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Student Visas Information

What Type of Visa do I need

The Immigration and Nationality Act offers two non-immigrant visa categories for individuals wishing to study in the United States. The F1 visa is for non-immigrants wishing to come to the United States to seek out academic studies and/or language training programs and the M-1 visa is reserved for non-immigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.

Student visas are considered non-immigrant visas because they are issued to people who do not intend to stay in the United States permanently. This means that if students are applying for F-1 Visa they are telling the United States government that they only wish to remain in the United States for as long as it takes to complete their studies. An F1 visa (non-immigrant visa) may not be used as a way to enter the U.S. quickly and pursue permanent residence. The U.S. Government agency responsible for issuing a student visa is the U.S. Department of State. State Department policy is carried out around the world by U.S. consulates and embassies. For this reason, if students are applying for student visas overseas, they will be dealing with a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency with jurisdiction over individuals who apply to change status to student from inside the U.S.

Most non-U.S. citizens who wish to study in the United States will seek an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types that are sometimes authorised for those who study in the U.S. Here is a short description of the different visa types that involve study:

F-1 Student Visa

The F1 visa is for students attending a full-time degree or academic program at a school, college, or university approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in compliance with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The F1 visa is valid for as long as it takes the student to finish his or her course of study. An F1 visa also allows students to work on campus and in some situations even off campus. In addition, F1 visa students are eligible to apply for employment-authorized practical training after the completion of their academic program. This training is usually limited to twelve months but may be extended to as much as 29 months for students who are pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. F1 visa students are able to transfer schools and change their focus of study while pursuing a degree in the U.S. Once they have completed their course of study or practical training (if applicable), they have sixty days in which to depart the U.S.

Qualifications for F1 visa student status

  • The student must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
  • The school must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
  • 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.

Visa Checklist

  • The first step is to obtain from the school or academic institution the Form I-20A-B entitled Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status or the Form I-20M entitled Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status. Schools and academic institutions which have received United States Government approval to enroll foreign students have the authority to issue these forms. A student visa cannot be processed without this form. Item 11 at the bottom of page one of the form I-20 must be completed and signed by the applicant and submitted together with the following:
  • a passport or other travel document valid for at least six months beyond the period of stay in the United States and with at least one blank page – the six month requirements does not apply to United Kingdom passports;
  • one color passport type photograph;
  • evidence to show that the applicant has sufficient funds to cover all expenses including tuition while in the United States. Such evidence may include detailed bank statements of the student’s and/or parents’ accounts showing that adequate funds are available for transfer, evidence of scholarships and/or combination of finances which will meet the estimated total expenses, including tuition, of the student’s proposed stay in the United States;
  • evidence to show that the applicant has a residence abroad to which he/she intends to return at the end of the stay in the United States. This is generally established by evidence of family, professional, property, employment or other ties and commitments to some country other than the United States sufficient to cause the applicant to return there at the conclusion of his/her stay;
  • applicants may be required to furnish detailed information concerning their academic qualifications. Such evidence may include complete transcripts of grades (marks) and test records for the last four years of school and evidence of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores.
  • A complete DS-160 Form. Since March 1, 2010, all the non-immigrant applicants must fill out the on-line DS-160.

Contact the U.S. embassy/consulate in your home country where you are planning to apply for the visa for specific information on appointment wait times and additional F-1 visa application requirements and procedures.

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