People who are coming to the United States to pursue full-time academic or vocational studies are usually admitted in one of two nonimmigrant categories.
The “F” visa category includes academic students in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, other academic institutions, and in language
training programs. The “M” visa category is reserved for non-immigrants wishing to pursue non-academic or vocational studies.
“F” & “M” Students Requirements:
Foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. may enter in the F-1 or M-1 category provided they meet the following criteria:
The student must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
The school must be approved by the Bureau of Citizenship & Immigration Services (BCIS);
The student must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
The student must have sufficient funds available for his/her education and self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
The student must maintain a residence abroad which s/he has no intention of giving up.
Applying outside of the U.S.:
You first must apply to study at a BCIS-approved school in the United States. When you contact a school that you are interested in attending, you should
be told immediately if the school accepts foreign national students. If you are accepted, the school should give you Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility
for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students). If you require a visa, then you should take the Form I-20 to the nearest U.S.
consulate to obtain a student visa. Only bring the Form I-20 from the school you plan on attending for visa processing at the U.S. consulate. You must also
prove to the consulate that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States.
When you arrive in the United States, you should receive a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) that will include your admission number to the United
States. A BTS inspector will write this admission number on your Form I-20. The BTS inspector will then send pages one and two of this form,
known as I-20, to your school as a record of your legal admission to the United States. You are expected to keep pages three and four, known as the
I-20. This document is your proof that you are allowed to study in the United States as an F-1 student. You should see your designated school official
(DSO) if you need a replacement copy of your I-20. You should also keep safe your Form I-94 (preferably in your passport), because it proves that
you legally entered the United States.
Changing Nonimmigrant Status to Become a Student If you are Already in the United States :
Visitors are no longer allowed to change status to F-1 in the United States unless they specified at the time of entry into the U.S. that they are an prospective
student. At that time, your Form I-94 will be stamped “prospective student”.
If you haven’t done this already, once you have entered the U.S. in the visitor/prospective student category, you may contact a school that you are interested
in attending, you should be told immediately if the school accepts foreign national students.
If you are accepted, the school should give you Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and
Language Students). You must submit this form and a Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) to the BCIS. You must also
prove that you indicated at the time of entry into the U.S. that you were a prospective student, and that you have the financial resources required for
your education and stay in the United States.
Requirements for Applying for Permission to Transfer Schools:
You must be a full time student in good academic standing. You must notify your current school of your intent to transfer. You must ask the school
that you plan on attending to give you a new Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and
Language Students). You must complete your portion of the Form I-20 and give it to your new designated school official (DSO) within 15 days of
transferring. The designated school official (DSO) should give you the last two pages and forward a copy of the first two pages to the BCIS and
your prior school.
Bringing your Spouse and Children with you to the United States:
Your spouse and children may come with you to the United States in F-2 status. They should go with you to the U.S. embassy or consulate when
you apply for your student (F-1) visa. They should be prepared to prove their relationship to you. If your spouse or children are following to
join you at a later date, they should provide the U.S. embassy staff with a copy of your Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant
(F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students) and proof of their relationship to you. They must also prove to the consulate that you
have the financial resources required for your education and for you and your family’s stay in the United States. The F-2 status of your family will
be dependent upon your status as the F-1 academic student. This means that if you change your status, your family must change their status. If you
lose your status, your family will also lose their status.
Length of Authorized Stay in the United States:
You are allowed to stay in the United States for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student in an educational program and making normal progress
toward completing your course of study. If approved, you also will be allowed to stay in the country up to twelve additional months beyond the
completion of your studies to pursue practical training. At the end of your studies or practical training, you will be given sixty days to prepare to
leave the country.
Getting a Work Permit:
You may be allowed to work, part-time, on-campus or off-campus (after the completion of your first year of study) under limited circumstances. Prior
to completion of your first year of study, you may be able to work if you can show an urgent sudden need (extreme hardship). BE CAREFULL
- remember, you submitted evidence that you had the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States. Nonetheless,
emergencies do happen. Please see the rules on student employment in the Code of Federal Regulations. You may also wish to discuss employment
with the designated school official (DSO) at your school. Your accompanying spouse and child may not accept employment under F-2 status.
Travel Outside the United States:
Students may leave the United States and be readmitted after absences of five months or less. Upon your return to the United States, you should
provide the BTS inspectors with:
A valid passport.
A valid F-1 entry visa stamped in the passport (if necessary).
A current Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language
Students) signed by
your appropriate school official (you should have the appropriate school
official sign your Form I-20 each time you wish to temporarily
travel outside the United
A new INS Form I-20 if there have been any substantive changes in your course of study or place of study.
Proof of your financial support (yes, AGAIN).
When making your travel plans, please remember that you must be a full-time student to keep your F-1 student status. You will be considered to be “in status” if you take the annual summer vacation, as long as you are eligible and intend to register for the next school semester/term.
If you wish to attend public high school (grades 9-12) in the United States in student (F-1) status, you must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. Also, attendance at U.S. public high schools cannot exceed a total of 12 months. F-1 students are prohibited from attending public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programs in the United States.