F-1 Academic Student
F-1 visa classification is available to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to study at accredited academic institutions, and for whom the proposed course of study qualifies as a full-time study. The requisite course load for full-time study varies depending on the level of study sought and the credit allotment or term division system utilized by the respective academic institution or English language program at which study is sought.
This classification does not require an approved petition for study by foreign nationals applying outside of the U.S., but does require a SEVIS certified Form I-20 issued by the academic institution at which the foreign student intends to study. If the foreign student is outside of the U.S., he or she must apply directly at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. (Please note: in some cases, the applicant must apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in his or her home country. See the Visa Issuance section for more details.)
If the foreign student is inside the U.S. and wishes to change to or extend his or her F-1 Non-immigrant visa status, he or she must apply for approval from the USCIS.
A foreign student is admitted to the U.S. or granted a change of status to F-1 for a time period related to the normal length of study required for the intended academic or Language immersion program, and is indicated on the I-94 card as D/S or "Duration of Status." The status expiration date is governed by the program end date as indicated on the underlying Form I-20 and/or any subsequent I-20s issued to the student in accordance with SEVIS transfer or program extension provisions, subject to a conditional sixty-day grace period.
With the exception of unusual circumstances (including failure of the student to maintain valid F-1 status), extension of a foreign student's program of study does not require filing a request for extension of stay with the USCIS, but rather can be attained through the International Student Office of the academic institution issuing the I-20.
Please note: rules governing maintenance of valid F-1 status and related timing and unlawful presence matters are extremely strict and at times complex. It is absolutely essential that F-1 students remain in close contact with, and comply with all instructions provided by, the International Student Office at their respective school or institution. Prompt consultation with a licensed immigration attorney is strongly recommended in situations where the terms of valid F-1 status may be compromised or violated, including but not limited to cases requiring reinstatement.
Note: Embassies and Consulates are not able to issue student visas more than 90 days in advance of the course of study registration date. Also, new students will not be admitted to the U.S. on an F-1 visa more than 30 days in advance of the course of study start date as shown on the SEVIS-certified Form I-20.
Restrictions and Potential Problems Regarding Change of Status to F-1
There are important timing issues governing applications for change of status to F-1 visa classification that impact eligibility. If you are in the U.S. in a Non-immigrant visa classification other than F-1 and wish to apply for a change of status to F-1 visa classification, consultation with a licensed immigration attorney is strongly recommended.
An applicant who is present in the U.S. in another valid Non-immigrant classification, and who is applying for a change of status to F-1 visa classification through the USCIS, is not authorized to begin his or her studies until the change of Non-immigrant status is approved.
Note: Failure to maintain contact with the International Student Office during the period in which your application for change of status is pending with the CIS may result in your record being terminated from the SEVIS system and accordingly may require reinstatement.
F-1 Non-immigrant status is not a work authorized status subject to limited exceptions requiring approval by the International Student Office including on-campus employment, hardship, curricular practical training (CPT), and optional practical training (OPT).
The spouse and minor children of F-1 visa holders may apply for derivative F-2 visa classification in order to accompany or follow to join the principal visa holder (at the consulate) or to remain in the U.S. with the principal visa holder (through a change of status application with the US CIS). F-2 status is conditioned on maintenance of valid F-1 status by the principal visa holder and dependent eligibility, and does not confer work authorization.