F-1 Visa & The F-1 Student Visa Process
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Students who wish to come to the United States as full time academic or language students may do so with an F-1 student visa. The F-1 visa grants students who are enrolled in a program that provides a degree or certificate the right to remain in the US during the course of their studies.
F-1 Student Visa ProcessProspective students must first be admitted into a US school that is approved by USCIS (an SEVP-approved school; SEVP stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Program). The SEVP-Approved Schools List is updated on a regular basis. It will be up to the student to ensure he or she is accepted into a program. Students should explore programs and start planning to apply for acceptance at least one year in advance. Following acceptance into a program, the student should receive Form I-20 from the school. The student should check the information on Form I-20 with the information on his or her passport to make sure Form I-20 contains the student's correct data. If the data on Form I-20 is not correct, you will need to contact the school.
Once you've received Form I-20, you will then pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. Students seeking an F-1 visa must currently pay $200 according to the I-901 Fact Sheet. This fee must be paid and recorded before your visa interview date. If you are paying electronically, be sure to pay at least three days before your interview. If you are sending in your payment by mail, it is recommended that you send it no later than 15 days before your interview.
After paying the I-901 fee, you may then apply for the F-1 student visa at any time before leaving for the United States. You can do this at the American Embassy or consulate nearest you.
Entering the United States
You will have 30 days before your program starts to enter the United States. You should contact an official at your school upon arriving to make sure the school knows and accurately records the day you entered the US. You must enter the US before the official starting date of your program. Before leaving home, be sure your documentation is in order. You will want to have your passport, F-1 visa and Form I-20 with you. You will also want to make at least two copies of your documents and keep the originals with you. One copy will be left with your family or friends back home, the other copy will go to your school in the US.
Benefits of an F-1 Visa
The F-1 visa provides many benefits. Students may get a drivers license, work, obtain a Social Security number, and obtain training after their program is over.
When To Consult An Immigration Attorney Regarding Your F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 visa process is not a difficult one and many prospective students handle the process on their own without the aid of an immigration lawyer. Schools often provide a significant amount of assistance to foreign students through a foreign student adviser, making the process that much easier. Yet there are some situations where the help or advice from an immigration attorney could prove useful. If any of the following apply to you, seek the advice of an attorney:
- You have, at any time in the past, overstayed a visa;
- You are coming from a country that is considered a sponsor of terrorism; or
- You have had trouble in the past with getting a visa.