How Does the F-1 Student Visa Process Work for International Students Studying in the US?

When applying for an F-1 student visa in the U.S., the process will involve completing the appropriate documents and gaining acceptance into a specific educational program, among other steps. Knowing what to expect and the requirements for a student visa can help international students successfully live in the country as students.

Happy young woman holding passport and boarding pass with globe while standing against blue gradient background. F-1 student visa.

What Is the F-1 Student Visa?

The F-1 student visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa allowing students from other countries to gain an education in the U.S. If you want to enter the country on this visa, you need to enroll in a program with a U.S.-based accredited educational institution. You can remain in the country as long as this visa is valid.

Depending on your situation, you can also obtain another visa to continue living and working in the country, such as an H-1B work visa.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for the F-1 Visa?

There are criteria you must meet if you want to become a student in the U.S. on an F-1 visa. The requirements for the student visa include:

  • Acceptance into a program at an accredited educational institution in the U.S. that falls under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
  • Proficiency in English or working toward proficiency in English through relevant courses.
  • Enrollment as a full-time student with the SEVP-approved school.
  • Completion of the application from outside the country.
  • Ties with your country of origin, proving that you intend to return to your country after completing your studies on your F-1 visa.
  • Adequate financial funding to support your education and stay in the U.S.

If you meet all of these requirements, you may successfully apply for and obtain a student visa.

Step-by-Step Process for Obtaining an F-1 Visa

Once you’re eligible to apply for the F-1 visa, the process is complicated and lengthy, which is why you may need to consult immigration legal services attorneys for help navigating the entire application process.

The following are the steps involved in the application process for this student visa:

  1. You must gain acceptance into an SEVP-approved school, after which you will be in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is the system the SEVP uses for tracking nonimmigrant students and educational institutions.
  2. The next step is to pay the application fee for Form I-901, which is currently $350.
  3. After paying your fee, your educational institution will send you Form I-20, which labels you as an official student to further allow eligibility.
  4. Once you’ve completed and submitted Form I-20, you can apply with your country’s U.S. consulate or embassy for the F-1 visa.
  5. You must also complete Form DS-160, which requires many details to prove eligibility for the F-1 visa.
  6. You will then attend an interview with an official at your country’s U.S. consulate or embassy. However, individuals under the age of 13 or over 80 will be exempt from this requirement.
  7. After the interview, you must then pay the $185 application fee to complete the process, but you may also need to pay an additional issuance fee.
  8. Wait for the visa application process to complete and receive your visa.

What Is Considered an SEVP-Approved Educational Institution?

SEVP-approved schools have received certification from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be a part of the SEVP program. Schools must petition for certification by completing Form I-17, Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student. Once a school has received certification, it will be in the SEVIS system.

Required Documentation for F-1 Visa Application

You will need multiple documents to prove eligibility when applying for your F-1 visa, including Form I-20, a letter of admission from your SEVP-approved school, bank statements and other financial documentation, a valid passport, Form DS-160, two qualifying photos, a receipt for payment of the SEVIS fee, and a Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee.

Challenges in the F-1 Student Visa Process

When applying for an F-1 student visa, there are challenges you might face along the way. Knowing what these issues are and how to avoid them could help you keep the process smooth and ensure you’re able to receive your visa.

Ineligibility

One of the main challenges you might encounter is ineligibility that leads to a rejection of your application. There are many requirements to apply and steps involved in the application process. Any mistakes, missing information, missing documentation, or other issues could make it difficult or impossible to receive your visa.

Make sure you have everything in order before completing Form I-20 and other forms, and ensure you have sufficient supporting documentation to complement your application.

Overstaying the Visa

Like other types of visas, you only have a limited amount of time to stay in the U.S. and study before your F-1 visa expires. It’s important to know what to do when you overstay your visa if you want to avoid removal and deportation.

Generally, in the case of an F-1 visa, it’s in your best interest to return to your country of origin if you’re in the U.S. when your visa expires. The reason for this is that you won’t have a valid immigration status once the period of authorization is over.

There are four types of immigration statuses in the U.S. to keep in mind. As an F-1 visa-holder, you will classify as a nonimmigrant who doesn’t have the ability to work and live in the U.S. without a student visa.

Once you have returned to your home country, you may begin applying for another student visa or another visa classification. For example, you could apply for an H-1B worker visa if you gain employment with a U.S.-based employer. While you would still need to leave the country during the application process, you could work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at your country’s consulate to regain entry into the U.S. on a valid visa.

One exception if you overstay your visa is if you are married to an American citizen. In the event of an overstay, your spouse with citizenship could sponsor you as an immediate family member to help you establish lawful permanent residence in the U.S.

Working in the U.S. on Your F-1 Visa

You may want to seek employment in the U.S. while on your student visa, but you must remember that your ability to work is limited on this particular visa type.

Students in the U.S. on an F-1 visa typically cannot gain employment outside their school, with most jobs relegated to on-campus work. If you attempt to work in the U.S., the government could deem you unlawfully present in the country, which could lead to removal and deportation.

As such, you should go through the necessary channels to gain lawful employment in the country while on your student visa. This could entail applying for an H-1B visa once your student visa has expired, and you return to your home country. You could also go through USCIS to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to legally work in the country.

How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help You With Visa Delays or Rejections

The application process for the F-1 student visa can be complex, and there are many points when you might face rejection or delays during the process. To help ensure you avoid issues when applying, it’s important to consult an immigration lawyer in Illinois to discuss your needs.

The right attorney can take several key steps to help you complete the application process. For example, he or she could help you prepare all documentation, including the forms you need to complete and the collection of all supporting documents.

In addition, an attorney can work with you to reapply for a visa if you receive an initial rejection, ensuring you meet all eligibility criteria.

Another way an attorney can help is by assisting with the application for a different type of visa, such as an H-1B visa. The process of applying for another visa type while on a student visa can be challenging, but an attorney may handle this for you while you focus on studying at your SEVP-approved institution.

If you face serious repercussions for overstays or other issues such as deportation, an attorney will provide representation to help prevent removal and deportation in many cases.

Understanding the F-1 Visa Process

The F-1 student visa gives international students plenty of opportunities to study in the country at approved institutions. By completing the necessary forms, collecting critical supporting documentation, gaining approval from an SEVP-certified school, and taking other key steps, it’s possible to successfully secure the F-1 student visa.