Student visa applicants are encouraged to apply early for their visa.
Student Applicants (for F-1 and M-1 visas) - Overview
For student related information, visit the EducationUSA website created by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to learn about educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study, opportunities for scholars, financial aid, testing, admissions, and much more. For a brief overview, visit the America.gov article Basics on U.S. Visas.
The first step for a prospective nonimmigrant student is being accepted for enrollment in an established school which is SEVP certified. In general, for academic students, including those in language training, F visas are the appropriate category, and for nonacademic vocational students an M visa is the appropriate category.
If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study which is recreational, and the course is less than 18 hours per week, you may be able to do so on a visitor visa. If your course of study is 18 hours or more a week, you will need a student visa. When traveling to the U.S. to attend seminars or conferences for credit towards a degree, then you'll need a student visa.
When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa?
What Is SEVIS and SEVP? What Should You Know about It?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors. Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via the Internet, to the DHS and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student or exchange visitor's stay in the United States. Select SEVIS to go to the DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Internet site and learn more.
All student applicants must have a SEVIS generated I-20 issued by an educational institution approved by DHS, which they submit when they are applying for their student visa. Your school is responsible for entering your information for the I-20 student visa form into SEVIS. The consular officer will need to verify your I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application. Unless otherwise exempt, all F-1 or M-1 principal applicants must pay a SEVIS I-901 fee to the DHS for each individual program. See the SEVP Fact Sheet for a fee list.
Qualifying for a Student Visa
The Immigration and National Act is very specific with regard to the requirements which must be met by applicants to qualify for the student visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet student visa requirements including:
Applying for a Student Visa
As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times, and on most embassy websites. Learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and much more by visiting the Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply.
During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer. Also, because each student’s personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different additional documents.
All applicants should be prepared to provide:
Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry
A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Student visitors must have their Form I-20 in their possession each time they enter the United States. In advance of travel, students should review important information about Admissions/Entry requirements, as well as information related to restrictions about bringing food, agricultural products or other restricted/prohibited goods explained on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it’s very important to keep in your passport.
Students Away from Classes More Than Five Months
Students in or outside the U.S., who have been away from classes for more than five months, will likely need a new visa to enter the U.S.
How long may I stay on my F-1 student visa?
When you enter the United States on a student visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. That means you may stay as long as you are a full time student, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in America. For a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed the following additional time in the U.S. before departure:
As an example regarding duration of status, if you have a visa that is valid for five years that will expire on January 1, 2009, and you are admitted into the U.S. for the duration of your studies (often abbreviated in your passport or on your I-94 card as "D/S"), you may stay in the U.S. as long as you are a full time student. Even if January 1, 2009 passes and your visa expires while in America, you will still be in legal student status. However, if you depart the U.S. with an expired visa, you will need to obtain a new one, applying at an Embassy abroad, before being able to return to America and resume your studies.
Optional Practical Training
Students who are authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT, and provide a USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD). When authorized, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to the eligible F-1 student’s area of study. To learn more about OPT, please go to the practical training section and the ICE international Students webpage.
There are certain restrictions on student F-1 visa holders attending public school in the U.S. See our Foreign Students in Public Schools webpage to learn more.
How Do I Extend My Stay?
Visitors who wish to stay beyond the date indicated on their Form I-94 are required to have approval by USCIS. See Extend Your Stay on the USCIS website.
How Do I Change My Status?
Some nonimmigrant visa holders, while present in the U.S., are able to file a request which must be approved by USCIS to change to another nonimmigrant category. See Change My Nonimmigrant Status on the USCIS website.
Important Note: Filing a request with USCIS for approval of change of status before your authorized stay expires, while you remain in the U.S., does not by itself require the visa holder to apply for a new visa. However, if you cannot remain in the U.S. while USCIS processes your change of status request, you will need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.