Student Visa USA – Study in the US!

US Student Visa Requirements & Application Process

If you are a non-US national wanting to undertake academic study in the United States, you will need to apply for an F-1 visa. The following guide provides an overview of the F-1 student visa USA and how to apply.

Students undertaking study that is vocational in nature, for example, foreign medical graduates seeking to pursue postsecondary medical education or training, should apply for an M-1 student visa USA. The F-1 visa is for those wanting to undertake academic study, rather than vocational training. 

What is an F-1 Student Visa USA?

An F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for international students wishing to pursue a full course of academic study at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) approved school or academic institution in the United States. This includes primary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and schools of theology or performing arts.

Only schools or academic institutions certified by the SEVP can accept international students. SEVP is responsible for managing F-1 students, and where applicable their dependents, on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security.

SEVP also provides approval and oversight to schools and academic institutions authorised to enrol F-1 students, and gives guidance to both schools and students about the requirements for maintaining lawful status.

Who is eligible for an F-1 Student Visa USA?

The F-1 student visa USA is open to any international student enrolled at a SEVP-approved school or academic institution in the United States. The F-1 visa covers academic study from kindergarten through Grade 12 (ages 5 to 18), postsecondary schooling (18+), and even English language courses.

However, SEVP only certifies certain types of schools in the US. This includes private schools at all grade levels, as well as public high schools.

F-1 student visas cannot be issued for applicants to attend public primary schools. While an F-1 visa can be issued to attend public secondary schools, students are limited to a maximum period of twelve months. They must also pay the full, unsubsidised per capita cost of their education prior to applying.

What does an F-1 Student Visa USA permit?

Before applying for an F-1 Student Visa USA you will first need to be accepted at a SEVP-certified school. However, having been admitted into the US you may be able to transfer to another school or academic institution.

For example, if you have attended a public high school for your maximum twelve-month limit, you may be able to transfer to a SEVP-approved private school to continue working toward your high school diploma.

Further, having completing one full academic year at an SEVP-certified school you should be eligible to take an annual vacation, and once every year after that if you maintain your student status and register for classes in the academic term following your vacation.

If your particular academic program has a unique schedule, for example, as with many English language-training programs, you must establish what constitutes a full academic year and the rules that apply to taking an annual vacation.

As for combining work and study, many states have strict age requirements relating to when minors can begin earning wages, so as a student under the age of 18 it is rare that you will be permitted to undertake any form of employment under an F-1 Student Visa USA.

As a postsecondary student you may, in certain circumstances, seek approval for on and off-campus employment, although you will be limited in the number of hours you can work when school is in session.

Approval should always be sought from your DSO prior to undertaking any employment under an F-1 Student visa USA. You may also require authorisation from US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

What is the application process for an F-1 Student Visa USA?

Once you have been accepted into a SEVP-certified school you will receive a Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) from your DSO. The I-20 is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout the student process.

After you receive the Form I-20 and have paid the necessary I-901 fee, you will be registered for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

SEVIS is a web-based system used by SEVP to maintain information on international nonimmigrant students. In this way students can be tracked and monitored during the course of their visit to the United States while participating in the US education system.

You can then apply at a US Embassy or Consulate for a Student Visa USA using Form DS-160. You must present the Form I-20, the DS-160 confirmation page and SEVIS fee receipt, together with any other necessary documentation, to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview.

During interview you will be required to explain why you want to study in the United States, how you plan to support yourself and any dependents, and what your plans are for when your studies are finished.

How much does an F-1 Student Visa USA cost? 

US immigration law requires that all prospective F-1 students pay the I-901 SEVIS fee before the Department of State issues a visa. This is separate from any visa fee and is currently set at $200.

If your spouse and/or any qualifying children intend to live with you in the United States while you study, they must also enrol in SEVIS, although dependents of a prospective student do not have to pay the I-901 fee.

You will also be required to pay the application fee for your visa in the sum of $160. Further, if your visa is approved, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee, if applicable to your nationality. 

Please remember, if you plan to attend a public high school in the US, you must pay the full, unsubsidised per capita cost before applying for a US visa. Once the payment is made, you will need to ensure that the DSO provides you with the necessary proof of payment to provide to the consular officer at interview. 

What is the duration of an F-1 Student Visa USA?

An F-1 Student Visa USA can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date for a course of study. However, you will not be allowed to enter the US more than 30 days prior to your official program start date listed on your Form I-20.

Moreover, a Student Visa USA does not guarantee admission into the country, rather it only gives you permission to arrive at a US port of entry. US customs officers have the authority to admit or deny your entrance into the United States.

You must present the customs officer with your Form I-20, as well as your valid visa and passport. It is also a good idea to have your acceptance letter from your SEVP-certified school, evidence of financial support and evidence of any payment for attendance at a public school.

If admitted into the country, you will be given an admission stamp passport and issued with an electronic Form I-94, “Arrival and Departure Record.” The Form I-94 will include your “duration of status”.

F-1 visa holders are permitted a grace period of up to 60 days after completion of their full course of study, plus any periods of authorised practical training, before being required to depart the United States. You may, however, be able to transfer to another SEVP-certified school or opt to change your status while in the US.

How do I maintain my F-1 Student Visa USA status?  

Under an F-1 visa your primary purpose is to complete a full course of study at an SEVP-certified school, requiring you to maintain your nonimmigrant student status throughout your stay in the United States.

What constitutes a full course of study will depend on your education level. As a postsecondary undergraduate student for example, you must take at least 12 credit hours per semester, while as a kindergarten student through Grade 12 you are required to meet the minimum number of hours per week your SEVP-certified school determines is necessary for normal academic progress toward graduation or completion of your program of study.

If you believe that you will be unable to complete your academic program within the time permitted under your Student Visa USA, you will need to talk with your Designated School Official (DSO) about requesting an extension.

Every SEVP-certified school or academic institution must have dedicated employees for assisting and overseeing enrolled F-1 students, together with a Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) who also serves as the main point of contact for issues related to SEVP-certification.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.

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