Visa Stamp USAForeign nationals may enter the United States as nonimmigrants in order to engage in academic studies in this country, subject to certain restrictions. These students, who can range from elementary school students to doctoral candidates and persons engaged in post-doctoral studies, are classified in the F visa category.

Application Process

The foreign national seeking to enter the United States to study does not need any advance permission from the USCIS. The student must obtain a certificate of eligibility (Form I-20) from an approved academic institution (as determined by the Department of Homeland Security) at which he or she will enroll, and submit this certificate, together with a nonimmigrant visa application and supporting documentation, to a U.S. consulate in the foreigner’s home country. Once the visa is issued, the student can apply at the border for admission to the U.S., the same as any nonimmigrant. A prospective student already in the U.S. in a different nonimmigrant status may apply to the Immigration Service to change to student status to begin studies only when he or she has been approved.  However, given the several months it may take to have a change of status application approved, it may be quicker for the student to visit his or her home country and apply at a U.S. consulate there.

Basic Requirements for Obtaining F-1 Status

1. The foreigner must be enrolled in an “academic” education program, not a vocational-type program.

  • Enrollment in an elementary school, academic high school, college, university, seminary, conservatory, or language training program qualifies as “academic” study. An “academic” student can be seeking a bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D. or other graduate-level degree, or be engaged in post-doctoral studies.

  • Other programs, including those offered by technical and business schools, and vocational high schools, are considered vocational, requiring the issuance of an M visa.

  • The school issuing the student the documentation required for a student visa, Form I-20, should know whether the student’s program is considered academic and issue the proper documentation.

2. The foreigner must be enrolled in a school approved by Department of Homeland Security for the attendance of foreign students.

3.  The foreigner must comply with restrictions on pursuing a course of study at public elementary or secondary schools.  Those students may need to attend a private school for elementary, middle or high school.  Foreign students can attend public universities and colleges, but will be required to pay out-of-state tuition prices. 

4. The foreigner must be enrolled in a “full course of study” at the school.

5. The foreigner must be proficient in English or be enrolled in English language courses leading to proficiency.  An F-1 Visa is still available to a foreigner to allow him or her to enroll in an English language study program so that they can become proficient.

6. The foreigner must have sufficient funds available to him or her to support himself or herself completely during the entire proposed course of study.  Other sponsors, friends or family, may be able to offer their support to allow the student to study in the U.S.

7. The foreigner must maintain a residence abroad that he or she has no intention of abandoning and must intend to leave the U.S. upon completion of his or her studies.

8.  Upon initial admission, the foreigner must intend to attend the school specified on the F-1 visa.