The Unites States Government issues Visas to those people who are travelling into their country with a specific purpose. To this effect, they have classified different purposes and reasons for travel and categorized these into different Visa types. There are restrictions and allowances on each different type of Visa. For example, a tourist Visa will allow you to travel across the Unites States but will not allow you to work, whereas a specific type of work Visa would allow you to work, but would expire if you’ve been out of work for a certain period of time.
What is an F1 Visa?
The F1 Visa is for students who wish to travel to America to pursue their education. Anyone that wishes to pursue education at any level – private elementary school, high school, college, university, seminary, conservatory, language training school, or any other academic institution – must first submit an application for the F1 Visa.
The F1 Visa is a non-immigrant Visa, which means that the Visa holder cannot establish permanent residence in the United States and that he/she is only there on a temporary basis. F2 Visas are issued to the dependants of an F1 Visa holder. F1 Visa holding students are expected to hold the minimum course load that’s been prescribed for full-time students.
How to get an F1 Visa?
Taking the decision to study abroad involves a lot of very rational thinking and decision making. Once the decision has been made to study abroad and a few schools have been shortlisted, the work really starts. Students have to get their report cards, certificates, and degrees attested, get reference letters and passports in order, etc. and organize the same – which is reportedly the process involving the most amount of legwork and waiting in queues. Despite this, most people report that the process of acquiring an F1 Visa to enter the United States as a student is the most time consuming part of the entire process. It is advisable to start the F1 Visa process as early as possible in order to avoid missing the start of the academic term.
Read More About F1 Visa Interview Questions And Answers 2017
The first step in acquiring an F1 Visa is to duly fill out and sign the I-20 Form that is sent to you from the school in which you’ve been accepted for a course of study. The I-20 Form is the main document that needs to be properly filled out in order to begin the F1 Visa application process. This form is an official document of the United States Department of Homeland Security through the ICE and SEVP (Student Exchange Visitor Program) that’s issued by SEVP-certified educational institutions.
Since July, 2016, the structure of the I-20 Form has changed and is now structured as under:
I-20 Form page 1:
- SEVIS ID.
Student’s biographical information
- Student name(s).
- Country of birth and citizenship.
- Date of birth.
- Class of admission (F1 or M1)
- School name.
- School address.
- School SEVIS code and DSO name.
- Program name.
- Education level.
- Normal program length.
- Program start date and program end date.
- English proficiency.
- Estimated funding costs.
- Funding sources.
- School attestation duly dated and signed by DSO.
- Student attestation duly dated and signed by the student.
I-20 Form page 2:
- Employment authorization for Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, etc.
- Change of cap-gap extension status (for after completion of OPT).
- Tabular form of event history.
- Tabular form of other authorizations.
- Travel signatures.
I-20 Form page 3:
Page 3 of the I-20 form contains detailed instructions for students entering the United States. It contains important information about conditions for staying in the United States legally, the extent of freedoms allowed by an F1 Visa (not being able to work with an F1 Visa, for example), etc.. This has been transcribed below with explanations in italics:
Instructions To Students
Student Attestation. You should read everything on this page carefully. Be sure that you understand the terms and conditions concerning your admission and stay in the United Stated as a non-immigrant student before signing the student attestation on page 1 of the Form I-20 A-B. The law provides severe penalties for knowingly and wilfully falsifying or concealing a material fact, or using any false document in the submission of this form.
This means that you acknowledge that all the information you’re providing is absolutely true and if it isn’t, the US government would be well within its rights to deport you or take any necessary action that they see fit. Do not make the mistake of submitting fake documents no matter what, as they take this quite seriously.
Form I-20 : The Form I-20 (this form) is the primary document to show that you have been admitted to school in the United States and that you are authorized to apply for admission to the United States in F1 class of admission. You must have your Form I-20 with you at all times. If you lose your Form I-20, you must request a new one from your designated school official (DSO) at the school named on your Form I-20.
There are many people entering the United States legally as students, and there are many entering as illegal immigrants, etc. so it’s absolutely vital that you keep your I-20 form safely on your person at all times. If a police officer or other government agent/department requests your ‘papers’ present them with your I-20 Form. This is one of the most important documents in addition to your F1 Visa that you must present to prove that you are in America legally and with a specific purpose and for a specific period of time. You cannot get a duplicate copy of your I-20 Form from anywhere other than the DSO of the school/university that’s mentioned on your I-20 Form. Losing the I-20 Form is a serious cause for concern and it must be replaced IMMEDIATELY to avoid any sort of problems.
Visa Application : You must give this Form I-20 to the US Consular Officer at the time you apply for a Visa (unless you are exempt from Visa requirements). If you have a Form I-20 from more than one school, be sure to present the Form I-20 for the school you plan to attend. Your Visa will include the name of that school, and you must attend that school upon entering the United States. You must also provide evidence of support for tuition and fees and living expenses while you are in the United States.
The school name mentioned on the I-20 Form is the school that you will be allowed to attend in the United States. If you’ve applied and been accepted to multiple schools, you must pick one and take ONLY that I-20 Form to the US Consular Office at the time of Visa application. The Visa itself must contain the name of the school being attended, and hence the correct form must be submitted. After acquiring the Visa and entering the United States, you can’t change your mind and change schools, as this would require you to fill out another I-20 Form and get another F1 Visa which has the school name on it. Providing information of financial standing and total wealth is important as it proves your ability to cover not only the cost of tuition, but also of living in the US – food, water, clothing, rent, shopping, etc. must all be taken into account for the duration of the chosen course and adequate finances must be declared to cover the same.
Admission : When you enter the United States, you must present the following documents to the officer at the port of entry: 1) A Form I-20; 2) A valid F1 Visa (unless you are exempt from Visa requirements); 3) A valid passport; and 4) Evidence of support for tuition and fees and living expenses while you are in the United States. The agent should return all documents to you before you leave the inspection area.
Stepping onto American land, you will meet a security office whose job it is to scrutinize your official documents and once they are confirmed to be original and in order, you will be allowed entry into the US. The documents mentioned above must be organized and maintained neatly so as to avoid any confusion or delays at this most crucial time. It is very important to collect all the documents back from the security officer or agent before leaving the room/terminal and you will need to keep these documents safe for the entire duration of your stay in the United States.
Report To School Named On Your Form I-20 And Visa : Upon your first entry to the United States, you must report to the DSO at the school named on your Form I-20 and your F1 Visa (unless you are exempt from Visa requirements). If you decide to attend another school before you enter the United States, you must present a Form I-20 from the new school to a US Consular Officer for a new F1 Visa that names the new school. Failure to enrol in the school by the program start date on your Form I-20 may result in the loss of your student status and subject you to deportation.
The first thing you should do after exiting the port of entry is to make your way to your school and report to the DSO there. There is a lot of misleading information out there that says that once you’re past customs and security you have nothing to worry about, but this is not true. Make your way to your new school and report in. The DSO will cross check your information with his/her own records and will enrol you for the start of term. You can approach the DSO on any date before the program start date and finish off this final formality. After this – go out and take in the sights!
Employment : Unlawful employment in the United States is a reason for terminating your F1 status and deporting you from the United States. You may be employed on campus at your school. You may be employed off-campus in curricular practical training (CPT) if you have written permission from your DSO. You may apply for a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for off-campus employment authorization in three circumstances: 1) Employment with an international organization; 2) Severe and unexpected economic hardship; and 3) optional practical training (OPT) related to your degree. You must have written authorization from USCIS before you begin work. Contact your DSO for details. Your spouse or child (F2 classification) may not work in the United States.
If you’re running short of cash during your stay in the United States, the easiest solution to that problem is to write home asking for help! If that doesn’t work, however, there are very limited options available to an F1 Visa holder to make some money. CPT is a form of off-campus employment whereby employers in the field of a student’s study hire such students and pay them. Students working under CPT can only do so if the work itself is directly related to their primary course. The work should directly benefit and provide on-the-job experience so that the student has a fully rounded education with exposure to a practical work environment. OPT, on the other hand, is a period wherein F1 Visa holding students who have been studying for over 9 months/completed their degrees can work for one full year on their student Visa. The employment sought must be in the same field of study and the purpose should be to acquire practical on-the-job exposure and experience to complement their classroom education. Be warned, however, that working without a work Visa in America can be grounds for deportation, and could also land your employer in a lot of trouble with the Department of Homeland Security.
Period Of Stay : You may remain in the United States while taking a full course of study or during authorized employment after your program. F1 status ends and you are required to leave the United States on the earliest of the following dates: 1) The program end date on your Form I-20 plus 60 days; 2) The end date of your OPT plus 60 days; 3) The termination of your program for any other reason. Contact your DSO for details.
Overstaying your welcome is not appreciated anywhere, least of all in the United States of America. Once the purpose of your visit (which, for F1 Visa holders, is education) has been completed, you are expected to make travel arrangements and leave at the pre-decided date. If you wish to stay longer for OPT or additional courses, the DSO at your school will be able to guide you further.
Extension Of Program : If you cannot complete the education program by the program end date on Page 1 of the Form I-20, you should contact your DSO at least 15 days before the program end date to request an extension.
This isn’t too difficult to understand. Ideally, you would have ample time and support to complete your education program by the pre-decided end date. If, however, you feel you won’t be able to complete it by then, contact your DSO at the earliest to find a solution.
School Transfer : To transfer schools, first notify the DSO at the school you are attending of your plan to transfer, then obtain a Form I-20 from the DSO at the school you plan to attend. Return the Form I-20 for the new school to the DSO of that school within 15 days after beginning attendance at the new school. The DSO will then report the transfer for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You must enrol in the new school at the next session start date. The DSO at the new school must update your registration in SEVIS.
A transfer of schools once you’re in the United States is not a very tiresome process, but it does involve some paperwork and waiting. First, you must give an acceptable reason to shift schools to the DSO at your current school and acquire an I-20 Form from the DSO of the new school.
Notice Of Address : When you arrive in the United States, you must report your US address to your DSO. If you move, you must notify your DSO of your new address within 10 days of the change of address. The DSO will update SEVIS with your new address.
In the interest of national security, the Department of Homeland Security maintains a repository of information knows as SEVIS. If you’re shifting residence at any point during your stay in the US, you must update your DSO about your intention to move and then update the DSO with your new address.
Reentry : F1 students may leave the United States and return within a period of five months. To return, you must have: 1) A valid passport; 2) a valid F1 student Visa (unless you are exempt from visa requirements; and 3) your Form I-20 page 2, properly endorsed for re-entry by your DSO. If you have been out of the United Stated for over five months, contact your DSO.
What this basically states is that you can go home or on holiday outside the United States provided that you return within a period of five months. If the period of travel outside the United States extends beyond 5 months, you need to talk to your DSO.
Authorization To Release Information By School: DHS requires your school to provide DHS with your name, country of birth, current address, immigration status, and certain other information on a regular basis or upon request. Your signature on the Form I-20 authorizes the named school to release such information from your records.
The Department of Homeland Security can and does request information on students from time to time to keep their records up to date and you authorize them to do this when you sign the I-20 Form.
Penalty To maintain your non-immigrant student status, you must: 1) Remain a full-time student at your authorized school; 2) Engage only in authorized employment; and 3) Keep your passport valid. Failure to comply with these regulations will result in the loss of your student status and subject you to deportation.
Stay within the lines of your F1 Visa status and you won’t get into any trouble. Before travelling out of your home country, ensure that your passport’s validity has been updated and extended well beyond the total duration of your stay in America.
The rest of the instructions on this page of the form are instructions and operational guidelines for schools.
Documents Required To Apply For F1 Visa
Before scheduling your F1 Visa interview, ensure that the following documents have been officially authorized and are up to date:
- Passport: The most important document that you will need to keep with you at all times. Ensure that your passport is up to date with a recent picture and that the expiry date on the passport is well beyond (at least 6 months beyond) the official course end date.
- Form DS-160: Your non-immigrant Visa application form is the DS-160 form which has to be duly filled in and signed.
- Application fee receipt: In most cases, depending on your country of citizenship, you will be required to pay an application fee. The receipt for this fee must be carried to the interview.
- Photograph: When filling out the online Form DS-160, you will be required to upload a photograph of yourself. If, for whatever reason, the photograph cannot be uploaded, a printed photograph must be brought to the interview. The photograph must be:
- In colour.
- Head should be between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (or 50% to 69% of the image’s total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head).
- Recent (within the last 6 months).
- With a plain white or off-white background.
- In full face view.
- Neutral facial expression, both eyes should be open.
- No spectacles unless medically required (will require medical expert’s letter).
- No headgear or scarves (unless worn everyday or for religious purposes) that cast shadow or obscure part of the face.
- Without glare on the image, face, or eyes.
F1 Visa Interview
When scheduling an F1 Visa interview at the US Embassy or Consulate it’s important to understand that wait times vary by location, Visa category, and season.
If you are a new student, your F1 Visa could be issued as early as 120 days before the course start date, but you will be unable to travel to America earlier than 30 days before the official course start date.
Continuing students can renew their Visas any time they wish, provided that they have maintained their status as ‘students’ and if their records with SEVIS are updated. Continuing students have the liberty to travel to America under the F1 Visa any time before the official course/term start date.
When applying for the F1 Visa at the US Embassy or Consulate, a few important questions and issues need to be addressed during your interview:
- You must prove that you have a permanent residence in your home country and that you have no intention of permanently residing in the US.
- You must prove that you are only visiting the US for the purposes of completing your education through the chosen course at a particular school/university.
- After graduation, your intentions must be to leave the United States, whether to return to your own country or to seek employment in another country, etc. but not in the Unites States.
- The best way to convince the US Embassy or Consulate of this is to tell them that your intention to study abroad is so that you can bring back new knowledge and efficient processes to help develop your own country.
- You must prove that you have been accepted into a school that is accredited by SEVP.
- One of the most important things to prove during an F1 Visa interview is that you have sufficient funds available to pay for tuition, books, rent, food and water, clothing, travelling within the US, shopping, and every other related expense that can be anticipated during your stay in the US.
- Legal employment opportunities in the States are limited to CPT and OPT for students, and hence the idea of earning a sustainable income in America is discouraged. Finances must be proven well in advance, at the time of application.
- It is imperative that those students applying for an F1 Visa must show significant ties to their home country. A good way to prove this is to show evidence of a family, bank accounts, property, assets, job offers, etc.
When it is your turn to meet the US Consulate Officer or Agent, do not be nervous as this is a routine part of the process and your answers and presence of mind will help you acquire an F1 Visa. Forewarned is forearmed, so you should prepare yourself to answer some of the questions that they absolutely will ask you during your interview. Be clear, concise and direct with your answers but not to the point that you come off as very serious.