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F-1 Visas

STUDENT VISAS
Individuals desiring to study in the US must obtain visas to allow them to enter the US and to remain in the US throughout their programs of study.  As discussed below, there are three types of visas used by individuals to study in the US: (1) F-1 student visas, (2) J-1 visas for students participating in work and study exchange programs, and (3) M-1 visas for vocational training or study. 
 

Where to Apply for a Visa

  • Students who are outside the US must apply for a visa at the US embassy or consulate in their home countries
  • Students who already are in the US with another type of visa may be able to change their current visa to student visa status.  In order to change from another visa to student visa status while in the US, an applicant must file an I-539 petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (see detailed explanation below)
>>The process of applying for a visa at a US Consulate or Embassy or applying to change status to student visa status within the US is discussed in greater detail below.
 
Student Visa Qualifications
  • The student must be accepted to a US educational institution
  • The student must be able to prove that he or she has the financial support to pay tuition and allow him or her to be able to live and study in the US
  • The student must have a residence abroad that he or she does not immediately intend to abandon
  • The student must intend to return to his or her home country after completion of the study term

Types of Student Visas
 
F-1 Student Visa
An F-1 Student Visa is the most common type of visa used by foreign students to study in the US.  The F-1 Student Visa allows students to pursue academic study at an accredited US college or university, or to study English at a U.S. college, university or language learning institute.
 
Students who already are present in the US may apply for an F-1 student visa by filing an application for a student visa with the US CIS (see www.uscis.gov).  Students who are outside the US would apply for an F-1 student visa through a US Consulate or Embassy outside the United States.  In either case, students must provide evidence of their acceptance to a school in the US, a completed I-20 form, and documentation demonstrating their intent to return to their home country following the completion of the academic program.
 
Note: The spouse and children of the F-1 visa holder are eligible for an F-2 Visa to allow them to travel to and reside in the US with the F-1 student.
 
I-20 Form
  • An I-20 form is used by the school to prove to the Government that the student is eligible for an F-1 student visa.
  • A student must obtain an I-20 form from the school to which they have been admitted. 
  • A request for an I-20 form should be made when applying to a school.  In requesting an I-20 form, the student is required to demonstrate that he or she has sufficient financial resources to attend school and live in the US through financial aid, scholarships, family funds, personal funds, and\or other resources. 
  • An I-20 form is not issued until a student has been accepted to a school; the I-20 form serves to confirm the admission of the student to the school.
  • Students who are in the US would use the I-20 form as part of an application to the US CIS for a student visa.
  • Students who are outside the US would use the I-20 form in applying for a student visa at a US Consulate outside the United States. 
Note: in order for a US college or university to issue an I-20 form, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) must approve the form and issue a SEVIS stamp onto the I-20 form.  Most U.S. colleges and universities are authorized by SEVP.  The following list confirms the schools that are approved by SEVP as of 2011: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/schools/existing_schools/index.htm#map
 
After receiving the I-20 form, the student is required to pay the appropriate Student Visitor and Exchange Information System (SEVIS) fee.  Information regarding the SEVIS fee is available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm).
 
M-1 Student Visa
  • The M visa category is for students who will be attending recognized nonacademic US institutions or will be pursuing vocational training or study at US institutions.
  • The M visa category requires the use of the I-20M-N Form, with the same requirements as specified above in the section regarding student visas.
After receiving the I-20 form, the student is required to pay the appropriate Student Visitor and Exchange Information System (SEVIS) fee.  Information regarding the SEVIS fee is available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm).
 
Note: The spouse and children of the M-1 visa holder are eligible for an M-2 Visa to allow them to travel to and reside in the US with the M-1 student.
 
J-1 Student Visa
The J visa category is for students who are participating in work and study exchange programs.  Students who already are present in the US may apply for a J-1 visa by filing an application with the US CIS (see www.uscis.gov).  Students who are outside the US would apply for a J-1 visa through a US Consulate or Embassy outside the United States.  In either case, the student must provide evidence of their acceptance to a school in the US, a completed DS-2019 form, and documentation demonstrating their intent to return to their home country following the completion of the academic program.
 
Note: The spouse or children of the J-1 visa holder are eligible for a J-2 Visa to allow them to travel to and reside in the US with the J-1 student.
 
DS-2019 Form
  • A DS-2019 form is a form used by the school to prove to the government that the student is eligible for a J-1 visa. 
  • A student must obtain a DS-2019 form from the school to which they have been accepted. 
  • A request for a DS-2019 form should be made when applying to a school.  In requesting a DS-2019 form, the student is required to demonstrate that he or she has sufficient financial resources to attend school and live in the US through financial aid, scholarships, family funds, personal funds, and\or other resources. 
  • A DS-2019 form is not issued until a student has been accepted to a school and serves to confirm the admission of the student to the school.
  • Students who are in the US would use the DS-2019 form as part of an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for a J-1 visa.
  • Students who are outside the US would use the DS-2019 form in applying for a J-1 visa at a US Consulate outside the United States.
Note: In order for a school to be eligible to issue a DS-2019 form, the Department of State must approve the J-1 Visitor Exchange Program of the school.  A list of approved schools with J-1 Visitor Exchange Programs can be found at: http://eca.state.gov/jexchanges/index.cfm.
 
After receiving the DS-2019 form, the student is required to pay the appropriate Student Visitor and Exchange Information System (SEVIS) fee.  Information regarding the SEVIS fee is available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm).
 
>> Learn more about student visas here:http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html
 
Process of Applying for a Visa
As discussed above, the process of applying for a visa varies depending on whether the student is in the US or outside the US at the time of the application.  The following is a step-by-step guide to applying for a visa for students in the US and outside the US.
 
Students in the US
      For individuals present in the US, the process of obtaining a visa (F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa) to study in the US involves the filing of an application with the US CIS.  Once this application is approved, the status of the student is automatically changed and the student may remain in the US legally in the new visa status.  Students present in the US are not required to leave the US to obtain a visa.
 
      The first step in obtaining a visa to study in the US is to gain admission to a US school, university, college, vocational program, or other educational institution.  After gaining admission, the school will issue an I-20 form (for student visas) or a DS-2019 form (for J-1 visas).  In order for the I-20 form to be valid, it must be endorsed with a SEVIS stamp.
 
      The next step is for the student to file an I-539 petition with the US CIS requesting a change of status (see www.uscis.gov).  For F-1 and M-1 student visas, the I-539 petition must be filed with an I-20 form, with a SEVIS endorsement.  For J-1 visas, the I-539 petition must be filed with a DS-2019 form.  In filing the I-539 form, students also must submit proof of their current legal status in the US, copies of their passports and I-94 card, evidence of their ability to finance their studies and their stay in the US (through loans, scholarships, family funds and\or other sources), and a filing fee of $290 payable to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.   As of 2011, the filing fee for I-539 applications is $290; this fee is subject to change by the US Department of Homeland Security.
 
      Following approval of the I-539 Petition, the student is eligible to attend school and to remain in the US legally.  Most visas are approved for the duration of the academic program.  Nonetheless, it is important to confirm the actual duration of the visa approval to ensure that the student remains in the US legally throughout his or her stay in the US.  When students leave the US for the first time during the terms of their visas, they must go to the US Consulates in their home countries to have visas issued and laminated into their passports.  The process of requesting the issuance of a visa at a foreign consulate is outlined in the next section below.
 
      A checklist with requirements to be met in applying to change status from a B-1/B-2 visa to an F-1 visa can be found at http://oiss.isp.msu.edu/documents/students/cos_B1toF1.pdf.
 
Students Outside the US
      For individuals outside the US, the process of obtaining a visa (F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa) to study in the US involves the processing of an application at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the United States.
 
The first step in obtaining a visa to study in the US is to gain admission to a US school, university, college, vocational program, or other educational institution.  After gaining admission, the school will issue an I-20 form (for student visas) or a DS-2019 form (for J-1 visas).  In order for the I-20 form to be valid, it must be endorsed with a SEVIS stamp.
 
      The next step is for the student to apply for a visa at a US Consulate or Embassy in his or her home country.  The student must schedule an appointment for an interview at the US Consulate with a consular officer.  F-1, M-1 and J-1 visa applicants are required to pay a SEVIS fee before applying for the visa.  Visa fees must be paid to the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement prior to applying for the visa.  Visa fees for F-1 and M-1 visa applicants are $200.00 and the visa fee for J-1 visa applicants is $180.00.
 
      The next step is to complete an online nonimmigrant electronic visa application Form DS-160.  DS-160 forms must be completed and submitted electronically for each person applying for a visa, including the primary applicant (for an F-1 visa, M-1 visa, or J-1 visa), as well as spouses and children (for an F-2 visa, M-2 visa, or J-2 visa).  The DS-160 form may be accessed at https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/
 
In preparing for the interview at the consulate, students should gather the following documents in support of the visa application:
  • Confirmation page of the electronic filing of the DS-160 form (make sure to print the DS-160 barcode page following electronic filing of the application);
  • The Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Confirmation letter;
  • A print out of the receipt for the MRV application fee, if applicable;
  • A passport or other travel document valid for at least six months beyond the intended period of stay in the US, with at least one blank page;
  • A photograph - only required if the applicant was unsuccessful in uploading a photograph to the DS-160 form;
  • Form I-20A-B (for F-1 visas), Form I-20M-N (for M-1 visas), or Form DS-2109 (for J-1 visas); and
  • A receipt showing payment of the SEVIS fee.
  • Students also may be required to provide documentary evidence of the following:
  • Funds sufficient to cover all expenses, including tuition, while in the United States; such evidence may include information regarding scholarships, student loans, bank statements, income tax documents, bank books, business registrations, licenses, andother information regarding finances and financial support;
  • A residence abroad to which the student intends to return at the end of the stay in the United States; and detailed information regarding the student’s academic qualifications (e.g., complete transcripts of grades and test records of the last four years of school) and evidence of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores.
It is highly recommended that individuals apply for visas well in advance of their proposed dates of travel. No assurances regarding the issuance of visas are given in advance by consulates. Therefore, final travel plans or the purchase of non-refundable ticket should not be made until a visa has been issued and a student is in receipt of his or her passport.
 
Optional Practical Training Program
>> Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs are designed for foreign students to work in their fields of study for periods of up to 12 months.  Work in OPT status may be done before or after the completion of studies.
 
An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he or she has been enrolled for one full academic year. The pre-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session.
 
An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon the completion of his or her studies. The post-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.
 
Students must initiate the OPT process by requesting the designated school official at their academic institution to recommend the OPT. The designated school official makes such recommendation by endorsing the student’s Form I-20 and by making an appropriate notation in the SEVIS system.  The I-20 Form must be annotated by the school official to reflect approval of an OPT program that extends beyond the end of the regular period of study.  The annotation is indicated on page three of the student's I-20 form.
 
Students then file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD), with the USCIS. If approved, the USCIS will issue an EAD to the student.  The student may begin engaging in pre- or post-completion OPT only after an I-765 application has been approved and an EAD has been issued.
 
Students who are present in the US with a student visa may remain legally in the US with their annotated I-20 forms, as an extension of their student visas.
Students who apply for a visa at a Consulate outside the US must present an I-20 form with an annotation approving the OPT and an original end date of date that may have passed.
Co-Curricular Training Programs
>> Co-Curricular Training programs are designed for foreign students to work in their fields of study during their programs of study.
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a type of employment authorization for students in F-1 status who wish or need to engage in off-campus employment in their field of study when it is a required component of their curriculum, is integral to their thesis or dissertation research. or is part of a co-operative education program in their field of study.
  • Sponsored employers who have cooperative agreements with a particular school are authorized to offer Co-Curricular Training Programs.
  • Co-Curricular training programs consist of alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which are offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with schools.
Eligibility, Criteria, and General Information regarding Co-Curricular training programs are available at http://www.upenn.edu/oip/isss/cpt