Student Visa Information
International visitors to the United States are admitted as nonimmigrants under the appropriate visa classification depending on what their activities will be. Those who intend to study in the U.S. are generally admitted under the F-1 student visa classification. Under special circumstances, international students may also be admitted on J-1 sponsored student or M-1 vocational or technical student visas.
In each of these visa categories, a spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany the international student to the U.S. Generally, these dependents may not be employed in the U.S., but may attend school either as part-time or full-time students.
F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 student visa classification is for full-time study in the U.S. In order to apply for the F-1 visa, the prospective student must receive a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status — for Academic and Language Students, Form I-20 A-B. This form must be issued by a school or school system which has been authorized by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to sponsor international students. The majority of colleges and universities, and some public school systems and private institutions have this authorization.
Once a prospective student has satisfied the admission requirements for the college or university of their choice, they must also prove that they will have adequate financial resources to cover their school and living expenses in the U.S. Employment opportunities are limited for international students. Proof of sufficient financial support may be submitted on Form I-134 Affidavit of Financial Support by a close family relative or other person who is willing to provide it. In some cases, graduate students may be offered research or teaching assistantships or fellowships, but these may only cover part of the school expenses.
It is very important for international students to do everything they can to maintain their F-1 status throughout their stay in the U.S. This includes maintaining a full course of study, which is at least 12 credit hours per semester for undergraduate students at a college or university. Graduate students must also be enrolled full time, which may vary among different institution, but is generally at least 9 credit hours per semester.
Failure to be enrolled for a full course of study is considered a violation of the F-1 student status and places the student in a deportable situation.
F-1 students are only allowed to work under specific circumstances. On-campus employment is permitted up to 20 hours per week; however, off-campus employment is limited to internship or other work study programs that may be required for a specific degree.
F-1 students who want to seek additional employment in the U.S. after graduation may consider the H-1B status, which is for temporary, professional employment in a "specialty occupation". This visa requires a job offer with a minimum qualification of at least a bachelor's degree, and the student must have the appropriate evidence of at least such a degree.
Under recent changes to federal regulations, F-1 student status is no longer available to attend a public elementary school or a public adult education program. Students with F-1 status are only able to attend a public secondary school for a period of no more than 1 year.
F-1 students are not permitted to transfer from a private school to a public school, and any F-1 students who violate their status under this regulation will be inadmissible to the U.S. for a period of 5 years.
Exchange Visitor (J-1) Students
International students who are sponsored for study in the United States by their government, their foreign university, an international organization, or substantially from funding from any source other than personal or family funds may be admitted as J-1 exchange visitor students. J-1 students must also maintain a full course of study at the university they are authorized to attend. Failure to do so is a violation of status, which may subject the student to deportation from the U.S.
J-1 students have limited employment opportunities in the U.S. The program sponsor must authorize in writing any on-campus employment during the program of study. Upon completion of a degree program, J-1 students may be granted up to 18 months of academic (practical) training to gain work experience in their field of study, with the possibility of an additional 18 months for postdoctoral research.
Dependent spouses and child exchange visitors are admitted under J-2 status and may apply for employment authorization while in the U.S. Duration of the employment authorization is limited to the duration of the exchange visitor's stay. Income earned by the J-2 dependent must be primarily for support of the J-2 and cannot be used to support the principal J-1.
Students who are admitted for vocational or technical training programs are admitted under M-1 student status. Admission procedures are similar to those for F-1 students. Schools that offer vocational or—technical training programs must be authorized by the Immigration Service to sponsor M-1 students, and the school issues the student a Form I-20MN. The prospective student must take the I-20MN documentation of adequate financial support for the program and evidence of non-immigrant intent to apply for the visa at the U.S. consulate or embassy.
A student admitted under M-1 status will be allowed to remain for the time necessary to complete the specified course of study plus 30 days in which to depart from the U.S. or one year, whichever is shorter. To maintain valid M-1 status, students must enroll in at least 12 hours of instruction per week or its equivalent at a post secondary vocational or business school (except for a language training program) where they will receive a recognized associate or other degree. For those M-1 students who choose a vocational or other non-academic curriculum (except for a language training program), full-time enrollment must be at least 18 hours per week or 20 hours a week if the primary activity is shop or laboratory work.
International students must have a valid passport and visa to be admitted with non-immigrant status for the duration of their study in the U.S. Students from Canada are exempt from the passport requirement but must still be admitted properly with the appropriate student visa classification. An international student must report a lost or stolen passport to their foreign embassy or consulate located in the U.S. and obtain a new passport as quickly as possible to maintain proper status while in the U.S.
When admitted to the U.S., non-immigrant students are given a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. This form is frequently stapled into the person's passport and indicates the date and location of the person's entry, the visa classification, and length of authorized stay. For most international students, this will not be a specific date, but will be "D/S" for "duration of status".
The duration of status is determined by the date on the Form I-20 for F-1 and M-1 students, and Form IAP-66 for J-1 students. If Form I-94 is lost, the student should apply for a replacement through the Immigration Service. When the person departs from the U.S., the I-94 will be surrendered at the port of departure, and the person will receive a new one upon their return. If the student is traveling to Mexico or Canada for less than 30 days, the I-94 should not be surrendered, because it will be needed to facilitate their return to the U.S.
Change of Status
A non-immigrant may be eligible to apply for a change of status while in the U.S., but the application must be "non-frivolous". If it appears that the person entered the U.S. with the intent to change to a different status soon after their arrival, the Immigration Service will deny the application. The Immigration Service will deny most change of status applications that are filed within the person's first two months in the U.S. If a person has a legitimate reason to file for a change of status, they should submit Form I-539 to the Regional Service Center of the Immigration Service which has jurisdiction for their place of residence.
If a person successfully changes non-immigrant status within the U.S., the next time they travel outside the U.S. they must apply for a visa in the new classification before they will be permitted to return. As soon as they depart from the U.S., they lose the new status, and there is no guarantee that the U.S. consular official will grant the new visa. Canadian citizens are exempt from this visa requirement. Also, anyone who changes non-immigrant status in the U.S. and travels to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days may re-enter the U.S. without obtaining a new visa. The person must carry their valid passport, the original visa, Form I-94, and proof of the change of status.
The visa of any non-immigrant who overstays their period of authorized stay in the U.S. will be canceled, and the person must apply for a new visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of last permanent residence. If a non-immigrant is in unlawful status for a period of at least 180 days and leaves the US, they will be barred from returning to the US for a period of 3 years; and if the period is at least one year, they will be barred for 10 years.