The International Student’s Guide to the U.S. F1 Visa

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Vocational schools in the U.S. prepare students for trade jobs in a variety of industries, including agriculture, business, marketing, healthcare, construction, auto repair, manufacturing, communications, and technology. Completing a vocational training program in the U.S. can help you develop valuable skills that you can apply in your home country.

To legally participate in a vocational training program in the U.S., you’ll need an F1 Visa. Learn more about what this student visa is, how it works, and what you need to do to get one.

F1 Visa

What is an F1 Visa?

An F1 Visa is one of the three types of student visas issued by the U.S. State Department. You’ll need to obtain an F1 Visa, specifically, to request entry to the U.S. for the purposes of completing a vocational training program as well as to legally participate in such a program.

To maintain your F1 status, you need continued full-time enrollment in your approved vocational training program. The school may have additional attendance or academic requirements for you to remain in the program.

After the program, most F1 Visa holders then return to their home countries to put the knowledge and skills they learned to use.

What are the benefits of an F1 Visa?

The main benefit of an F1 Visa is that it allows you to legally enter the U.S. to receive vocational training. The education and training that you receive through a vocational program may help you gain employment in a field that offers good pay and benefits.

Is F1 a non-immigrant visa?

Yes, an F1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa. It is intended solely for those who wish to temporarily stay in the U.S. to attend a vocational training program.

Does an F1 Visa require sponsorship?

No, the F1 Visa doesn’t require sponsorship. Instead, you’ll need to obtain admission to an approved vocational training program.

Is an F1 Visa student a resident alien?

Normally, an F1 Visa student is considered a non-resident alien for tax purposes during their first five years in the U.S.

If you remain in the U.S. for longer than five years on a valid F1 Visa, you may be considered a resident alien under the guidelines established in IRS Publication 519.

Do you need an F1 Visa to study in the U.S.?

If you wish to attend a vocational training program in the U.S., you will likely need an F1 Visa. Different visas, like J1 and M1, are required for other types of academic programs.

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda can usually study in the U.S. without a visa, as long as they have a passport from their country that allows them to legally enter the U.S.

What is the difference between an F1 and a J1 Visa?

A J1 Visa is for students who participate in approved educational exchange programs in the U.S. Some of these programs may provide vocational training. To obtain a J1 Visa, you must apply for and gain acceptance to an exchange program.

An F1 Visa is for studying at a vocational school approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. To obtain one, you apply to the school rather than to an exchange program.

You may be able to change your J1 Visa status to an F1 status if you are admitted to an approved vocational training program as a potential full-time student. If the terms of your J1 Visa require you to return home for two years before re-entering the U.S. with another visa, you will need to apply for a J1 waiver (by completing Form DS-3035) to defer this requirement.

What is the difference between an F1 and an M1 Visa?

An F1 Visa is granted for attendance at an approved vocational training program, while an M1 Visa is for those studying at an approved college, university, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or an approved English language learning school.

Who is eligible for an F1 Visa?

To be eligible for an F1 Visa, you’ll need admission to an approved program, demonstrated fluency in English, proof of ties to your home country, and evidence that you can cover your living expenses and educational fees. Learn more about each requirement for the F1 visa below.

Admission to an approved vocational training program

Before you apply for an F1 Visa, you need acceptance from an approved vocational training program. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides a search tool to help you find programs you can apply to.

Each school creates its own admission guidelines. The school may look at your grades, test scores, work experience, and other factors when determining whether to accept your application.

Fluency in English

Generally, you’ll need to be proficient enough in English to understand coursework and conduct daily activities. You may need to show proof of proficiency by submitting your Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores.

To develop your English-speaking skills, you can use language learning mobile apps or take online or in-person classes.

Ties to your home country

The U.S. State Department is unlikely to approve your F1 Visa application if they suspect you will try to stay in the U.S. after you are done with your studies. As you prepare for your visa application, gather evidence to show you wish to return home, such as a list of relatives in your home country, an apartment lease, an automobile title, or a deed to a home.

Financial self-sufficiency

You’ll also need to show that you can pay for the cost of your vocational training and support yourself financially while you’re in the U.S.

Submitting statements from bank accounts or investment accounts is one way to establish evidence of your resources.

You can also consider creating a monthly budget to show immigration officials that you have planned for how you’ll afford the costs of living in the U.S.

Is it hard to get an F1 Visa?

For those with proficiency in English, the application process is relatively straightforward, but the wait time for interviews and processing can be lengthy and hard to keep track of.

Are there exceptions to F1 Visa full-time study requirements?

You typically must remain a full-time student while in the U.S. on an F1 Visa. However, exceptions may be made if:

  • You need to take a reduced course load during your last semester
  • You must reduce your course load due to a medical condition
  • You need to take fewer classes due to academic difficulties

The vocational program that you’re attending must approve your request for an exception.

Do I need an I-20?

To get an F1 Visa, you may need to submit Form I-20. Once you’re accepted to an SEVP-approved academic program, the school will issue Form I-20 and send it to you.

You may receive an updated I-20 from your academic program due to:

  • Updates to your biographical data, such as a name or address change
  • Changes in program dates
  • Changing to a different course of study
  • Receiving authorization to work from the program

How to apply for an F1 Visa

There are several steps in the application process for an F1 Visa. They include:

  • Applying to an approved vocational training program and waiting to receive a notice of acceptance
  • Gathering the documents needed for the Visa application
  • Filling out the online visa application: Form DS-160
  • Submitting a photograph that meets State Department guidelines
  • Completing an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate
  • Paying a non-refundable student visa application fee

What documents are required for an F1 Visa application?

The documents you’ll need to gather for the requirements of an F1 Visa application include:

    • A passport that allows you to travel to the U.S. Your passport must be valid, and its expiration date must be at least 6 months after the end date of your vocational program
    • Form I-20 issued by the approved vocational school that has accepted you
    • Academic documents like transcripts, diplomas, and certificates
  • Standardized test score reports
  • Evidence of ties to your home your country like a lease agreement, utility bills in your name, an automobile title or a deed to property
  • Evidence of assets like bank or investment account statements

F1 Visa

How much does an F1 Visa cost?

To apply for an F1 Visa, you’ll need to pay a non-refundable application fee. As of July 2022, the cost of the application fee is $160.

Depending on your nationality, you may also need to pay an issue fee. The U.S. Department of State has a table for determining the issue fee you’ll be responsible for paying.

How much is the SEVIS fee for an F1 Visa?

Anyone who participates in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program must pay a SEVIS fee to the Department of Homeland Security. For F1 Visa applicants, the cost is $350 as of July 2022.

When should you apply for the F1 Visa?

You should apply for an F1 Visa early enough to allow time for scheduling your interview, completing the interview, and application processing. However, you’ll need to time your application so the approval date is no more than 120 days before the vocational program start date.

How long it takes to get an F1 Visa depends on the wait time for the interview and the application processing time. The U.S. State Department website has a wait-time estimator tool. The U.S. Consulates or Embassy in your area can give you specific advice about when to apply and wait time as well.

Tips for answering F1 Visa interview questions

The F1 Visa interview is an important part of the application process. Here are some things to include in your answers to the F1 Visa interview questions:

  • Explain opportunities that may be available in your county to show why you need the training in the U.S.
  • Demonstrate that you have researched the program and the city or town where you’ll be living
  • Point out how you plan to apply your new skills and education in your home country
  • Make it clear that you have taken the costs of living and studying in the U.S. into consideration and are prepared to pay them
  • Be honest with your answers

How long can you stay in the U.S. on an F1 Visa?

The minimum length of time that an F1 Visa is valid is one year. If your vocational program lasts for longer than a year, the visa will normally last until 60 days after its end date, which when you would need to leave the U.S.

If the program lasts for less than a year, you can remain in the U.S. on an F1 Visa for up to one year.

What happens after an F1 Visa expires?

After an F1 Visa expires, your status changes to “no status.” Any foreign national in the U.S. with no legal immigrant or non-immigrant status may be subject to deportation and banned from ever returning to the United States.

Normally, you can’t renew an F1 Visa. The visa is issued for a set period of time based on how long the vocational training program lasts. If you wish to attend another approved vocational training program, you’ll need to begin the F1 application process again from outside the U.S.

How to extend an F1 Visa in the U.S.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may allow you to extend your stay under an F1 Visa if you:

  • Didn’t violate any of the conditions established for your admission to the U.S.
  • Still have a valid, unexpired F1 Visa
  • Hold a valid passport that won’t expire during your extension
  • Obeyed U.S. laws and weren’t arrested for any crimes that would revoke your eligibility

To extend your stay in the U.S. under an F1 Visa, you will need to apply through USCIS by filling out Form I-539. You can complete the necessary application online.

Keep in mind that you must apply for an extended nonimmigrant status before your F1 Visa expires. Fill the application out at least 45 days before the end of your stay to allow time for processing.

Can F1 students apply for a diversity visa?

Students studying in the U.S. can technically apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery, which grants immigration visas to randomly selected individuals. However, the F1 Visa program is not intended to be a gateway to immigrating to the U.S. You may wish to consult an immigration attorney before applying for the lottery as an F1 Visa student.

Can an F1 Visa be converted to an H1B Visa?

The H1B Visa program is reserved for professionals who hold degrees in specific fields, such as finance or information technology. You usually can’t convert from one visa to the other.

The only time it is possible to convert an F1 Visa to an H1B Visa is if your F1 vocational program is unrelated to your professional qualifications for the H1B Visa.

Can I apply for a green card on an F1 Visa?

If you’re currently on an F1 Visa, you may be eligible to apply for a green card. There are different ways for you to obtain a green card.

1. Get an employer sponsorship.

The first option is to get sponsored by your employer. You can petition for an EB2 or EB3 visa. Different companies have different immigration policies, so be sure to check with your HR department and immigration lawyer for the most accurate details.

2. Win the green card lottery.

Officially called the Diversity Visa Program, USCIS offers this lottery once a year around October and November. You simply need to enter your basic information in the system, and wait for the results around May.

Keep in mind that there are a limited number of green cards available each year from this lottery system. Petitioners from certain countries cannot enter the lottery because their country has sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the last five years, such as Canada, South Korea, Mexico, and Canada. Be sure to check whether your native country is eligible to enter the lottery before submitting your application.

3. Marry a U.S. citizen.

An F1 visa holder can apply for a green card by getting married to someone who’s a U.S. citizen. However, USCIS tends to be very cautious when handling marriage cases. Make sure you collect all the documents you need and be prepared for interviews with USCIS.

4. Receive sponsorship by a relative.

If you happen to have a relative who owns a business in the U.S., they may be able to sponsor your green card. However, they must prove that they’re hiring you for your qualifications and skills, rather than for being related.

Also, your relative must have a standard recruitment process for the role you’d fill and show effort in having tried to find a U.S. citizen for the job.

5. Seek asylum.

If there’s a war or any situation that will put you in a dangerous situation upon returning to your home country, you may be eligible for a green card. USCIS reviews these petitions on a case-by-case basis. Check with an immigration lawyer before submitting your case.

6. Get parent or child sponsorship.

If you are a parent of a U.S. citizen adult child who is older than 21, you may apply for a green card, whether you’re inside or outside the U.S.

F1 Visa

Can you work with an F1 Visa?

After your first year in the U.S. on a valid F1 Visa, you may be able to work on campus or off campus in a job that relates to your vocational training. The program provider will need to approve your employment.

To learn about ways you can earn money while on an F1 Visa, talk to your academic advisor about work opportunities in your field. You may be able to complete a paid internship, apprenticeship, or cooperative work placement while completing your studies.

Can an F1 Visa holder launch an online business in the U.S.?

Unless your startup business somehow relates to your vocational training, you normally can’t launch an online business while in the U.S. as an F1 Visa holder.

Can someone with an F1 Visa drive Uber?

No, someone with an F1 Visa normally can’t drive an Uber or do any other side hustles that are popular among immigrants because F1 Visa students can only work in a job related to their vocational training.

Can I get a SSN with an F1 Visa?

If you receive an authorization to work in the U.S. from your vocational training program, you can apply for a Social Security Number or SSN. You can’t get an SSN as an F1 Visa holder unless you are approved to work in the U.S.

Where can I travel with an F1 Visa?

You’ll need to consult the advisor for your vocational training program for specific rules about traveling. Generally, students with F1 Visas can travel anywhere in the U.S. You may also be able to make short trips to Canada or Mexico.

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