If you’re trying to study in the USA sometime in the next year, you’re likely wondering about the F-1 student visa rules. While the process is long and complex, we’ve tried to simplify it in an easy-to-understand way. This is by no means comprehensive, but at least, it gives you a good idea of what else you might want to consider.
F-1 Student Visa Rules & Procedures
You must be enrolled in an SEVP (Student Exchange Visitor Program) certified school before applying for a visa.
Apply at least 120 days in advance.
This is the maximum number of days in advance that an embassy or consulate may issue your visa. If you apply earlier, they will hold the application until the issuance window arrives.
Have an I-20 issued by your school approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
The school enters your info into SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and then the consular officer will verify it electronically at the time of your application.
Pay all your fees.
There are various fees associated with the application process, but they all must be paid at the appropriate time to keep your application moving forward.
Qualify under the Immigration and National Act.
The requirements here are very specific, and the consular officer will determine your qualification. At a minimum you must:
- Have a home abroad and intend to keep it
- Intend to leave the US once your course of study has concluded
- Be financially stable enough to fund your education abroad
Complete your interview (if you are between the age of 14 and 79).
Anyone younger or older may have the interview waived, but it is at the discretion of the government. Waiting times can vary, which is another good reason to start your application early.
Provide your fingerprints.
During the interview process, you will be fingerprinted using an ink-free digital scan.
Provide the required documents.
Your documentation requirements can vary, but at a minimum, you must fill out the following:
- Form I-20A-B
- Certificate of eligibility for F-1 status
- SEVIS generated I-20
- Completed application including Form DS-156 and Form DS-158 – OR – a Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa (depending on the embassy or consulate where you are applying)
- A 2×2 photograph meeting the stated requirements
- MRV fee receipt
- SEVIS I-90 fee receipt
- Additional documents as required (transcripts, diplomas, standardized test scores, financial statements, real estate records, birth certificates, etc.)
If you have a spouse and children traveling with you, they will need to fill out a separate set of forms. Ideally, you should submit the forms as a family package; however, you may be able to submit the F-1 visa first, then process your family at a later date.