The F-1 student visa is a visa category given to international students who are pursuing a degree at an accredited U.S. university or institution with the approval of the U.S. Attorney General. F-1 visa recipients must take a full course load of credits to maintain a status of being enrolled as a full-time student. Students are allowed to reside in the U.S. for the duration of time that it takes for them to complete their program of study and are permitted to continue their residency in the U.S. for a period of 60 days post-graduation. However, a student is allowed to remain living in the U.S. if they qualify for and are granted admission into the OPT Program, which allows students under the F-1 category the privilege of employment for a U.S. company.
Qualifications For F-1 Visa
- F-1 applicants must provide evidence of having foreign residency and have plans to return to their home country after completion of their academic program
- F-1 applicants must show that they are strongly associated with their home country – exemplified by substantial assets, a verified bank account, family ties, job offer letter for post-graduate employment
- Applicants must demonstrate their intentions of coming to the U.S. strictly on a non-immigrant basis
- Applicants are also limited to completing an academic program at only one institution for which the visa was given
- Must show their abilities to qualify for the academic program at a certified U.S. institution of higher learning
- Must show a proficiency of English
- Applicants must provide evidence of substantial financial credentials
F-1 Visa Application Process
Different universities will have varying requirements of how to apply along with specific admission requirements. The university in which an F-1 visa applicant wishes to attend will have distinct academic eligibility requirements. Requirements stipulate that the applicant must show that he/she possesses sufficient financial health to support themselves while completing their academic program of study without being employed and having a steady income. They may also have to show evidence of sufficient health insurance to cover any medical expenses they may incur in the U.S.
Applicants may apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that represents their country of origin. F-1 visa applicants are allowed to apply at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, however it may make the process more difficult if an applicant is applying outside their home country.
An applicant must use Form-120 to apply for their academic program of choice at a U.S. university. The form provides pertinent information about an applicant’s housing options along with the university selected for the program of study. Many universities will will help an applicant with necessary supporting documentation for Form I-120. If materials are approved, the chosen university will grant an applicant the I-120 form which becomes valid within a 10 day period. However, gathering the necessary supporting materials may prove difficult. The materials must be sufficient to prove worthy of being accepted. An immigration attorney’s assistance in this process is invaluable since they have the experience to smoothen this step of the application process.
Items to include in the Application For Form I-120 include:
- The non-refundable application fee
- Form DS-160, the non-immigrant visa online application form
- Form DS-157 for men between the ages of 16 to 45
- A valid passport that is valid for a period of 6 months beyond the student’s planned period of residence in the U.S
- Photo documentation
F-1 Visa Interview Process
Upon being granted approval for Form I-120, the F-1 visa interview then follows the preceding steps. Students will be scheduled an interview at their country’s U.S. Embassy or Consulate after paying a $200 non-refundable application fee to SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information Service).
A student must consider some realistic expectations for their interview. They will be asked first to provide all pertinent documentation which includes Form 1-120, a passport and financial documentation. The interviewer will question students on their plans for education, their ability to support themselves financially, and their plans for post-completion of their academic program once they return to their home country.
When the consular approves that the student has passed the interview, he/she will then be issued the F-1 visa. The newly F-1 category visa holder can move to the U.S. within 30 days before the date of the Form 1-120 was issued.
OPT Opportunity (Optional Practice Training)
F-1 student visa holders are allowed to engage in the OPT program. This program provides a temporary employment agreement where the occupation the F-1 visa holder is employed for is directly related to their field of study. The student must have completed one year of enrollment at the U.S. institution where they completed their academic program.
A student under the F-1 visa category can start their OPT program after getting the approval of their I-120 form from their university’s DSO (Designated School Official) who then also approves their inclusion in the program by verifying the student within the SEVIS system. After this step is completed, an F-1 student will then file Form 1-765, the EAD application (Application for Employment Authorization Document with the USCIS. Upon approval of this document, the student will be granted an EAD. After obtaining an EAD, the F-1 student can then participate in the OPT program.
Extending OPT Participation
Qualified students may be granted an extension period of their participation in the OPT program. The extension may be applied for any time period prior to a students’ expired date of completion of their current OPT. Students are also privileged with the ability to change their F-1 OPT status to that of an H-1B visa status beginning in their period prior to their return to their home country.
Denial Of OPT Cases
A student’s application for the OPT program may be denied for certain unique reasons pertaining to each student’s individual case. Student’s have the right to appeal an OPT denial decision by using the Request For Evidence measure to change their status. In these types of cases, it is best to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can guide you through a process such as denial of participating in OPT. They have a wealth of knowledge to handle complicated cases such as these.
Consultation With An Immigration Attorney
Obtaining the assistance of a licensed and experienced immigration attorney from Johnson & Masumi, PC is extremely helpful in petitioning for an F-1 visa status if you are an international student seeking to study in the U.S. Utilizing an immigration attorney for your benefit in the often difficult F-1 visa application process will alleviate your stress and provide you expert guidance.