The F-1 visa is the most popular route to studying in the US, and covers all full time academic education; from primary school to university. Students on this visa must have a confirmed place at a recognised primary/elementary school, secondary school, or university. This visa cannot be used to attend publicly funded primary schools or adult education programs.
F-1 visa applicants must meet several eligibility criteria to be accepted, these include:
Having evidence that you can pay your tuition fees and living costs during your stay, such as bank statements
A passport style photograph
Having a residence in your home country, and intending to return there when your studies are completed
Having strong ties to your home country, such as family, assets, and a job offer on completion of your studies
Having a confirmed place at a US school or university, as well as a copy of Form I-20
International students wanting to study in the US must have a copy of 'Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status'. The form must be provided by the school or university offering a place.
Students can only study at the institution and for the length of time noted on Form I-20, but can apply to transfer to a university if their original course of study was at a US college.
Type of study
F-1 students may study academic programs and language courses of 18 hours per week or more, which award a recognised diploma, degree, or certificate.
Students on this visa may study on a long-term or short-term basis.
Length of stay
Students on this visa may remain in the US for the full length of their studies as noted on their copy of Form I-20. The one exception is for students at publicly funded secondary schools, who are limited to a stay of 12 months or less; students at privately funded secondary schools do not have the restriction.
Students may arrive in the US 30 days before the start of their studies, and may remain for 60 days after completion.
F-1 students must pay the full cost of their program before commencing their studies. This includes students at publicly funded secondary schools.
F-1 visa holders may work for up to 20 hours per week during term time, and 40 hours during holidays. In their first academic year this work must take place 'on campus' which is defined as any location that is 'educationally related' or 'educationally affiliated' with the school or university – such as with research teams who are linked with the university but operate off-site.
In the second academic year the student may work off campus, if authorised to do so by the Designated School Official, in 2 types of work:
Curricular practical training (CPT); such as internships and employment in your field of study.
Optional practical training (OPT); OPT covers work similar to CPT but is usually done on a full time basis after the completion of your academic program (known as post-completion OPT). Pre-completion OPT is less common, and is usually undertaken by students who for some reason do not qualify for CPT.
Further information, help, and advice
Workpermit.com's team of specialists has over 25 years of experience in immigration services, and have helped thousands of people to study and work in the US. All applications for US visas are dealt with in-house by a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).