Student Visas (F-1 or M-1)
If you are visiting the USA on a tourist visa and want to take a short course of less than 18 hours a week then you can probably do so on a tourist visa (B2). However if you are planning to take on a full time course then you need to apply for an F-1 or M-1 (vocational studies) student visa. These student visas usually allow multiple entries and are issued by the U.S. consulate or embassy located in the home country of the student.
In most countries, student visa applicants need to be interviewed by U.S. consular officers and many consulates have their own procedures and policies for issuing student visas. Students must consult their home country embassy websites for more details.
Documents required for a student visa application
- Form I-20 A-B Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for academic and language students or Form 1-20 M-N Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for vocational students. The I-20 form is generated by SEVIS the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System which is an online system that maintains a constantly updated database on students and their dependants. Your school is responsible for entering your information into SEVIS for the generation of the I-20 form. Students will also have to pay the I-901 fee if applicable.
- A completed and signed DS-156 Nonimmigrant Visa application form. The current DS-156 form which is in use bears the date of March 2006 and is the electronic “e-form application.” However this form is being slowly replaced by the new DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application which is already in use at certain consulates and embassies. This DS-156 form must also be accompanied by a DS-158 form and in some cases a DS-157 form.
- A valid passport for travel to the United States, your passport should have a validity date of at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the US. If your children are traveling on your passport individual visa applications have to be made for them as well.
- One (1) 2×2 photograph, the specifications of which are listed on the USCIS website
- A MRV receipt which indicates payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee and a separate SEVIS I-901 fee is required. All F visa holders have to pay the MRV fee including dependants while on the principal F-1 holder has to pay the SEVIS fee.
- Students who are authorized for Optional Practical Training must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT.
Student applicants have to provide several additional documents like:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended
- Standard test scores which are required for US college admission like TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT.
- Financial evidence that shows you or your parents has sufficient funds to fund your tuition and living expenses for the duration of course.
- If your family is accompanying you on derivative visas then evidence like marriage and birth certificates have to be supplied to establish proof of your relationship.
When you enter the U.S. with a student visa, you are usually admitted for the entire duration of your intended course of study. This means even if your F-1 visa expires in your passport you can continue to remain the US if you continue to be a full time student in the USA and have a valid I-20. This I-20 form is a document that is issued by colleges, universities and vocational schools that provide supporting information for the issuance of a student visa. The form also includes the SEVIS number which is tracking number for the student and program.
While you are on an F-1 visa you are permitted to work on campus for 20 hours a week without an Employment Authorization document. Additionally students who are on F-1 status can bring their dependants to the US on a F-2 visa but these F-2 dependants are not allowed to work or enroll in study course. After the completion of studies an F-1 visa holder can apply to work off campus in the US for a period of 12 months (which is extendable for a period of an additional 17 months under certain conditions) in a program known as Optional Practical Training program which is approved by the USCIS. The F-1 visa holder can apply for this work authorization via form I-765, 90 days before graduation but no later than 60 days after graduation or 60 days after the expiry of the 1-20 whichever is earlier. Students who have M-1 visa status can also apply for Optional Practical training but this is limited to one month of training for every four months of study but it is limited to a maximum of 6 months.
After the period of Optional Practical Training has ended, the candidate can be sponsored for an H1B visa by a US employer but has to return to his/her home country to apply for the visa.