Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about F-1 Visa/Status

Q: What is USCIS?

A: USCIS stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is the agency of the U.S. government principally responsible in matters dealing with aliens in the United States. This includes giving it jurisdiction over many aspects of F-1 status. Prior to March of 2003, the USCIS was called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). For a brief period of time, it was known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). It is also sometimes just referred to as the CIS. For purposes of this web site, we use the current accepted name of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS.

Q: What is SEVIS?

A: SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitors Information System. SEVIS governs the retention and reporting of information regarding F, J, and M nonimmigrants.

Q: What is a DSO?

A: DSO stands for Designated School Official. A DSO is responsible for reporting and updating information to the USCIS about the F-1 student’s situation. The DSO also makes important determinations regarding the F-1 student, such as whether the student should have a reduced course load or should take part in practical training.

Q: What is an F-1 visa?

A: An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by a United States Consulate to an alien student who is pursuing a full-time course of study in a U.S. academic institution.

Q: What is an F-1 status?

A: An F-1 status is a non-immigrant status issued by the USCIS to the alien student who is pursuing a full-time course of academic study (including language training) in the US

Q: Who is eligible to apply for an F-1 visa?

A: An alien may be eligible to apply for an F-1 visa at a consulate abroad if he or she meets the following conditions:

  1. The alien must have a residence in a foreign country, which he/she has no intention of abandoning;
  2. The alien must be a bona fide (genuine) student qualified to pursue a full course of study in an approved academic institution, including but not limited to: colleges, universities, seminaries, music schools, academic high schools, private elementary schools and language schools; and
  3. The alien must seek to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study.

Q: What does "full course of study" really mean for an F-1 student?

A: At different program levels, the definition of "full course of study" may vary accordingly:

  1. At the postgraduate or postdoctoral study level (such as master's, doctoral, or post-doctoral programs), the Designated School Official (DSO) of each academic institution has authority to certify which is a full course of study;
  2. At an undergraduate study level, "full course of study" usually consists of at least twelve semester or quarter hours per academic semester;
  3. At a postsecondary level conferring associate or other degrees in language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational program, "full course of study" also consists of at least twelve clock hours of instruction a week;
  4. For a study in any other language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational training program, "full course of study" consists of at least eighteen clock hours of attendance per week if classroom instruction dominates the course, or consists of at least twenty-two clock hours a week if the dominant part of the course of study consists of laboratory work;
  5. For a study in a primary school or academic high school, "full course of study" consists of class attendance for not less than the minimum number of hours a week prescribed by the school for normal progress towards graduation. [8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(6)]

Q: I would like to attend a U.S. high school. May I get an F-1 visa?

A: The law does not allow an alien student (F-1) to attend public elementary school. A student may attend public secondary school, but not for more than 12 months and the student must reimburse the school board for the full cost of the education. Hence U.S. public high schools are prohibited from issuing a SEVIS Form I-20 to alien students. However, you may attend a private high school if this school is an approved academic institution and can issue a SEVIS I-20 to you. [INA 214(m)(1)]

Q: I am going to attend a vocational school in the U.S. to study cooking. May I apply for an F-1 visa?

A: No, you may not apply for an F-1 visa. Instead, you must apply for an M-1 visa.

Q: I wish to attend a summer program held by a university in the U.S. May I apply for an F-1 visa?

A: If this university is an approved academic institution and can issue a SEVIS Form I-20, you may apply for an F-1 visa with the US consulate that has jurisdiction over your residence.

Q: How do I apply for an F-1 Visa?

A: For those interested in applying for an F-1 visa, the following requirements must first be taken:

  1. Be admitted by a school that is approved for issuing a SEVIS Form I-20;
  2. Obtain a SEVIS Form I-20 from the school in which you will enroll;
  3. Submit a SEVIS Form I-20, along with the nonimmigrant visa application to a US Consulate; and
  4. Moreover, you must be able to demonstrate to the consular official that you have sufficient means of financial support to cover your expenses throughout your academic program and show nonimmigrant intent.
  5. Proof of English proficiency may also be required.

Q: What documents do I need to prepare for the F-1 visa application?

A: The following documents are required for the F-1 visa application:

  1. An application Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. A separate form is needed for children, even if they are included in a parent's passport. Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices and on the Visa Services website under Visa Application Forms;
  2. A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;
  3. One photograph following these requirements;
  4. A SEVIS Form I-20;
  5. Evidence of sufficient funds;
  6. A nonrefundable US$100 application fee; and
  7. Documentation showing financial resources.

Q: How may I get a SEVIS Form I-20 from the United States university that I am interested in studying?

A: You first must be admitted by that university. You also have to prove that you at least have sufficient financial resources to cover the first academic year’s tuition, living expenses, and other miscellaneous expenses, such as books and transportation. Usually the brochure of the university will tell you the minimum expenses. If you satisfy these two criteria, you may get the SEVIS Form I-20 from the DSO of this university.

Q: I am an F-1 student. May I be enrolled in part-time study?

A: No. You must be enrolled in a full course load in normal academic semesters, except due to special circumstances, such as academic difficulties, illness, and/or medical conditions. It should also be noted that during the summer semesters, you are allowed to be enrolled in a part-time study or not enrolled at all.

Q: I would like to attend an English training program in a U.S. school to improve my English prior to enrolling in a college. May I apply for an F-1 visa at the U.S. consulate?

A: Yes, you may, if the school hosting the English training program is an approved school and can issue a SEVIS Form I-20 to you.

Q: How long can an alien student study in the U.S. under F-1 status?

A: In contrast to most other non-immigrants who receive a specific period of time to remain in the U.S., an alien student who obtains F-1 status is allowed to remain in the U.S. for the duration of status. Duration of status signifies that the alien is considered to be in valid status while enrolled in his/her academic program, plus any periods of authorized practical training and the 60 days grace period, which is afforded to an F-1 holder to provide an opportunity to depart from the U.S. However, for high school studies at a public school, an alien student may only study for one year as an F-1 student.

Q: I am an F-1student from Bangladesh. I just finished my bachelor's degree in one university and have been admitted to a graduate program in another university. My current visa is still valid until July 2013. Can I travel to Bangladesh in December and come back with the same visa?

A: According to SEVIS rules, you need a new SEVIS Form I-20 if there have been any substantive changes in your course of study or place of study. If you change your degree and school, you need to get a new SEVIS I-20. Also, your previous visa is based on the previous school and degree. You may also need to apply for a new F-1 visa from a US consulate or embassy in Bangladesh when you travel back to the US.

Q: I am in F-1 status. May I travel outside the US?

A: Yes, you may travel outside the US when you are in F-1 status. However, in order to return to the US, you should provide the following documents:

  1. A valid passport;
  2. A valid F-1 entry visa stamped in the passport;
  3. A current SEVIS Form I-20 signed by your appropriate school official;
  4. A new SEVIS Form I-20 if there have been any substantive changes in your course of study or place of study; and
  5. Proof of your financial support.

Q: I just moved to another place. Must I inform USCIS of my new address?

A: Yes. You must notify the USCIS by providing a notice of a change of address (Form AR-11) within 10 days to the Designated School Official (DSO).

Q: I have two addresses, one is a mailing address and the other is the actual physical address where I live. Which one I must provide to DSO?

A: You must provide both addresses to the DSO.

Q: I am in F-1 status. Am I allowed to work on campus?

A: Yes, you are allowed to work on campus, but the on-campus employment cannot displace US residents. Also, you are limited to 20 hours of work per a week.

Q: Will employment by every business physically located on campus be regarded as on-campus employment?

A: On-campus employment must either be performed on the school's premises, or at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school. Not every business physically located on campus will be qualified. Working for on-campus commercial firms providing services for students on campus can be regarded as on-campus employment. Such examples are the school bookstore or cafeteria.

Q: I am a new F-1 student. Can I work on campus prior to the start of the school year?

A: On-campus employment pursuant to the terms of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship is deemed to be part of the academic program of a student otherwise taking a full course of study. Thus a student may work as a Resident Assistant or Teacher’s Assistant well before the start of the school year, as long as the DSO certifies the date on which this on-campus employment begins as the start date noted on the SEVIS I-20 Form. By contrast, other kinds of non-academic on-campus employment, such as working for a bookstore, will be treated in a different way. In this scenario, a new F-1 student may not begin on-campus employment more than 30 days prior to the actual start of classes.

Q: I am an F-1 student and intend to continue my studies. How do I get an employment authorization to work in the US during the summer vacation time?

A: In order to work during the summer vacation period, you must apply for curricular practical training (CPT).

Q: What is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

A: Curricular practical training is an alternative to work/study, internship, cooperative education, and any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. A CPT allows an F-1 student to work for an employer on a full time or part time basis. A CPT does not need an approval from the USCIS and the school that the F-1 student attends may approve a CPT.

Q: Who is eligible for practical training?

A: An F-1 student who has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at an approved college, university, conservatory, or seminary for at least one academic year is eligible to apply to participate in a practical training program.

Q: I have completed a one-year full time CPT. May I apply for OPT after I complete my studies?

A: No. F-1 Students who have received one year or more of full time curricular practical training are ineligible for post-completion academic training.

Q: I am about to finish my degree and would like to work for a while after my graduation. How do I get an employment authorization to work?

A: To work after the completion of the full-time course work, the student must apply for optional practical training (OPT).

Q: What is optional practical training (OPT)?

A: The OPT is an authorization of temporary employment for F-1 students. The evidence of OPT is usually the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Please click here for more information about EAD.

Q: If my OPT expired, do I have a grace period to legally stay in the US?

A: Yes, you have 60 days to legally stay in the US and prepare the necessary items to depart from the U.S. During this time, the student may also apply for a transfer to another institution, a change of status, or an adjustment of status.

Q: When may I apply for optional practical training?

A: You may apply for employment authorization before the end of the first academic year and up to 90 days prior to the completion of studies.

Q: I am in my practical training period now. May my employer lay me off?

A: Yes, if the employment is employment at will. Employment at will is the nature of employment in most cases.

Q: I am in practical training period now. If my employer lays me off, may I use my OPT to seek another job?

A: Yes, you can seek another job. In the OPT period, you may work for any employer in the US. However, your job must be directly related to your major. Moreover, you have to report your changes to the DSO.

Q: I am in F-1 status and I am not using my practical training. May I directly apply for an H-1B status without an OPT?

A: Yes, an OPT is not the prerequisite for an H-1B. If you satisfy the requirements for H-1B, you may receive an H-1B status.

Q: I am in F-1 status and studying in an English language training program. Am I eligible for practical training?

A: No, you are ineligible for practical training.

Q: I am in my practical training period. May I accept employment that is NOT related to my major area of study?

A: No. Your employment should be related to your academic studies.

Q: My OPT was about to expire when my employer submitted an H-1B petition for me. Before the H-1B is approved, my OPT expires. Am I legally staying in the US?

A: Yes, you are legally staying in the US, but you cannot legally work in the US after the OPT expires until your H-1B petition is approved. Please click here for more information about H-1B.

Q: When must I complete my practical training?

A: You must complete all of your practical training within a 14 month period following the completion of your study for the first OPT.  

Q: I am in F-2 status. Am I allowed to work either on-campus or off-campus?

A: No, aliens who come to the U.S. as an F-2 beneficiary are generally not allowed to legally work in the US without prior USCIS authorization.

Q: I am an F-1's spouse (F-2). Am I allowed to study in the U.S.?

A: You may not engage academic studies, full time or part time at a U.S. institution of higher education. However, you may engage in study that is vocational or recreational in nature.

Q: My current status is F-2 (spouse). How can I study a full-time course?

A: To be eligible to become a full-time student, you must first file for and be approved for a change of non-immigrant classification to F-1, J-1, or M-1 status.

Q: I am an F-1's minor child (F-2). Am I allowed to study in the U.S.?

A: The F-2 child may only engage in full time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade).

Q: If I transfer to another school, is my curricular practical training still valid?

A: No, authorization to engage in a curricular practical training employment is automatically terminated when you transfer to another school.

Q: How do I maintain my valid F-1 status?

A: You must be enrolled in an academic program as full time study. Enrollment in an elementary school, academic high school, university or college, conservatory, seminary, or language training program will qualify as enrollment in an academic program. After January 1, 2003, any new F-1 student must report to the school listed on Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility) or SEVIS Form I-20 within 30 days of the registration date. As for current F-1 students, they must report any reportable action through SEVIS (such as transfer, extension of status, practical training, or employment authorization).

Q: I suffer from severe diabetes. May I take off for some time?

A: If the severity of the condition warrants the time off, the DSO may authorize you to refrain from taking any courses for a period not to exceed 12 months in aggregate.

Q: I suffer from a long-term chronic illness, and may not be enrolled for studies for more than one year. What can I do if I wish to stay in the U.S. for medical treatment?

A: You have to change your F-1 status to another appropriate non-immigration status, like B-2.

Q: How long may I stay in the U.S. while I transfer from one school to another?

A: A maximum of five months. According to new SEVIS regulations, a student may not remain in the U.S. between programs unless the student will begin classes within 5 months of transferring out of the current school, or within 5 months of the program completion date as indicated on the Form I-20 issued by the current school, whichever date is earlier.

For example, you intend to transfer to another school (transfer school) from your current school on your completion date on your SEVIS Form I-20. As long as you start your first classes at the transfer school no more than five months later, your stay will be legal. If you transfer out of your current school before the completion date, you will have to start your classes at the transfer school within five months, even though your completion date has not been reached.

Q: What are the steps that need to be taken if an F-1 student wants to transfer from a SEVIS School to another SEVIS school?

A: To transfer from one SEVIS school to another, the student must first notify his or her current school of the intent to transfer and must indicate the school to which he or she intends to transfer. Upon notification by the student, the current school will update the student's record in SEVIS as a "transfer out'' and indicate the school to which the student intends to transfer, and provide a release date. The release date will be the current semester, the session completion date, or the date of expected transfer if earlier than the established academic cycle. The current school will retain control over the student's record in SEVIS until the student completes the current term or reaches the release date. At the request of the student, the DSO of the current school may cancel the transfer request at any time prior to the release date. As of the release date specified by the current DSO, the transfer school will be granted full access to the student's SEVIS record and will then become responsible for that student. The current school conveys authority and responsibility over the student to the transfer school, and will no longer have full SEVIS access to that student's record. As such, a transfer request may not be cancelled by the current DSO after the release date has been reached. After the release date, the transfer DSO must complete the transfer of the student's record in SEVIS and may issue a SEVIS Form I-20. The student is then required to contact the DSO at the transfer school within 15 days of the program start date listed on the Form I-20. Upon notification that the student is enrolled in classes, the DSO of the transfer school must update SEVIS to reflect the student's registration and current address; thereby acknowledging that the student has completed the transfer process. In the remarks section of the student's SEVIS Form I-20, the DSO must note that the transfer has been completed, including the date, and return the form to the student. The transfer is carried out when the transfer school notifies SEVIS that the student has enrolled in classes within 30 days.

Q: If an alien student is out of status, how can he reinstate his status?

A: If a foreign student is in the United States and has been out of F-1 status for no more than 5 months, he/she may apply for reinstatement of F-1 status by submitting the following documents:

  1. Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status;
  2. A properly completed SEVIS Form I-20 indicating the DSO's recommendation for reinstatement
  3. Form I-94 (for the student and each family member);
  4. Supporting statement; and
  5. Filing fee.

Q: Would the USCIS grant the request for reinstatement?

A: The immigration officers may consider granting the request if the student:

  1. Is in the United States;
  2. Has not been out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement (or demonstrates that the failure to file within the 5 month period was the result of exceptional circumstances and that the student filed the request for reinstatement as promptly as possible under these exceptional circumstances);
  3. Does not have a record of repeated or willful violations of the immigration regulations;
  4. Is currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the Form I-20;
  5. Has not engaged in unauthorized employment;
  6. Is not deportable on any ground other than being out of status; and
  7. Establishes to the satisfaction of the USCIS, by a detailed showing, either that:
    1. The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control. Such circumstances might include serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, a natural disaster, or inadvertence, oversight, or neglect on the part of the DSO, but do not include of the student resulted in the need for reinstatement; or
    2. The violation relates to a reduction in the student's course load that would have been within a DSO's power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student. [8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(16)]

Q: Do I need to apply for an extension of status if I need more time to complete my program for some reason?

A: "Duration of status" is determined by the completion date noted on your SEVIS Form I-20. If the completion date will be reached while you still need to take extra semesters to complete your program, you need to apply for an extension to avoid being out of status.

Q: When and how shall I file for an extension if I fail to finish my academic program by the completion date noted on my I-20 Form?

A: You may submit an application for extension to the DSO up to 30 days prior to the completion date. It is important to file the application in a timely manner; otherwise the DSO may not grant the extension if you file application after the completion date.

Q: What are the acceptable reasons for application for extend my F-1?

A: There are various circumstances which will be taken into account if there is a delay in the student’s submission of an extension of status application. These compelling academic or medical reasons include: a change of major/research topic, unexpected research problems, or documented illnesses. However delays caused by a student being placed on academic probation or being suspended from the institution are not acceptable reasons for program extensions..

Q: If I graduate from my current school as an F-1 student, do I have a grace period to legally to stay in the US?

A: Yes, you still have a grace period of 60 days to legally stay in the US.

Q: I was authorized by our school foreign student advisor to withdraw from classes. Do I have a grace period to stay in the U.S.?

A: Yes, you will be allowed a 15-day period for departure from the United States.

Q: I intend to quit school without authorization from the DSO and plan to go back to my home country. Do I have a grace period?

A: If the DSO did not authorize your withdrawal, you will be considered out of status without the protection of a grace period and must leave the country on the day of withdrawal.

Q: I am now in the middle of the 60-day grace period and I get a job offer from an American employer. Can I apply for OPT?

A: Yes, you may apply for Optional Practical Training during the 60-day grace period after the completion of your studies. However, it is important that the application for OPT be submitted before the end of the grace period.

Q: I am in B-1 status. May I get an F-1 status?

A: Yes, you may apply to change your B-1 status to F-1 status if you receive a SEVIS I-20 form from a school in the United States. However, you need to reveal your intent to study in the United States to the Consular Officer and Immigration Officer when you obtain your B-1 visa and make your entry to the US. Moreover, you cannot enroll in a course of study or take other actions inconsistent with B-1 status unless and until the USCIS has approved your request of change to an F-1 status.

Q: Can I change from H-1 status to F-1 status?

A: Yes, after you get a SEVIS Form I-20 from a school, you may apply for change your status from H-1 to F-1.

Q: My B-1 status expired. May I change to F-1 status now?

A: No, you cannot change to F-1 status. You became out of status when your B-1 status expired.

Q: I am in B-2 status. May I change my status from B-2 to F-1?

A: If you get a SEVIS Form I-20 from a school, you may apply to change your status from B-2 status to F-1 status. However, the USCIS will not grant the change of status if they believe you came to U.S. with the intention to study at the time you applied for the B-2 visa. If you are admitted as, or change your status to a B-1 nonimmigrant or extended your B-1 status,  you cannot enroll in a course of study or take other actions inconsistent with B-1 status unless and until the USCIS has approved your request of change to an F-1 status.

Q: I am in J-1 status. May I change my status from J-1 to F-1?

A: If you are subject to the two-year home country residence restriction, you may not change status to F-1 in the US. However, you may apply for an F-1 visa through a third country visa. Please click here for more information about third country visa. If you are NOT subject to the two-year home country residence restriction, you may change status to F-1. Please click here for more information about J-1.

Q: In addition to my application, what documents are necessary to change to F-1 status from another nonimmigrant status in the U.S.?

A: You can change to F-1 status by submitting the following documents:

  1. A SEVIS Form I-20 (School copy and student copy);
  2. A copy of your Passport;
  3. A copy of all your I-94s;
  4. Evidence of financial support (Affidavit of support, bank letter, scholarship offer, teaching or research assistantship, etc.);
  5. Filing fee; and
  6. Showing that your studies and your stay in the US is not permanent, like Real Estate Certificate in your home country and your Household Registration.
  7. Sometimes, Proof of English proficiency may be required.

Q: Where can I pick up USCIS forms?

A: You can download all of the USCIS forms from our website for free. To download the forms, please click here. Alternatively, you should be able to get immigration-related forms from your designated school official (DSO).

(Updated 10/12/2012 by AD)

For more information about F-1 visas, please click on one of the following links: