Skip to main content.
  1. News & Info

January 18 2013

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding F-1 Student Visas

By: Nathaniel R. Wolf

1.  What is an F-1 visa and who qualifies?

An F-1 visa allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. as full-time students enrolled in a program leading to a degree or certificate.  An F-1 student applicant must:

  1. be coming to the U.S. as a full-time student in a program which leads to the attainment of a specific vocational or educational objective;
  2. have already been accepted by a school approved by the government;
  3. have sufficient knowledge of English; and
  4. demonstrate the financial support needed to complete the studies without having to earn an income.

2.  Can I apply for an F-1 visa before I am accepted to the school?

No.  The school must issue what is called an I-20, which confirms admission to the program.  The foreign national then submits the I-20 with the F-1 visa application.  If you would like to enter the U.S. to visit schools in order to determine which school or course of study to select, the foreign national should apply for a B-2 tourist visa and inform the consulate that they are entering the U.S. as a prospective student.  Admission in B-2 status as a prospective student allows the visitor to change status to an F-1 in the U.S.

3.  When can I obtain an F-1 visa?

Unlike other visas, there are no statutory limits restricting the number of visas which can be issued in a given year.  Therefore, you may apply at any time of the year.  You are also not prohibited from taking classes while a change of status to an F-1 is pending, although your school may have an internal policy governing this.

4.  Can I work while on an F-1 visa?

Although there are restrictions to your ability to work while attending school as a student, you may do so under certain limited circumstances.  You may legally work part-time on campus during the school year and full-time off campus during the summer breaks by applying for it.  After graduation, you may apply for optional practical training (OPT) to spend up to 12 months in employment after you complete your studies.  An additional 17-month extension may be available for those who obtain a degree in the science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).

5.  May I transfer to another school while I am on an F-1 student visa?

Yes, you may transfer to another school or switch programs through a simple procedure where USCIS is notified of the change.  Please be sure to keep your designated school official ("DSO") international counselor informed of any decisions with respect to your transfer or change of programs.

6.  Do I need an attorney to apply for an F-1 visa application?

An attorney may be of assistance in preparing a change of status application in the U.S., but otherwise the school should be able to assist those who are overseas in seeking admission as an F-1 student.

If you have questions or would like to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer, please feel free to contact me at 616-632-8000.