F-1 Visa for Students
The F-1 visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the M-1 visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.
F-1 Visa Requirements
Foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. may enter in the F-1 or M-1 category provided they meet the following criteria:
- The student must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
- The school must be SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) certified;
- The student must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
- The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
- The student must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
- The student must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up.
Please note: If a foreign national wishes to attend public high school (grades 9-12) in the United States in student (F-1) status, they must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. Also, attendance at U.S. public high schools cannot exceed a total of 12 months. F-1 students are prohibited from attending public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programs in the United States.
What is a full course of study?
- Postgraduate study certified by DSO (Designated as full course).
- Undergraduate college or university—12 semester/ quarter hours if all undergraduates are enrolled for 12 hours and are charged full tuition or considered full-time for other administrative purposes.
- Post-secondary non-vocational (e.g., junior college, fine arts school)—12 hours; credits must be accepted by at least 3 schools.
- Study in any other language, liberal arts or fine arts non-vocational program—18 hours in classroom or 22 hours if mostly lab.
- Elementary, middle school, or academic high school.
- On-line Classes. An F-1 student may only take one class or three credits on-line or through distance education per term and no online language study program. 8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(6)(i)(G).
Reduced Course Load
A student may not reduce her course load below a full course of study as outlined above without first obtaining permission from the DSO and then may only reduce it, at a minimum, to 6 semester/ quarter hours or half the clock hours of a full course of study. S/he may only reduce her course load one time unless it is for medical reasons and then only for a maximum of 12 months. A student may also have a reduced course load his final term to complete her studies.
In order to be eligible to transfer, the foreign national must be a full time student in good academic standing. The student must notify their current school of their intent to transfer.
The student may be allowed to work on-campus or off-campus (after the completion of their first year of study) under limited circumstances. Please see the rules on student employment at 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(9). The student may also wish to discuss employment with the designated school official (DSO) at their school. The student’s accompanying spouse and child may not accept employment.
Travel and Duration of Stay
Students may leave the United States and be readmitted after absences of five months or less with a valid F-1 Visa and the USCIS Form I-20. The student should have the appropriate school official sign the USCIS Form I-20 each time they wish to temporarily travel outside the United States.
Students can be admitted a maximum of 30 days before program start date. Once admitted, the student will be permitted to stay until the completion of educational program (including any practical training) plus 60 days. The 60 days can be used to prepare for departure or transfer to another school in accordance with §214.2(f)(8).
In cases where F-1 is applying for an H-1B visa and the H-1B cap has been reached, the Commissioner may extend duration of status beyond the 60-day period until the next fiscal year.
The student does do not need to apply to extend their stay in the United States as long as they are maintaining their student status and making normal progress toward completing their academic course of study. The designated school official (DSO) from the school will write down a completion date on the student’s USCIS Form I-20. Under normal circumstances, the student should be able to complete their studies by this date. If the student needs to extend their stay for compelling academic or medical reasons, then the student and the designated school official (DSO) should fill out USCIS Form I-538 (Certification By Designated School Official) and send it to the USCIS student data center at least 30 days before the completion date listed on USCIS Form I-20.
Dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age) of F-1 students are eligible for F-2 status with the same restrictions as the principal. Dependants may not be employed under the F-2 classification.
8 CFR § 214.2(f) – Code of Federal Regulations
SEVIS – Student and Exchange Visitor Information System