The F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows an individual to come to the United States to attend an academic program as a full-time student. A full course of study is usually defined as 12 credits per semester/quarter for undergraduates at colleges or universities. The student upon entry must intend on departing the United States at the completion of the program/

F-1 students may not attend public elementary schools or certain publicly funded adult education programs, and may attend public secondary school only if the course of study is 12 months or less and the student reimburses the school board for the full, unsubsidized cost of the education before the F-1 is issued.

In general, F-1 students may not work while in F-1 status, however F-1 students may work on campus only when doing so will not displace U.S. workers. On-campus employment for up to 20 hours a week during the academic year is permissible. An F-1 student may be employed full-time on-campus when school is not in session.

F-1 students are not permitted to work off campus during their first academic year unless they show severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond their control or an internship with a recognized international organization. However, an F-1 student may be eligible to engage in practical training. There are two types of practical training: Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training.

Curricular Practical Training is authorized through the schools’ designated student office, typically during the summer breaks, whereas the F-1 student who chooses Optional Practical Training (post completion of the degree) must apply for an employment authorization card from the USCIS and have it in hand before working. For students who choose Optional Practical Training, they are permitted a total of one year of employment unless the student receives a degree in Actuarial Science, Computer Science Applications, Engineering, Engineering Technologies, Life Sciences, Mathematics, Military Technologies, or Physical Sciences. In this case the F-1 student would be permitted a total of 29 months of employment.

How to Apply

The prospective student must apply and be accepted to a college or university that is authorized by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services) to issue a Form I-20 under the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) program.

Using a Form I-20 issued by the school, the prospective student then applies for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad within 60 days of the program start date. Consular officers must verify the SEVIS I-20 and the data in the SEVIS system before issuing a visa. Consular officers may not physically issue initial-entry student visas more than 120 days before the program start date, but must warn students that they cannot enter the United States more than 30 days before the program start date.

In addition to questioning the applicant about his or her financial resources, the U.S. consular official also will look closely at whether a student’s career aspirations match the types of jobs available in his or her home country. It is important that the applicant be able to explain clearly to the consular official that he or she has a well-thought-out plan for his or her course of study and how it relates to a future in the home country.

If the consular official denies the applicant a visa, the applicant is free to reapply a second time but will need to provide more evidence to show that he or she will return home after study and that he or she has sufficient funds to pay for educational expenses.

Upon entry to the United States after obtaining a visa, an F-1 student is issued, an I-94 card with the annotation “D/S,” (duration of status) and may remain in the United States for the time period listed on Form I-20 to complete his or her educational program.

Where an individual entered the United States in another status and wants to change to F-1 status, he or she must get approval from USCIS before beginning the academic program.


F-1 students will be admitted a maximum of 30 days before the program start date. F-1 students are given “duration of status” for the period needed to complete one educational program, including progression to higher levels if accomplished in accordance with U.S. Department of Homeland Security transfer procedures. Duration of status means completion of the educational program, including any practical training, plus a grace period of 60 days. The grace period may be used to transfer to another educational program, change status to H-1B or another status, or depart from the United States.

An F-1 student who receives authorization to withdraw from school is given 15 days to depart from the United States. Where permission to withdraw is not obtained, no grace period is provided. If an F-1 student withdraws from school without authorization, or is employed without authorization, or is not pursuing a full course of study, or transfers schools without permission, or fails to complete a full course of study in time and is ineligible for a program extension, he or she is out of status and is subject to removal.


Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age may apply for F-2 status. They are issued separate SEVIS I-20s. Dependents in F-2 status are not authorized to work in the United States and may not attend school without changing status to F-1, except that a child dependent in F-2 status may attend elementary and secondary school through 12th grade.

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