What are F-1 & F-2 visas?

The F-1 visa allows individuals to come to the United States to study in a full-time academic program. The F-1 visa is one of two visas available for nonimmigrant students to come to the United States for study. The other is the M-1 visa. The F-2 visa is available for certain family members of a F-1 visa holder to accompany the F-1 visa holder in the United States.

How are the F-1 and the F-2 visas different?

  • F-1 visa
    The F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa available for full-time students to come to the United States to study at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or language training program. The program must be academic to qualify for the F-1 visa.
  • F-2 visa
    The F-2 visa is available to the spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 of a F-1 visa holder to accompany the F-1 visa holder in the United States.

How to qualify for the F-1 & F-2 visa

  • F-1 visa

    To qualify for the F-1 visa, an applicant must:

    • Be enrolled in an academic educational program or a language-training program;
    • Be enrolled as a full-time student at an institution approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement;
    • Be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
    • Have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study in the United States;
    • Have a residence abroad that the applicant has no intention of giving up.

    The school an applicant will attend must be authorized by the United States government to accept international students. The academic program or course of study the school provides must also lead to a degree, diploma, or certificate.

  • F-2 visa
    To qualify for the F-2 visa, an applicant must be the spouse or child under the age of 21 to a F-1 visa holder. Thus, a F-2 visa holder’s qualifications to stay in the United States largely depends on the qualifications of their spouse or parent to hold a F-1 visa.

What is the process for obtaining a F-1 & F-2 visa?

  • F-1 visa

    A student seeking an F-1 visa must first apply to and be accepted to a school certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). A F-1 visa applicant can use the United States Department of Homeland Security’s School Search website to identify schools throughout the United States that are certified for F-1 visa students. A student seeking an F-1 visa may also learn about applicable education programs at EducationUSA and about Kindergarten to 12th grade study.
    Filling Out Application Forms

    After a student is accepted into an SEVP-certified school, a school official will send the F-1 visa applicant the Form I-20 to fill out. After receiving the Form I-20, the applicant must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. The I-901 SEVIS fee must be paid before applying for the F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate near the applicant.

    In order to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee, an applicant must be prepared to provide their:

    • Name, address, date of birth and email address;
    • Country of birth and country of citizenship;
    • School Code as listed on the Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”;
    • SEVIS Identification Number as listed on the Form I-20.

    After paying the I-901 SEVIS fee, the F-1 visa applicant must complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application by filling out Form DS-160. While completing the Form DS-160, the F-1 visa applicant must upload a photo that meets certain photograph requirements.

    Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate

    The F-1 visa applicant must attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest to them. At the interview, the applicant needs to establish that they meet the qualifications for the F-1 visa. The F-1 visa applicant must bring certain items with them to the interview as required by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that hosts the interview.

    Most commonly, a F-1 visa applicant must to the interview:

    • passport;
    • Form I-20;
    • school acceptance letter;
    • proof of financial ability;
    • photograph;
    • DS-160 confirmation page;

    Entering the United States

    A F-1 visa holder may enter the United States 30 days prior to the start date of the academic program as listed on the Form I-20. Upon entering, the F-1 visa holder must immediately contact his or her designated school official at the school they will attend. The F-1 visa holder must contact the designated school official again when the F-1 visa holder arrives at his or her school no later than the date listed on the Form I-20.

    A F-1 visa holder must bring certain documents with him or her when attempting to enter the United States and have the documents on his or her person, not in checked baggage:

    • Passport;
    • F-1 visa;
    • Form I-20;
    • Acceptance letter from school;
    • Proof of financial ability.
  • F-2 visa

    In order for a family member to accompany the F-1 visa holder in the United States, the F-1 visa applicant must request a Form I-20 from the school or university the F-1 visa applicant plans to attend.Each F-2 applicant must then complete his or her own DS-160 online application and pay the fee.

    After filling out the DS-160 online application, the F-2 visa applicant(s) must attend a scheduled interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

    At the F-2 applicant’s interview, he or she must bring documents to prove their relationship with the F-1 visa applicant, including:

    • Original passport and photocopies;
    • Form DS-160 confirmation;
    • Passport photo that meets photo requirements;
    • Birth certificates for children applicants;
    • Marriage certificates for spousal applicants;
    • Payment receipt for the visa application;
    • Form I-20;
    • Photocopy of the F-1 student’s I-20 form;
    • Proof of financial ability, including tax records, bank statements, and salary statements.

What can F-1 & F-2 visa holders do while in the United States?

  • F-1 visa

    Employment

    F-1 visa holders may not work off-campus during their first academic year, but may accept certain on-campus employment.

    After the first academic year, F-1 visa holders may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

    • Curricular Practical Training
    • Optional Practical Training (during school and after graduation)
    • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

    Off-campus training employment must be related to the F-1 visa holders area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the designated school official at the student’s school and by the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS)

    F-1 visa holders may be eligible to work off-campus in specific situations, such as severe economic hardship.

    Other Privileges

    As a full-time student in the United States, a F-1 visa holder may:

    • Take a yearly vacation;
    • Change their major or program of study;
    • Transfer anytime during their program or begin a new program after completing one;
    • Work during and after program, with permission from the United States government;
    • Participate in up to four types of work:
  • F-2 visa

    Employment

    F-2 visa holders are not permitted to accept employment in the United States, but may do volunteer work so long as no compensation is involved.

    Part-Time Study

    F-2 visa holders may enroll in part-time study at a SEVP-certified college or university, but may not attend a full-time program.

    Recreational Studies

    F-2 visa holders may study full time in a recreational program that develops a hobby, but not an academic program.

    Children’s Studies

    F-2 visa holders under the age of 18 must comply with United States compulsory education requirements by attending Kindergarten through 12 grade. A F-2 visa holder who wants to enroll in a full time course at a college or university after high school must apply for and obtain approval from the United States government to change his or her nonimmigrant status to F-1, J-1, or M-1 before beginning full time study.

How much does it cost to get an F-1 & F-2 visa?

  • F-1 visa
    The application fee for a F-1 visa is $160. It is $455 to change visa status or to extend stay in the United States.
  • F-2 visa
    The application fee for a F-1 visa is $160. It is $455 to change visa status or to extend stay in the United States.

How long are F-1 & F-2 visas valid?

The F-1 visa holder and F-2 visa holder may remain in the United States for the duration of the F-1 visa holder’s program of study. Thus, the F-2 visa is valid for as long as the F-1 visa is valid.

After the program of study concludes, the F-1 visa holder and F-2 visa holder can stay in the United State for up to 60 days after the conclusion of the F-1 visa holder’s program or optional practical training.