There are two main visa categories for people coming from abroad to study in the U.S:
the F-1 category for academic students in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, other academic institutions, and in language training; and
the M-1 category for vocational students.
This articles will discuss the F-1 category. For more information on the M-1 category, please see our article on "Visas for Vocational Students."
F-1 students' attendance at public secondary schools in the U.S. is rather restrictive. Attendance at public high schools for F-1 students is limited to 12 months, and the F-1 student must advance the cost of the education to the local school board. F-1 students are prohibited from attending public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programs in the U.S.
Application Procedures -- Applying for a F-1 Visa Abroad
Procedures vary depending upon consulate and change from time to time, so a good source for current information is the consulate where you will be applying for your student visa. The information below will give you a general picture of the process.
In general, students seeking the F-1 visa while abroad must first must apply to study at a USCIS-approved school in the United States.
Not all schools are authorized to accept foreign students, so it is important for applicants to verify this at the outset.
Once the student is accepted, the school will issue to the student a USCIS Form I-20 A-B/ID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students).
The student must then apply for an F-1 visa at an appropriate U.S. consulate. The student must fill out a non-immigrant visa application form (DS-160), and submit it along with the I-20, and evidence of sufficient financial resources and non-immigrant intent.
If the consulate is satisfied with applicant's eligibility, an F-1 visa will be issued to the student. Dependent family members may also be eligible to receive F-2 visas to accompany the student.
Upon admission into the U.S., the student will be issued a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) that will include the admission number to the United States. An Immigration inspector will write this admission number on the student's I-20, and will retain a portion of the I-20 (pages 1 and 2) to send to the school as a record of legal admission to the United States. The student must keep the other portion of the I-20 (pages 3 and 4), as evidence of status.
Application Procedures -- Applying for a Change of Status to F-1 While in the U.S.
The first part of the procedure is the same as for those applying for a visa abroad (see above).
However, the difference arises, in that, instead of applying for a visa, the student will apply for a change of status using USCIS Form I-539. Accompanying the I-539 must be the I-20, and evidence of sufficient financial resources and non-immigrant intent.
It is important to note that, if you have been admitted as a B-1 (Temporary Visitor for Business) or B-2 (Temporary Visitor for Pleasure) visa holder, you may not begin your program studies until your application for these studies is approved.
Full-time F-1 students who are in good academic standing, may generally transfer schools.
The student must notify his/her current school of an intent to transfer, and request the new school to issue a new I-20. The student must complete his/her portion of the I-20 and give it to the new school's designated school official (DSO) within 15 days of transferring. The DSO should give the student the last two pages, known as Form I-20 ID, and forward a copy of the first two pages, known as Form I-20 A-B, to the USCIS and the old school.
Duration of Status
The F-1 student, and any dependent family members in F-2 status, may stay in the U.S. for as long as the student is enrolled as a full-time student at the school designated in the current I-20, and making normal progress toward completing your course of study. This is termed "duration of status," or "d/s".
The F-1 student also may request to be allowed to stay in the U.S. up to twelve additional months beyond the completion of studies to pursue practical training. This is called Optional Practical training or "OPT."
At the end of studies or practical training, the student has an additional "grace period" of sixty days to prepare to leave the country.
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