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F1 Visa – Requirements, Interview, and How to Apply
Do you hope to study in the US? Or have you already been accepted to a US school but have no idea what to do next?
The U.S. is home to some of the best engineering, law, computer science, physical therapy, business, and pharmacy schools in the world.
All foreign students who attend an academic program within the US are required to attain a temporary visa to enter the country. This process can be confusing and stressful, especially for international students who have never had to deal with the visa process before.
We know how difficult this can be, so to help you out, we put together this guide to the F1 visa! Here you will find all you need to know to apply for your F1 visa, and successfully enter the United States to start your academic program.
What is the F1 Visa?
F1 visas are non-immigrant visas designated for students who wish to continue their education within the United States. An F1 visa must be attained in order to attend any of the following educational programs that are based in the US:
- University or college
- Community college or junior college
- Public high school
- Private elementary, middle, or high school
- Language training program
- Any other academic institution
The only type of program that does not require an F1 visa is a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, aside from language training programs. These types of programs require an M visa instead.
F1 Visa Requirements (Qualifications)
There are four qualification requirements to be eligible for an F1 visa.
- Financial Support
- Home Country Ties
Here, we will explain each of the requirements in depth to see if you qualify for an F1 visa.
An F1 visa is a non-immigrant visa and therefore, does not grant permanent residency in the US. Since the student would need to return to their home country after their academic program ends, the F1 visa applicant must have official residency in a foreign country.
Prior admission to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) approved school is necessary to qualify for an F1 visa. The admission to the school must be done before you submit your visa application.
Many of the visa application steps require forms submitted by the program, so without prior admission, you will be unable to complete many of the visa application steps.
Keep in mind that the following types of program are automatically ineligible to be a SEVP school:
- Home schools
- Preschools or daycares
- Public elementary or middle schools
- Distance education or online schools
3. Financial Support
Unlike other visa types, the F1 visa requires proof of sufficient financial support of a visa applicant who plans to study in the US. Some documents to show proof includes scholarship notifications, bank statements, or previous year’s tax returns.
This shows the student’s living and school expenses while in the US will be covered as legal employment opportunities in the US are limited to student visa holders.
4. Home Country Ties
One of the most important qualifications for an F1 visa is proving strong ties to the student’s home country. This validates that the student plans to return to their home country after their academic program ends, as an F1 visa only allows temporary residency.
Keep in mind that if your visa interviewer believes you do not plan to return to your home country once your academic program ends, they will likely deny your visa application.
Proving strong ties to your home country is not as difficult as it may seem. You can do this by showing that in your home country, you have family or relatives that you need to take care of, a job offer waiting, property such as a home where you plan to reside after your program, or a family business you want to take over.
If you do not have any of these reasonings, then you can demonstrate how you plan to use your US education in your home country instead.
How to Apply for an F1 Visa
The process of applying for an F1 visa can be daunting, but don’t let that stop you from applying! Here are each of the steps broken down.
Apply to SEVP School
The F1 Visa process begins by applying and gaining admission to a SEVP school. SEVP stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Program, and it gives the program government authorization to enroll foreign students. You can find a full list of SEVP schools through the Department of Homeland Security’s website.
Pay SEVIS Fee, Receive I-20
After gaining acceptance to a SEVP program, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). To continue your processing, you must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, which is currently $200.
After paying the fee, the SEVP school you plan to attend will send you a Form I-20. Once you fill out the form, you are now ready to apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for an F1 visa.
Hold onto your I-120 form for now, as you will turn this into your consulate officer at the start of your visa interview.
F1 Visa Interview
The final step in your F1 visa application is scheduling and attending your visa interview.
There are a few exceptions for students who do not have to interview for their visas. These exceptions are for students who are either younger than 13 or older than 80. If you are required to interview, you need to schedule the interview with the US embassy or consulate in your home country.
In case you are applying during a busy period, you should apply for your visa as early as possible to ensure your visa will be issued before the start of your program. Wait times vary by location, time of year, and country. You can check the current wait time for your location online through the Bureau of Consular Affairs site.
This is especially important because if you don’t receive your F1 visa at least 30 days before the start date of your academic program, you will not be able to enter the US.
Students can receive their visa up to 120 before the start of their academic program, and if the visa is issued more than 120 prior to the start date, then the embassy or consulate will hold onto your application until it is able to issue the visa. Therefore, there is no penalization for starting early!
F1 Visa Interview Documentation
There are a few required items you need to bring to your visa interview; lacking any of these could result in a 221g, which could delay or prevent you from getting into the US! The documentation needed includes:
- A passport valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US
- The Nonimmigrant Visa application (Form DS-160)
- The application fee payment receipt
- A passport photo
- A certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status (Form I-20)
- Other requested documents such as academic transcripts, diplomas, test scores, financial documents, study plans, etc.
F1 Visa Interview Questions
Once getting to this point in your visa application process, you want to be sure that you are prepared for the interview to prevent any mishaps from occurring that may prevent you from attaining your visa.
The point of the interview is for you to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive a visa.
There are no set questions an interviewer may ask, and every interview is different. However, each interviewer is trying to find out only two things regarding your stay in the United States.
- What is your intent?
- Can you afford your stay?
The interviewer needs to verify that you do not plan to stay in the US after your visa ends and that you will have the financial support available to finance your time in the US. Therefore, the questions the interviewer will ask will all pertain to these two topics.
Here are a few sample questions that an interviewer may ask you:
- Why have you chosen to attend this specific academic program?
- What are your plans after you finish the program?
- Who is paying for your education?
- Do you plan to work during the academic program period?
- Why are you completing this program in the US rather than in your home country?
- Do you plan to return home during vacations/breaks?
In answering each question, make sure to be honest and clear. Know that it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t be scared! This interview is just a verification step in your application process, and once it’s done, you will be finished with your visa application!
To brush up on all the interview questions, check our F1 Visa Interview Questions guide.
Working on an F1 Visa
F1 visa holders should enter the US with most of their financial expenses covered; however, we know that this is often not the case, especially as all the costs of being an international student begin to pile up.
Although F1 visa holders are not allowed to take on any off-campus employment opportunities during the first year of their academic program, the USCIS does sometimes grant permission to accept off-campus employment after the first year of study. This permission is only granted in special circumstances — typically financial hardships caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.
Although working off-campus may not be a viable option, students can work on campus without any special permission from the USCIS. To do this, the student must fill out Form I-9 through their international office. When working on campus, the student is limited to working less than 20 hours a week, or 40 hours during extended holidays or academic breaks.
Oftentimes, the financial aid office of the school can help students find employment options that work for them. If you are looking to work while on a student visa, check with a financial aid counselor at your school to see how they can help.
It is important to follow student employment rules while on a visa because breaking any rules can lead to deportation.
Check out our guides to learn more about the OPT, Day One CPT, and other F1 work opportunities available.
How to Keep Your F1 Visa
Being an F1 visa holder is a big responsibility. There are a few things that you need to do while on your F1 visa to ensure you will have a smooth stay in the US.
- Keep a valid passport
- Maintain full-time enrollment
- Extend or apply for a new I-20 as needed
- If necessary, obtain permission to work (on or off campus)
After your academic program ends, you will have 60 days to depart the U.S. before your visa expires.
If you ever have any questions regarding your visa status while in the US, make sure to contact your consulate officer to make sure all of your visa requirements are taken care of.
Finance for People on an F1 Visa — Loan Options
One of the most important qualifications for applying for an F1 visa is having enough financial support to cover your expenses while in the US. However, for many students, this is a struggle, as international students often pay higher tuition rates and have limited work options while in the US.
There are a few options you can use to finance your time in the US.
Credit cards allow you to borrow from a bank to spend more than what you currently have, as long as you pay those purchases off later. If you pay back the purchases within a grace period of about 25-30 days, then you will not have to pay any interest. However, if you don’t meet the grace period, then there is an interest you must pay on top of the original payment.
Loans are like credit cards, as they allow you to spend money you may not have at the moment; however, loans are fixed lump-sum amounts, whereas credit cards are revolving accounts. Therefore, when receiving a loan, you typically receive the money all at once.
A personal loan can be a great option for students who need a quick influx of money to cover their next month’s rent or books for the semester. Some of the different reasons an F1 student might seek a loan are:
There are dozens of loan options out there, but unfortunately, many end up not working for international students. Most loan options require a cosigner and a credit card history, which many international students don’t have.
Luckily, there are a few lenders that do cater to international students. One such lender is Stilt, a lender dedicated to helping students and immigrants build a better financial future.
Unlike most other lenders, Stilt does not require existing credit history, a cosigner, or a social security number. Instead, they take a holistic approach to determining your interest rate by looking at your education, work experience, income, and financial behavior to give you the lowest rates.
This is great news for international students, because despite not requiring a cosigner or credit history, Stilt is still able to offer the lowest interest rates to match, or often even exceed other online lenders.
To learn all about the loan options available for F1 students, check out our guides to student loans for international students without cosigners and international student loans.
Why Building Credit is Essential for F1 Visa Holders
The importance of building credit is something many international students gloss over during their time in the US. Especially for those who wish to stay in the US after finishing their academic program, a history of good credit can pay off immensely when trying to finance a large purchase such as a car or a house.
You can start building credit during your stay in the US by applying for a credit card or taking out a personal loan. If you develop the habit of being a responsible borrower, you’ll build a great credit score over time. Check out some of our tips on how to build your credit history without an SSN as an immigrant.
Can you go from an F1 to a Green Card?
Once your academic program is finished, your F1 visa expires and you will need to return to your home country or another foreign country. If you would like to permanently reside in the US, you can apply for a green card through a few different options.
- You could seek out an employment-based green card by getting a job with a US-based employer
- You can enter the green card lottery
- You can be sponsored by a relative who permanently resides in the US
The green card application process can take a very long time, and you should start as early as possible on your application.
Working with the immigration counselor at your academic program can help you figure out which option would be the best for you.
Learn more about transitioning from an F1 visa to a green card here. International students can also transition to an H1B visa, if they don’t want to become U.S. residents permanently.
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Although it can be difficult and stressful, becoming an F1 visa holder is a necessary step to starting your academic program in the US. We hope this article has helped navigate the seemingly complicated visa process will assist you in successfully completing your F1 visa application to enter the US.
Stilt is dedicated to helping immigrants, which we hope to continue to do through supporting immigrants who wish to build a better financial future.
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