F-1 Student Visas

Our firm has successfully represented clients in cases of F-1 Student Visas, view our Student Visa Success Stories.

As with all nonimmigrant classifications, the most important element in obtaining an F-1 visa is the demonstration of nonimmigrant intent. The student must maintain a home abroad that they have no intention of abandoning. The student must be coming to the US to pursue a full course of academic study, and must demonstrate that they possess the financial resources to allow them to study without the need to engage in unauthorized employment. The prospective student must also show that they have been accepted by a US school accredited by the USCIS. The USCIS has recently implemented the SEVIS system to ensure that students maintain their proper status.

Step 1: Find a School

A prospective student must first identify a school that is qualified to sponsor a student for a visa.

Step 2: Get an I-20

For a foreign student to obtain F-1 status they must first receive a Form I-20 issued by the school that provides information about the school and the student. Before the school can issue an I-20 the following conditions must be met:

  • The student must have made a written application to the school
  • The school must have received the student’s academic record and evidence of financial support
  • The student must meet the school’s qualifications for admission, including any English language proficiency
  • The student must have been accepted by the school

Step 3: Apply for a Student Visa at a US Consulate

After the school issues the I-20, it sends it to the student abroad, who then applies for a visa at their local US consulate. To make the visa application the student must present the I-20, their passport, the necessary visa fee (which varies from location to location), Form DS-160 Application for a Nonimmigrant Visa, documentation of sufficient ties to the home country and evidence of financial support. Unless there are unusual circumstances, the visa will generally be issued on the day the application is submitted, or only a few days afterward.

When a student seeks a change of status within the US, he or she submits an application for the change of status, the I-20, a copy of their passport, and evidence of financial support to the USCIS. If the USCIS approves the change of status, it mails one copy of the I-20 and an approval notice to the student. The other copy of the I-20 is sent to an USCIS processing center where they keep track of foreign students. After the information is collected, the I-20 is mailed to the school.

Step 4: Entering the US

After receiving the student visa, the student makes an application for admission at a US port of entry. The student must present their passport, visa, evidence of support and the I-20. If admission is granted, the USCIS will keep one copy of the I-20 and return the second to the student. The student is issued an I-94 Arrival/Departure Record that contains a unique control number. This number is noted on the I-20, and becomes a sort of permanent identifier. For example, if an F-1 student leaves the US, upon reentry they are given a new I-94. However, the number on it is crossed out and replaced with the initial number noted on the I-20.

Step 5: Maintaining Status

In light of the bars on admission created in 1996, and of the increased scrutiny of foreign students since the September 11th attacks, it is very important for the student to maintain their status while in the US.

When the foreign student transfers from one school to another, a notification procedure must be followed. The student must obtain a new I-20 from the new school and inform the designated student officer at the first school of their intent to transfer. After completing the new I-20 the student submits it to the designated student officer at the new school. This must be within 15 days of beginning class at the new school. The I-20 must be endorsed by the designated student officer of the new school who must then send a copy to the officer at the first school and to the USCIS. This must be done within 30 days of receiving the I-20 from the student. The USCIS will then return one copy of the I-20 to the student, and after collecting information, return the other copy to the new school.