F-2 Visa for Dependents of International Students Explained

Updated on April 11, 2024

If you’re the spouse or unmarried child under 21 of an international student in the United States on an F-1 visa, you might be eligible for an F-2 visa. The F-2 visa lets you tag along with your F-1 student family member to the U.S. and comes with certain perks and limitations. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the F-2 visa in detail, including eligibility requirements, the application process, and what to expect as an F-2 visa holder.

30 Second Recap:

The F-2 visa allows spouses and unmarried children under 21 of F-1 international students to accompany them to the United States. F-2 visa holders may study part-time but are not permitted to work. To maintain F-2 status, dependents must adhere to the conditions of their visa and depart the U.S. when their F-1 family member’s program or status ends. Extensions and change of status options are available if needed.

What is an F-2 Visa?

An F-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa category designed specifically for dependents (spouse and unmarried children under 21) of F-1 visa holders. The F-1 visa is for international students pursuing academic studies or language training programs at U.S. colleges, universities, and other academic institutions.

Eligibility Requirements for an F-2 Visa

Securing an F-2 visa lets the dependents of F-1 visa holders live in the United States while the primary visa holder focuses on their academic pursuits. Meeting the eligibility criteria is key for a successful application. Here’s a breakdown of the requirements you need to fulfill to qualify for an F-2 visa:

1. Relationship to the F-1 Visa Holder

Eligibility for the F-2 visa is strictly limited to the spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of an F-1 visa holder. This requirement is designed to support the immediate family unit of students studying in the U.S.

2. Maintenance of F-1 Status

The F-1 visa holder must be in good standing with their institution and the U.S. immigration authorities, actively pursuing a full course of study at an SEVP-certified institution. This condition ensures that the primary purpose of the F-1 visa holder’s stay in the U.S. is for academic advancement.

3. Financial Resources

Applicants for the F-2 visa must show that they have enough financial resources to cover their living expenses during their stay in the U.S. This can include funds from the F-1 visa holder, personal savings, scholarships, or other financial support. The requirement underscores the importance of ensuring that F-2 dependents don’t become a public charge.

4. Intention to Depart

Applicants must also show that they plan to leave the United States once the F-1 visa holder’s study program is completed or terminated. This intention can be demonstrated through ties to the home country, such as family, employment prospects, or property ownership. The F-2 visa, like the F-1, doesn’t directly lead to permanent residence or immigration but is instead intended for those who plan to return to their home country eventually.

The F-2 Visa Application Process

The application process for an F-2 visa is designed to facilitate the entry of the dependents of F-1 visa holders into the United States, ensuring they meet all necessary criteria for temporary residence. Each step in the process is crucial for demonstrating eligibility and securing approval. Here’s a detailed look at each stage:

1. Obtain a Dependent I-20 Form

The first step involves getting a dependent I-20 form from the F-1 visa holder’s educational institution. This document is essential as it verifies the dependent’s eligibility for the F-2 visa based on their relationship to an F-1 student who is enrolled in an SEVP-certified school. The school’s Designated School Official (DSO) will issue this form once the F-1 student provides proof of the dependent’s relationship and sufficient financial resources.

2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee

After receiving the dependent I-20, the next step is to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. This fee is required for all individuals applying for a student or exchange visitor visa and must be paid before scheduling a visa interview. The receipt of this payment is necessary for the visa application process.

3. Complete the DS-160 Form

The DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application form is a comprehensive application that collects personal information, details about the planned stay in the U.S., and other relevant data. Completing this form accurately is crucial for the visa application process. After submission, be sure to print the confirmation page, as you’ll need to bring it to your visa interview.

4. Schedule and Attend a Visa Interview

The next step is to schedule a visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. During the interview, a consular officer will review your application, documents, and interview responses to determine your eligibility for the F-2 visa. It’s essential to prepare thoroughly for this interview, including understanding your role as a dependent of an F-1 visa holder and your plans during your stay in the U.S.

5. Provide Required Documents

At the visa interview, you will need to provide various documents, including the dependent I-20 form, proof of your relationship to the F-1 visa holder (such as marriage or birth certificates), evidence of financial support, and proof of intent to depart the U.S. after the F-1 visa holder’s program ends. These documents are critical for demonstrating your eligibility for the F-2 visa.

6. Visa Approval and Travel to the United States

If your visa application is approved, you will receive your F-2 visa, which allows you to travel to the United States. The visa will specify the duration of your stay, typically tied to the F-1 visa holder’s academic program duration.

Need help with your F-1 visa?

Embarking on your academic journey in the U.S. with an F-1 visa can be exciting yet overwhelming due to the rigorous application requirements. If you’re feeling lost among the myriad of eligibility requirements, necessary documents, and the comprehensive application process, Stilt is here to assist. Our team of F-1 visa specialists is dedicated to simplifying the complexity, helping you understand and navigate each step with confidence.

Maintaining F-2 Visa Status

Maintaining your F-2 visa status is crucial for ensuring that you remain legally in the United States as the dependent of an F-1 student. Adhering to the conditions of the F-2 visa not only supports the primary purpose of accompanying your family member during their studies but also protects you from potential issues with U.S. immigration laws. Here are essential practices to follow for maintaining your F-2 visa status:

1. Avoid Unauthorized Employment

One of the fundamental conditions of the F-2 visa status is the prohibition against employment. As an F-2 visa holder, you are not permitted to engage in any form of employment in the U.S. It’s vital to adhere to this restriction to maintain your visa status and avoid jeopardizing your stay in the country.

2. Departure Upon Program or Status Completion

Your presence in the U.S. on an F-2 visa is tied to the F-1 visa holder’s academic program or status. Therefore, it’s required that you depart the U.S. when the F-1 student completes their program of study or if their status changes in a way that no longer supports the F-2 visa (such as a change to a different visa category or departure from the U.S.). Planning for a timely departure ensures compliance with your visa conditions.

3. Maintain a Valid Passport and Adhere to Visa Conditions

Keeping your passport valid at all times during your stay is essential. A valid passport is a prerequisite for maintaining legal status in the U.S. Additionally, adhering to the specific conditions of your F-2 visa, such as refraining from unauthorized work and participating only in recreational study or part-time study at an SEVP-certified institution, is necessary for maintaining your status.

4. Keep SEVIS Record Updated

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a critical tool for tracking and managing information about international students and their dependents. It’s important to report any changes in your personal information (such as address changes) or circumstances (such as the F-1 visa holder’s change of program or school) to the Designated School Official (DSO), who can then update your SEVIS record accordingly.

Benefits of the F-2 Visa

  • Residency in the U.S.: As an F-2 visa holder, you have the legal right to reside in the United States alongside the F-1 visa holder. This allows families to stay together, providing moral and emotional support to the student during their academic endeavors.
  • Part-time Study: F-2 visa holders are permitted to engage in part-time study at an SEVP-approved institution. This can include recreational classes or language training courses that do not constitute a full course of study. It offers an opportunity for F-2 visa holders to enrich their skills and knowledge during their stay in the U.S.
  • Change of Status: If an F-2 visa holder decides to pursue full-time studies, they have the option to apply for a change of status to F-1. This transition enables the dependent to become a student and enjoy the benefits and rights that come with the F-1 visa status, including eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Limitations of the F-2 Visa

  • Employment Restrictions: One of the primary limitations of the F-2 visa is the prohibition on employment. F-2 visa holders are not allowed to engage in any form of employment in the U.S., making financial independence challenging.
  • Restrictions on Full-time Study: While part-time study is permitted, F-2 visa holders are not allowed to enroll in a full course of study unless they obtain a change of status to F-1. This restriction aims to maintain the integrity of the visa’s purpose as primarily for dependents of F-1 visa holders.
  • Dependency on F-1 Visa Status: The validity of the F-2 visa is intrinsically linked to the F-1 visa holder’s status. If the F-1 visa holder loses their status, the dependent F-2 visa holders would also lose their status, affecting their ability to stay in the U.S.

F-2 Visa Extensions and Change of Status

If your F-1 family member extends their program, you may also extend your F-2 status by filing Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) with USCIS. If you wish to change your status to F-1 to pursue full-time studies, you’ll need to file a separate Form I-539 and provide the necessary supporting documents.

Need help with your F-1 visa?

Embarking on your academic journey in the U.S. with an F-1 visa can be exciting yet overwhelming due to the rigorous application requirements. If you’re feeling lost among the myriad of eligibility requirements, necessary documents, and the comprehensive application process, Stilt is here to assist. Our team of F-1 visa specialists is dedicated to simplifying the complexity, helping you understand and navigate each step with confidence.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the F-2 visa, its benefits, limitations, and requirements, is super important for dependents of F-1 visa holders who want to accompany their family members studying in the U.S. By sticking to visa conditions, maintaining legal status, and exploring opportunities for personal development, F-2 visa holders can ensure a rewarding and fulfilling stay in the United States.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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