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The US government has specified a set of norms and criteria that degree-seeking international students in the F-1 and J-1 visa categories must follow while in the US. It is vital that students understand and follow the criteria; failure to follow one or more of the standards might result in a student’s status being revoked. International Student and Scholar Services (I.S.S.S.) is here to help you navigate these visa statuses and maintenance obligations.

International F-1 and J-1 students must maintain full-time enrollment throughout their program, maintain excellent academic standing, and show regular academic progress toward their degree goal, according to federal laws in the United States.

Each semester, students must register for classes by the end of the first week of classes. Minimum enrollment requirements must be met at registration. Undergraduate students must complete at least 12 credit hours per semester. In general, graduate students must be enrolled in at least 9 credit hours.

The F-1 visa allows a student to study at a school, college, seminary, or conservatory in the United States for a set amount of time.

The opportunity to study in the United States is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication for many students. Unless they are a U.S. citizen or have a green card, all prospective students must apply for a visa to study in the United States.

Because there are so many courses and places to study in the United States, the F-1 visa has a fairly broad scope, but it also has some very specific criteria. The first requirement is that you come to the United States with the intention of studying temporarily. In other words, this is not an immigrant visa.

You must be enrolled in an academic institution rather than training at a vocational school, as this will necessitate an M-1 visa. To accept foreign students on F-1 visas, your academic institution must be certified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP).

You will be permitted to work, but because this is a non-immigrant visa, you will be limited in where and what you may do. Finally, while your husband and children may accompany you, they will be unable to work, but your children may enroll in school. They will be on F-2 visas and will be subject to the status of your visa.

Below are some things you need to know about the F-1 visa.

F-1 Visa Eligibility

The following are the prerequisites for an F-1 visa:

  • Apply and be accepted into a course of study at a SEVP-approved school in the United States. SEVP-approved schools are not just universities — they can also be high schools, seminaries, private elementary schools, conservatories, or a language program.
  • You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution.
  • You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency.
  • Have proof of sufficient financial funds to support study in the United States.
  • Have ties to your home country that show an intent to return after you finish studying in the United States, since the F-1 visa program is a temporary visa.
  • Live outside the United States when you apply.

The process of applying to and being accepted into a U.S. academic institution is the most time-consuming for many students. The visa application process is a sequence of processes that begin when you accept an enrollment offer.

The F-1 Visa Process

Congratulations for being accepted into a program of study at a university in the United States! Years of hard work most likely lead you to this point, so here’s how to get your student visa.

Read Also: How Can I Keep F1 Status After OPT?

You will be added to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) once your SEVP-approved school accepts your registration. SEVP employs SEVIS to track and supervise schools, exchange visitor programs, and F, M, and J nonimmigrants visiting the United States and participating in the American educational system.

After you have registered with SEVIS, you must pay the I-901 cost. The SEVP program is funded by this fee, which is presently $350 for most persons.

After that, your SEVP-approved institution will issue you a Form I-20. This paperwork is critical since it certifies your acceptance at the institution and hence your eligibility for the F-1 visa. After receiving this Form I-20, you will be able to apply for your F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate.

The measures necessary will change between US embassies or consulates, so consult their websites for further information.

You must, however, complete Form DS-160, which is comparable to Form DS-260 for immigrant visas. The form is highly extensive and can take some time to fill out, so allow plenty of time to finish it.

Unless you are under the age of 13 or beyond the age of 80, you must schedule an interview in a U.S. embassy or consulate after completing Form DS-160. According to the US Department of State, you should make an appointment for your visa interview at the nearest US embassy or consulate. You may schedule your interview at another US embassy or consulate, but be advised that obtaining a visa outside of your home country may be more challenging.

Prior to your interview, you must pay the $160 application cost and, depending on your nationality, an issuance charge. If your visa is approved, the visa issuance cost is only required following your interview. The following step will be an interview in a US embassy or consulate.

Visa wait periods vary depending on the season and region. You can use the appointment wait time tool to determine how long you will have to wait for an appointment at a certain US embassy or consulate.

It is vital to highlight at this point that F-1 visas for new students can only be issued up to 365 days (one year) before the start date of a course of study. It used to be 120 days, but the State Department extended it in February 2023.

This is not the case for existing F-1 visas, and visas can be awarded at any time as long as the student is currently enrolled at a SEVP-approved school or institution and is registered in SEVIS.

You will generally be required to attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate. You will need to bring:

  • An unexpired passport valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States. Each individual who needs a visa must submit a separate application, including any family members listed in your passport.
  • The Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Application fee payment receipt.
  • A photo that conforms to U.S. State Department requirements.
  • Form I-20 that was issued to you by your academic institution.

You should also be prepared to bring evidence of:

  • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended.
  • Standardized test scores required by your U.S. school.
  • Proof of ties to your home country, as well as proof of funds to support you and pay for your studies while you are in the United States.
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