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The F-1 "Academic Student" Visa

This visa is for students who have been accepted for full-time study at a U.S. educational institution. In order to apply For an F-1 visa, you must have:

A valid passport issued to you by your home-country government; 
Form I-20 A-B, "Certificate of Eligibility For Non-immigrant F-1 Student Status," (original copy, not a Facsimile) issued by the college or university at which you plan to enroll. Read this document carefully and fill in the required information in each of the spaces provided.
Two 5 cm x .5 cm photographs of yourself signed by you in ink on the reverse side and
Evidence (in English) of Financial support. Any one of the Following may be acceptable; actual requirements depend on U.S. consular practice in your country:

1. A certificate, issued by an officer of your own bank, explicitly stating the amount of money available to support you during your stay in the United States.
2. If someone other than you will be paying your expenses, a certificate issued by a bank officer, of this guarantor's financial ability.
3. A statement from a sponsoring organization institution or person outlining the terms of sponsorship. If the sponsor is a person an affidavit of support or a certificate issued by an officer of the sponsor's bank, indicating the sponsor's financial ability and intention to support you. If the sponsor is the U.S. educational institution that you will be attending, this information will be included on the Form l-20.

Form I-20 A-B "Certificate of Eligibility"

When a U.S. educational institution accepts a foreign student for fulltime academic study, it sends to the student Form I-20 A-B "Certificate of Eligibility" as proof of acceptance. The student then takes the Form I-20 A-B, along with the other required documents (see above) to the U.S. embassy or consulate in his home country. 

There, the student will apply For an F-1 non-immigrant visa. The student can also use the Form I-20 A-B to change to F-1 from another non-immigrant visa status or to transfer to a new institution if he is already in the United States.

Form I-20 ID Copy

If you are admitted to the United States in F-1 status or change to F-1 status while in the United States, pages 3-4 of the Form I-20 A-B will be returned to you as the Form I-20 ID Copy (also known as the student copy) by a U.S. immigration officer at your port of entry. 

All matters pertaining to your F-1 non-immigrant status will be recorded on this document. You should retain this document at all times. You should not surrender it, even when you temporarily leave the country.

Your Form 1-20 ID Copy shows your name, country, date and place of entry into the United States, F-1 non-immigrant status and the institution you are authorized to attend.

The identifying number on your I-20 ID Copy is the same number as the one on your Form I-94 "Arrival-Departure Record" (see p. 42), which is also issued when you enter the United States. No one else will ever receive this ID number, which is also called an "Admission Number." 

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will create a computer record File for you, using this number. The 1NS will then record all immigration actions (extensions of stay, school transfers, etc.) in this file during your stay in the United States. 

This ID number must be used whenever you correspond with the INS. Your university or college will also use this number as part of their record-keeping requirements.
Protect your I-20 ID Copy. You are required to have it with you at all times. Even after you leave the United States. If you ever want to return in F-I visa status you will need the I-20 ID Copy number and record that you were assigned on your first visit.

Maintaining F-1 Visa Status

While you are in the United States, in order to maintain F-I visa status you must:

Attend the university or college, which issued your Form I-20. You may not attend a different college or university without first notifying the school you are attending of your intent to transfer then obtaining a Form I-20 A-B from the school to which you plan to transfer and then returning the Student Certification portion of this form to the new institution within I 5 days of beginning attendance at the new school.
Be a full-time student during each regular term of the academic year. For undergraduate study, this is usually interpreted to mean that the student must carry a minimum of 1 2 credits (or units) each term. If you consider taking fewer than 1 2 credits in a term, consult with your faculty adviser and the Foreign Student Adviser.

For graduate students, INS regulations allow each school to determine what constitutes full-time attendance. Graduate students who hold teaching or research fellowships may take a reduced course load and still be considered in status. However, graduate students must also be officially registered in each regular term of the academic year.

Complete your academic objective within the normal period allowed for that degree, or else apply for reinstatement of status. Your school can authorize extension of status for valid academic or medical reasons. If a student fails to complete a program within the period specified and is not eligible for a program extension granted by the institution, the student is considered out of status.
Keep your passport valid six months into the future.
Not transfer to another school without discussing your plans in advance with the Foreign Student Adviser.

Transferring to Another School

An F-1 student may not transfer to another institution to begin a new educational program (for example, From a bachelor's degree program to a master's degree program) without specific permission from the INS. You will need a new Form I-20 A-B from the school to which you plan to transfer. Application for transfer should be made at least 60 days before you hope to begin the new program.

When an F-I student transfers from one school to another bur remains in the same educational program for example. From a bachelor's degree program in engineering at one school to a bachelor's degree program in engineering at another school) no permission is necessary. 

However a Form I-20 A-B must be obtained from the school to which the student is transferring. In either situation if you plan to transfer to another institution consult with the Foreign Student Adviser at both schools.


When you apply for an F-1 visa, you must prove that you have full financial support. The law assumes that you will not be employed in the United States and therefore will not take employment that could be filled by a U.S. worker or student. There are some exceptions to this policy. These are given below.

Assistantships. If you are a graduate student you may be employed as a research or teaching assistant. Prior approval from the INS is not required because this type of employment is considered part of a student's educational program.
"Cooperative Education" programs and "Practical Training" that is part of the course of study. Cooperative education programs allow students to work as part of their academic degree program in order to obtain practical experience. The format for a cooperative education program will vary from campus to campus and program to program. However if you participate in any cooperative education program fulltime for a year or more, you will be ineligible for practical training after completion of your degree. Discuss your plans for cooperative education with the Foreign Student Adviser before you begin the program.

Undergraduate students who have maintained status for at least one academic year (generally nine months) may be authorized by the Foreign Student Adviser to participate in practical training required as part of the degree.

Graduate students who have maintained status may do so without a waiting period: teaching and research assistantships are considered to be part-time practical training required as part of the degree. If you receive one year or more of full-time required practical training during your study toward the degree, you are ineligible for practical training after completion of your degree.

Other on-campus positions. It may be possible for you to work on campus if this will not interfere with your studies and if it will not displace a U.S. worker. Non-academic on-campus employment is limited to 20 hours a week while school is in session. Many institutions require clearance from the Foreign Student Adviser before an F-I student may be employed on campus.

Practical training after completion of your degree. After completion of your degree, you may apply to the INS for permission to engage in practical training for 12 months. Although you may receive some assistance from professors or from the Foreign Student Advisor it is your responsibility to find appropriate employment within one month after the completion of your degree. (You may file for INS permission from 90 days before the end of your degree until 30 days after completion. If you have completed a year or more of practical training required as part of your degree you may not apply for post degree practical training.)

To apply for an employment authorization document, file Form I538 along with your Foreign Student Adviser's recommendation recorded on your Form 1-20 ID. Your practical training experience must be directly related to your major area of degree study. 

Employment may begin only after the INS has processed and returned the 1-20 ID copy with the appropriate notation. An INS officer will note any authorization to work and the appropriate expiration date on the I-20 ID copy.

Extending Your Stay: Form I-538

With an F-1 visa, you may remain in the United States for whatever length of time that is required to complete your degree or program, as long as you remain in status. If however you fail to complete your academic program within the usual required period of time or if after completing a degree, you want to remain for an additional period to study in another program or take a period of practical training (not to exceed one year) you must obtain an extension of your permission to stay.

To apply for extension of your allowed period of study - practical training required as part of your curriculum (For example, clinical training for social work) employment with a recognized international organization, part-time employment off campus during full-time study or practical training after the completion of your degree - you must file Form 1-538 through the International Student Services Office.

Remember that your passport must be valid at least six months into the future, and you must allow time for the processing of your application. It is wise to apply for extension of stay 60 days before your authorized course of study is expected to end.

Returning to the United States After a Temporary Visit Outside the Country 

In order to return to the United States after a temporary visit outside the country. F-1 visa holders need Form I-20 A-B (either a complete document or a signed page 4 is acceptable) issued by the authorized official at the institution in which you are enrolled, and the Form I-20 ID copy.

The J-1 (Exchange Visitor) Visa

The M-1 (Vocational School Student) Visa

The F-2, J-2, and M-2 Visa

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