial steps? First, you apply to school(s) or program(s). The immigration process cannot start until you have an offer of acceptance (congrats on that!). Once you then accept the offer, the institution will issue you an I-20. This form will contain all the information the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will need to keep track of your visa, throughout your time in the U.S. This information includes biographical information about you (name, birth date, citizenship, etc.), program details (start and end dates, program name), and how the student will pay for tuition and living expenses for either the first year; or the end date, (whichever comes first).

Next, it depends on where you are! If you are already in the U.S. and are transitioning to another status, you will possibly need to fill out an I-589. However, it may even be possible to become a student without filling out any additional forms! You should click here (for more information on student visas generally) and click here (for more information on changing or extending your status). If you are outside of the U.S., you apply at your local embassy, interview (within 120 days of your start date), and then enter the U.S. You can enter no earlier than thirty days before your program starts, and you can only stay up to sixty days after. You should have plenty of time to sleep off the jet lag and travel a bit, without wearing out your welcome.

Maintaining your status is very important. Once you receive your visa, there are several conditions in order to keep your visa, but they should be manageable.

Have a full course load: At most traditional academic schools, this means you have to take at least twelve credit hours. At an English intensive program, this is usually eighteen contact hours. Sometimes you can get permission from your institution for a reduced course load, but there are limits on that, and it must be applied for in advance. Acceptable reasons for a reduced course load include.

Final quarter/semester, where you only need a partial course load to graduate–can be used once (for obvious reasons, you only graduate once)

Medical condition–can be used four times (hopefully you will never have to)

Academic difficulty–can be used once. Only three reasons are acceptable for academic difficulty:

a. Initial difficulty with the English language/ reading requirements;

b. Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods;

c. Improper course level placement;

Limited employment: As an F-1 Visa holder you can work only on-campus. This work can include being a research assistant, library student worker, or work at the campus bookstore (for some examples). You can also work off-campus if the work is in a location that is educationally affiliated with the institution, and your work is associated with an academic department’s curriculum. In other words, you can work off-campus if a particular department has an off-campus site (for example archeology). Regardless of your employment type, you can only work twenty hours a week when school is in session (there is no limit when school is out of session, so work your vacations away if you want).

Have an accurate SEVIS record: If you realize your graduation date will be later or earlier than expected on your I-20, then you have to update that in the SEVIS system. You will likely need to submit documents that prove you have enough credits to graduate early (good job on that!), or financial statements for continued living expenses if you are graduating later.

Can your family come? Your spouse and children can! They will get an F-2 visa, which is linked to your visa. If you get an extension, so do they; if you go out of status, so do they. F-2 spouses cannot work or enroll in a full course load, but they can attend classes. F-2 minor children can go to school K-12.

If you are a student who is interested in going to school in the U.S., or you have already been accepted to go to school in the U.S., there is a chance that an F-1 visa is right for you! Let us help you find out and make the process easy and painless.

Can I leave the country and return on a student visa?

Yes! You should make sure you have all your documents with you (passport and I-20 at least). You will also need a travel endorsement signature. That is a signature from the International Student Affairs staff at your school on the second page of your original I-20 or DS-2019. The signature proves that you are maintaining your status, and this will be checked by an immigration official when you re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad.

Will I and my dependents have to be interviewed?

You will most certainly need an interview. You will have to go to the embassy or consulate nearest you within 120 days of your program start. In general, anyone coming to the U.S. on any kind of student visa, or student visa dependent, will have to be interviewed if they are between ages 14 and 79. Sometimes those aged 13 and younger, and those aged 80 and older will need to be interviewed only if requested by the embassy/consulate, but that is not the standard practice.

What if my English needs some improvement?

Well, it depends on what program you are applying for. If you are applying for an English language intensive program, then that is fine, since the whole point is for a language immersion experience! For a J-1 visa, you need enough language skills to participate in whatever program you choose, so it is dependent on the needs of the program. In general, aside from a language-intensive program, your English skills should be high enough that you do not struggle in the program. Especially if you are trying to earn a degree!

Can I drive in the U.S.?

Yes, you can! You need to get a driver’s license in the state you are living. You should wait at least ten days after you arrive in the U.S. so that all of your information is updated in the various systems. The specific procedure varies from state to state, so you should look up your state’s requirements. You will almost certainly need your passport, your I-20, and proof of residence. Proof of residence means proof that you live in that state (not in your home country)–but what is actually required might be different in different states, so you should check with your state’s DMV.

Is there a limit on how many people can get a student visa per year?

There is no numerical limit! You have to meet the various requirements of the visa and your program, but the government does not have a set limit.

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    Becoming a US citizen entails specific rights, duties, and the following benefits: consular protection outside the United States; the ability to sponsor relatives living abroad; the ability to invest in the US real property without triggering additional taxes; transmitting US citizenship to children; protection from deportation and others. U.S. law permits multiple citizenship. A citizen of another country naturalized as a U.S. citizen may retain his previous citizenship

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