F-1 Visa Requirements: Qualifying for an F-1 Visa
UPDATED: January 28, 2012
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An F-1 visa is a visa available to international students who wish to pursue an academic program at a US school. To qualify for an F-1 visa, prospective international students must satisfy the following F-1 visa requirements:
- Acceptance into a USCIS-approved school;
- True intention to come to the US to complete a full course of study and then return home;
- Target program of study must lead to a specific educational goal;
- Student has enough money to attend school full time without working;
- The ability to speak and write in the English language well enough to successfully complete the work required in the program of study or the availability of tutoring or instruction in the student's native language at the school of choice.
Acceptance at an Approved School
An F-1 visa is granted only to a student who has been accepted at an approved school. Luckily, most public and accredited private and vocational schools have been approved, so international students should have no problem finding a school that both suits their needs and qualifies as a government approved institution. The government maintains a list of SEVP approved schools. Prospective students should check this list before actively pursuing acceptance to a school. Students may also want to visit the US for a short time to look at schools before applying to them. You can do this by obtaining a B-2 visa to visit the US. Be sure to tell the consul during your B-2 visa interview that you are a prospective student and that you intend to look at suitable schools while you are visiting the US. The consul will note this on your passport. Without this note, USCIS might well deny your application to convert your visitor visa for an F-1 student visa on the grounds that you committed fraud by getting a visitor visa when your true intention was to study in the US.
Intention to Come to the US to Study (And Then to Go Home When You're Done)
One of the most important conditions for getting an F-1 visa is the intention to leave when you have completed your program. You cannot use a student visa as a way to gain entry to the US for the purpose of staying indefinitely. That is illegal. So how does immigration services know what your intentions are? USCIS may ask that you show that you will be leaving behind property, possessions and/or family members in your home country as an incentive to return home. It also helps if you can show that you have a job waiting for you when you return.
Carrying a Full Course of Study
International students should expect to carry a full course load while they are working towards their degree, diploma or certificate in the US. Undergraduate students with an F-1 visa can expect to enroll in at least 12 semester or quarter hours of instruction each term to fulfill their F-1 visa requirements. There are exceptions, for example for students who are in their final semester and do not need 12 hours to complete their program. Graduate or specialized programs and online classes have other requirements, so be sure to check with your advisor to make sure you are in compliance with your F-1 visa requirements.
Program Leads to Accomplishment of a Specific Educational Goal
F-1 visa requirements dictate that international students be enrolled in a program that leads to a specific educational goal, such as a degree, diploma or certificate. A degree or certificate is not a requirement. You could come to the US just to study for a semester full time and that would be sufficient as a specific educational goal.
Adequate Money to Complete Studies
Student visa candidates must show that they have enough money to pay for their program of study without having to work. They will be asked to show that they have enough cash on hand at the time of application to pay for the first year of studies. They will then need to show that they have a reliable source to pay for subsequent years of study. Students typically have their parents sign in writing that they will pay for the program and then submit proof that they are able to do so.
English Language Proficiency
Does the student know the English language well enough to handle the course work in their program? Adequate knowledge of the English language is crucial to the success of foreign students and many colleges and universities will require that students take an English language proficiency test. Most of the time, the consulate will allow the school to determine whether or not a student's English is good enough, but the consulate may also determine, even if the school thinks the student's English is good enough, that the student's English is not good enough to qualify for an F -1 student visa.
Do You Need An Immigration Lawyer?
An immigration lawyer is typically not needed during the F-1 visa process. Most situations are handled without incident and without the need for an immigration lawyer. There are specific circumstances, however, that could require the expertise of an immigration lawyer. For example, if you are coming from a country that is considered to be a sponsor for terrorists, or if you have had a visa in the past and allowed it to lapse, you may very well need an immigration attorney to help you overcome these obstacles. An experienced immigration lawyer will be worth the money spent to ensure your successful visa application.