F-1 Visa FAQ

The F-1 visa is offered to academic students who desire to enter the US and enroll as full-time students at an accredited center of higher education. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, students can enroll at “an accredited college, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution, or in a language training program.”

Essentially, students who wish to study in the United States will require a student visa. However, many F-1 visa applicants and their family members have questions about the program, its requirements, and other aspects. We have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about the F-1 visa and their answers below.

Is an F-1 visa the same thing as Form I-20?

No, they are not the same. Form I-20 is required by the Student Exchange Visitor Program and shows your eligibility as a non-immigrant student. The F-1 visa is a travel document that enables you to enter the United States.

What documentation is needed to obtain an F-1 visa?

At a minimum, you will need a passport with at least six months of validity remaining, Form DS-160, Form I-20, filing fees, evidence to support academic goals (transcripts, diplomas, test scores, etc.), and a photo of yourself.

What will returning students need?

Any applicant who wants to renew their status will need to submit all of the items listed above, as well as a new I-20, or an I-20 that was endorsed by an official from the school in the past 12 months.

If a student has been away from classes for five months or longer, they will typically need to have a new visa to enter the US.

How long can students stay with an F-1 Visa?

Another common question is the length of time that the student can stay in the US with the visa. Those who have a student visa will generally be allowed for the duration of time that they are a full-time student. This is true even if the F-1 expires when they are in the US. If a student has finished their studies on the I-20 and authorized practical training, they are allowed a grace period in the US before needing to leave. They will have 60 days before they need to transfer to another school or leave the United States.

Those who leave the US with an expired visa will need to get a new one before they can return to the United States and finish their schooling.

Can a student apply for an F-1 visa without enrolling in a qualifying school or academic program?

No, you must be enrolled in the school or program before applying for an F-1 visa

Can I work while attending school under the F-1 visa program?

Yes, you can hold a job, but only certain forms of employment are allowed. For instance, you are not allowed to work off-campus during the first academic year. However, after the first year, you can work in some off-campus employment situations, including curricular practical training, optional practical training, STEM optional practice training extensions, and in severe economic hardship situations. Students enrolled in the F-1 visa program are allowed to work on campus during their first academic year.

Can a student apply to any accredited school?

No, the school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

Can a student in the F-1 visa program study at a private school?

Yes, private schools can be certified through the SEVP program. However, not all private schools are certified. Note that, in some instances, private schools are the only acceptable option for non-immigrant students. For instance, you cannot attend public elementary and middle schools, and can only enroll in a public high school for a single academic year in the F-1 visa program.