In the United States, the F visas are a type of non-immigrant student visa that allows foreigners to pursue education (academic studies and/or language training programs) in the United States. F-1 students must maintain a full course of study. F-1 visas are only issued in U.S. embassies and consulates outside the United States. Prospective F-1 students must apply at the schools and receive a form I-20 in order to apply for an F-1 visa. F-1 students must show that they are able to support themselves during their stay in the U.S., as their opportunities for legal employment are quite limited. F-2 visas are given to dependents of an F-1 student. F-2 visa-holders are prohibited from any form of compensated employment. However, minor children may attend public schools.
- 1 Three types of F visa
- 2 Statistics
- 3 Role of the institution for F visas
- 4 Acquiring student status
- 4.1 Issuance of first Form I-20
- 4.2 The student pays the SEVIS fee
- 4.3 For students outside the United States: the student applies for a visa and then enters the United States
- 4.4 For students in the United States in a different status: the student can (under some conditions) apply to change status
- 4.5 For students transferring from one educational institution to another
- 4.6 Reporting arrival
- 5 Maintaining student status
- 6 Dependents
- 7 History
- 7.1 Early origins of the student visa program
- 7.2 Tightening of student visa requirements in the aftermath of terrorist attacks
- 8 Taxation
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Three types of F visa
- F-1 visas are for full-time students.
- F-2 visas are for spouses and children of F-1 visa holders - these are technically called "dependents."
- F-3 visas are for "border commuters" who reside in their country of origin while attending school in the United States. These are granted to nationals of Mexico or Canada only and these visa holders may study part- or full-time. However, unlike F-1 visa holders, they may not work on campus, although they may still be authorized for Curricular Practical Training; Optional Practical Training may only be used after graduation. While the Border Commuter Student Act was signed into law on November 2, 2002, the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for all F and M regulations (8 CFR 214.2), has never published a rule discussing F-3 commuter students. Previously, part-time students from Canada and Mexico were permitted to enter the United States as visitors, but after the September 11 attacks the Department of Homeland Security found such students ineligible for admittance as visitors (since their purpose was educational) and also ineligible for F-1 (academic) or M-1 (non-academic or vocational) visas (because those classifications require students to attend full-time). The Border Commuter Student Act of 2002 was passed in response to these issues.
In Fiscal Year 2012:
Role of the institution for F visas
To pursue studies in F status at a college, university, or vocational school, it is necessary that the institution be a participant in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). An institution can acquire SEVP certification by filing Form I-17 with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (this is a one-time process). Note that an institution can be SEVP-certified despite not holding national or regional accreditation. Conversely, an institution may hold national or regional accreditation but may have chosen not to obtain SEVP certification if it does not intend to admit international students in the F, J, or M status.
A large university typically has an international office that manages its participation in the SEVP, and all the DSOs work for this office. The international office manages updates to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record for students and issuing of new paper Form I-20s. Students who have any change to their plans (such as program end date, course load, leave of absence, return from leave of absence) must communicate these changes with their international office.
The special case of F visas for high school students
It is possible to obtain a F-1 visa to pursue studies at a secondary school (grades 9-12). As is the case with other institutions, the secondary school must be SEVP-certified. The school may be a public (government-funded) school or a private school. In the case of a public school, the student may attend for a maximum period of 12 months and must reimburse the school for the full per-capita cost of attendance. Neither of these requirements apply for students attending private schools.
Acquiring student status
Issuance of first Form I-20
Apart from biographical information about the student (including the student's name, date of birth, citizenship, etc.), there are two main pieces of information that must be entered in the student's SEVIS record and the initial Form I-20.
- Program details: The program name, start date, and end date.
- How the student intends to meet tuition and living expenses for the first year the student is in the program, or until the end date indicated on the I-20, whichever is shorter.
Each international office may follow its own rules or guidelines regarding the type of documentation it requests from the student or from other departments in order to be able to issue the I-20. The jargon used for this documentation will also vary by institution. For instance, the University of Chicago and University of Michigan uses the term "Financial Resources Statement" for the statement that students need to submit to it regarding how they will meet their expenses, while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign uses the term "Declaration & Certification of Finances for I-20/DS-2019 Application".
After receiving information from the student and institution regarding the program length and end date, the international office creates the student's SEVIS record, gets a SEVIS number for the student, and issues a Form I-20. A physical copy of the form may be mailed to the student overseas. In the case that the student has a SEVIS record from previous student status, the existing SEVIS record should be transferred.
The international office may refuse to issue a Form I-20 if the student is unable to demonstrate how he or she plans to cover expenses for the first year.
The student pays the SEVIS fee
In order to transition to student status, the prospective student must pay a one-time SEVIS fee using Form I-901. Note that this fee applies both to people who are not currently in the United States (and need a visa) and to those who plan to change status using Form I-539.
For students outside the United States: the student applies for a visa and then enters the United States
If the student is outside the United States, then he/she must apply for a student visa (F or M). The visa interview must be scheduled for no fewer than 120 days prior to the start date indicated on the Form I-20.
At the time of initial entry, the officer at the port of entry checks that the program start date is at most 30 days ahead, and that the I-20 has a valid travel signature. It is also necessary that, at the time of initial entry, the school the student intends to intend matches the school on the student's visa and the student's I-20, though this is not a requirement in the future. The officer at the port of entry also issues a Form I-94 with expiration date indicated as "D/S" (Duration of Status), which means that the student is in authorized status in the United States until the program end date indicated on the I-20 (and can stay in the United States for up to 60 days after that).
For students in the United States in a different status: the student can (under some conditions) apply to change status
If the student is already in the United States in another status, it may be possible to change status using Form I-539. However, there are many limitations. For instance, the process generally takes 3–6 months, which can be considerably longer than traveling outside the United States and getting a new visa.
For those who entered the United States using a B visa, having an annotation on the visa saying that the entrant is a "Prospective Student" is generally a prerequisite for the Form I-539 application to be accepted.
In general, the USCIS does not approve transition to student status with a start date more than 30 days prior to the program start date. Therefore, applications where the applicant's current status expires more than 30 days before the start date of their program are likely to be rejected.
For students transferring from one educational institution to another
Transfer students do not need to file Form I-539 or pay the SEVIS fee again. They can also re-enter on a student visa for a previous institution as long as the visa is still valid.
In order to maintain legal student status, the student is required to report to the international office at his/her institution about his/her successful arrival, along with all the relevant documentation (Form I-20, passport, visa, Form I-94). The international office in turn updates the student's SEVIS record indicating that the student has reported for studies.
Maintaining student status
"D/S" annotation on Form I-94
The Form I-94 that is issued to F-1 students upon arrival is generally annotated "D/S" indicating duration of status, which means that the student can stay in the United States as long as he/she is in valid student status. In addition, there is a grace period of 60 days after the completion of studies to depart the United States.
The exception to "D/S" is in cases where the student's documentation is not considered complete or satisfactory by the officer at the port of entry. In this case, the expiration date on the Form I-94 is listed as thirty days from the present date, and the student is issued Form I-515A, indicating what information was missing from the student's documentation. The student must contact his or her international office for help with obtaining the correct documentation.
Conditions for being in valid student status
Under ordinary conditions (i.e., unless any exceptions apply) a student must, in order to maintain valid student status:
- maintain a "full course load" (unless the institution approves the student for a Reduced Course Load)
- not be engaged in any off-campus employment
- have an accurate SEVIS record, and in particular, shoud not be past the program end date indicated on the Form I-20.
Full course load requirement
The SEVP regulations stipulate one requirement for staying in status as being that the student must maintain a Full Course Load, defined as 12 or more credit hours for credit-bearing schools and 18 or more contact hours for intensive English program enrollment. However, the precise translation of the requirement in terms of the structure of courses at a particular institution may vary by institution.
- Final quarter or semester, where only a partial course load is needed to meet graduation requirements (this can be availed at most one time)
- Medical condition (this can be availed at most four times)
- Academic difficulty (this can be availed at most one time). Three types of reasons are allowed:
- Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods
- Improper course level placement
RCL must be applied for in advance so that the SEVIS record can be updated and a new Form I-20 noting the RCL can be issued.
- Employment by the institution, for instance, as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or library student worker
- Work performed in a location on campus for a commercial firm providing direct services to students, for instance, at a campus bookstore even if not owned by the university
- Employment at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the institution. The work must be associated with the academic department's curriculum, related to contractually funded projects at the post-graduate level, and integral to the curriculum.
There are also limits on the amount of time a student may engage in on-campus employment. While school is in session, this can be no more than 20 hours per week. While school is out of session, there are no restrictions on the amount of work.
There are two ways a person in student status may be able to legally qualify for off-campus employment: Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training. Both of these need to be approved by the institution and included in the student's SEVIS record and Form I-20. Within Optional Practical Training, there is both pre-completion and post-completion OPT.
Note that a student is not allowed to engage in on-campus employment during the 60-day grace period after completion of studies. Moreover, while the student is on post-completion OPT, the student can only engage in the type of employment permitted by that OPT, and therefore cannot engage in arbitrary on-campus work.
Note that over and above the rules imposed on account of F student status, the student and employers must also comply with all existing federal, state, and local regulations pertaining to wages, working conditions, and tax law. For instance, the student may need to obtain a Social Security Number in order to be able to engage in on-campus work, and employers may ask the student to fill Form I-9 at the start of employment.
Leave of Absence and withdrawal
The F status does not explicitly recognize Leave of Absence. Rather, if somebody intends to take a lengthy leave of absence, then their institution terminates their SEVIS record for "Authorized Early Withdrawal". There is a 15-day grace period to depart the United States on such a terminated record. If the student then returns in 5 months or fewer, the F-1 status can be reactivated with the same I-20 and without any effect on OPT/CPT eligibility (this has a lead time of up to a month). If more than 5 months elapse, a new SEVIS record must be created for the student, with a new Form I-20.
Physical absence from the United States for a contiguous period of over five months automatically deactivates one's student status, even if the student did not explicitly request termination of the SEVIS record.
Maintaining the correct program end date
It may happen that the student's actual program end date falls earlier or later than what the student expected. It is necessary that a new I-20 be issued reflecting the current program end date, both prior to the program's actual end and prior to the stated program end date on the Form I-20.
If the Form I-20 is being shortened, the international office may require the student to submit evidence showing that the student has enough academic credits to graduate early. if the Form I-20 is being extended, then, in addition to any evidence from the student about changed academic plans, the international office also needs an updated statement of financial resources for the new I-20 to cover up to one year of the I-20 extension.
After the change to the program end date is made in the student's SEVIS record, the new Form I-20 is issued to the student.
It is important to note that the program end date on the Form I-20 need not coincide with the graduation date. Rather, it is the end date of the student's enrollment in courses. It is not possible to extend the program end date simply in order to be able to stay around till the graduation ceremony. If the graduation ceremony falls outside the 60-day grace period of completion of coursework, then the student must find some other way to be legally present for it (for instance, by staying around on Optional Practical Training, or getting a B visa for the graduation ceremony).
Travel and re-entry
Whenever the student re-enters the United States after traveling, the student must have all of these at the time of arrival at the port of entry:
- A valid passport (valid for at least six more months)
- A valid F or M visa
- A valid I-20 (i.e., an I-20 whose program end date has not yet arrived)
- A travel signature on the I-20 (page 3) from the DSO that is at most one year old (six months in the case of students currently on post-completion Optional Practical Training)
Since travel signatures are valid for only a year, students need to periodically get updated travel signatures on their I-20 from their international student office. The purpose of this requirement is to avoid cases where people who are no longer enrolled as students at an institution keep using an outdated Form I-20 to get in. In particular, when adding a new travel signature to the OPT, it is the responsibility of the international student office to make sure that the student is still enrolled at the institution. In case the Form I-20 runs out of space for travel signatures, the international office may print out a new Form I-20 for the student.
In the special case of automatic visa revalidation, whereby the student returns to the United States after a trip to Canada, Mexico, or a nearby island for at most 30 days, it is not necessary to have a valid visa at the time of re-entry. However, it is still necessary to have a valid Form I-20 and a travel signature.
After completion of studies
After completion of studies, a student has a 60-day grace period to depart the United States. Note that it is not possible to re-enter the United States during this grace period, regardless of the validity of visa or travel signatures. This does give the student some time to change to another non-immigrant status if applicable. However, if the student is unable to successfully change status the student must nonetheless depart the United States.
One way a student can continue to stay in the United States on student status after completion of studies is by being approved for post-completion Optional Practical Training. Post-completion OPT can start at most 60 days after the completion of studies, and requires the student to work at least 20 hours a week (excluding up to 90 days of unemployment) on topics related to the student's program of study. Post-completion OPT can be at most 12 months long. While doing post-completion OPT, the student is still in F status but cannot engage in arbitrary on-campus employment or enroll in a degre program.
The status for dependents (spouses and children) of people on F-1 status is the F-2 status. Since the F-2 status is a derivative status, a person goes out of F-2 status as soon as the corresponding principal (the student in F-1 status) goes out of F-1 status.
The F-2 dependent may enter the United States along with the F-1 principal, or at any later time.
F-2 dependent spouses have a very limited range of activities they can legally do. In particular, they are not allowed to enroll in a full course of study (but they may still attend classes at a SEVP-certified school) and they are not allowed to work, and cannot obtain Social Security Numbers. This differs somewhat from J-2 spouses, who can take coursework and are also eligible for work authorization though they need to apply for it. If a person on F-2 status gets admitted to a degree program in the United States, that person can transition to F-1 status after obtaining a Form I-20 and then filing Form I-539. However, the person will need to a get a new visa for subsequent re-entry to the United States.
F-2 dependent minor children can study in school (K-12, i.e., secondary or lower level of education). If unmarried, the same permissions and restrictions apply to them for post-secondary education as apply to F-2 dependent spouses: they can take classes at a SEVP-certified school but cannot engage in a full course of study.
Early origins of the student visa program
Until the late 19th century, migration to the United States was relatively unrestricted, so that there was no special immigration status needed for students. However, the Passenger Act of 1855 recognized students as one of several classes of temporary immigrants, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, that excluded all Chinese, carved out an exception for students. By 1913, U.S. Bureau of Education records indicated that 4,222 international students were enrolled in 275 U.S. universities, colleges, and technical schools; most of them were sent by foreign governments for education and training that would be useful when the students returned home.
The Institute of International Education was formed in 1919 to protect and promote the interests of international students and exchange visitors. Lobbying by the IIE led in 1921 to the classification of students as nonimmigrants and the creation of a separate nonimmigrant visa for students, thereby exempting students from the numerical quotas placed in the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Starting 1918, all noncitizens started being required to obtain visas prior to entry to the United States, and in 1924, Congress enacted a provision requiring consular officers to make a determination of admissibility prior to issuing a visa. As a result, starting around this time, the majority of noncitizens coming to the United States for study did so on student visas.
Tightening of student visa requirements in the aftermath of terrorist attacks
In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. In the aftermath of this incident, the student visa came under increased scrutiny when it was discovered that one of the terrorists involved was in the United States on an expired student visa.
A memorandum from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Investigative Agency Policies to the Deputy Attorney General dated September 24, 1994, mentioned the need to subject foreign students to thorough and continuing scrutiny before and during their stay in the United States. On April 17, 1995, the Deputy Attorney General asked the INS Commissioner to address this issue. This led to the formation of an INS task force in June 1995 to conduct a comprehensive review of the F, M, and J visa processes. Besides the INS, the task force included members from the State Department and the United States Information Agency, and experts in the administration of international student programs. The task force report, issued on December 22, 1995, identified problems in the tracking and monitoring of students by schools, problems in the certification of schools by the INS, and problems with INS receiving and maintaining up-to-date records from schools. As a result of these findings, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 directed the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to develop and conduct a program to collect certain information on nonimmigrant foreign students and exchange visitors from approved institutions of higher education and designated exchange visitor programs.
In June 1997, the INS launched a pilot program for a centralized electronic reporting system for institutions, called the Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students (CIPRIS). The CIPRIS pilot officially ended in October 1999, as the INS felt it had gathered enough data from the prototype to start working on the nationwide system. The INS began working on a new system that would be called the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) with the associated information system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information Service (SEVIS). During the rollout, CIPRIS and SEVIS met with considerable opposition from the Association of International Educators and the American Council on Education. However, they claimed that the opposition was not against the programs in principle but due to the concern that a botched rollout by the INS could result in many student suffering.
Study under B visa was no longer allowed, leading to increased reliance on F and M visas
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, there was further increase in scrutiny of student visas, increasing the momentum in favor of the adoption of SEVIS. In addition, since some of the people involved with the September 11 attacks had originally intended on B visas but then taken courses at flight schools, the rules surrounding study by people on B visas were tightened. Previously, people on B visa could undertake short courses of study. Now, anybody on a B visa was required to transition to a F or M visa prior to starting a program of study. Moreover, people on B status could transition using Form I-539 (i.e., change status while in the US) only if their visa had an annotation indicating that they might transition to student status.
Study of sensitive subjects and national security concerns
A Presidential Directive on May 7, 2002, called for the creation of the Interagency Panel on Advanced Science and Security (IPASS). The original intent of IPASS was to help with the evaluation of suspicious visa applications in subjects that had implications for national security.
A Technology Alert List (TAL) was originally created in November 2000, and subsequently expanded in August 2002. This list contains various types of technologies and domains of study that were particularly sensitive, whereby applicants for student visas in those domains of study received additional scrutiny. In addition it included a list of designated State Sponsors of Terrorism, countries from which visa applicants received additional scrutiny.
Complete transition to SEVIS
All schools and programs in the United States hosting international students and scholars were required to begin using SEVIS by January 30, 2003. SEVIS has since gone through six major release versions to resolve technical problems and accommodate new reporting requirements.
F-1 visa holders are exempt from paying Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) while considered a non-resident alien for tax purposes, which is usually the first five calendar years of their F-1 status: these years can be excluded from the Substantial Presence Test. However, they are subjected to other applicable federal, state, and local taxes. Students on F-1 filing their federal income taxes who have been in the United States for five years or fewer need to use the non-resident 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ tax forms. Some F-1 visa holders may be eligible for certain tax treaty provisions based on their country of origin.
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A nonresident alien temporarily in the United States on an "F-1," "J-1," "M-1," or "Q-1" visa is not subject to social security and Medicare taxes on pay for services performed to carry out the purpose for which the alien was admitted to the United States. Social security and Medicare taxes should not be withheld or paid on this amount. This exemption from social security and Medicare taxes also applies to employment performed under Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training, on or off campus, by foreign students in "F-1," "J-1," "M-1," or "Q" status as long as the employment is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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