Student visas are a popular option for individuals who wish to study in the United States. Generally applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial resources and ties abroad, and be prepared to undertake and maintain full-time study. F-1 visa applicants must be accepted at a school, college, or university that has been approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Under very limited circumstances, it is also possible to obtain F-1 visas to study at public primary and secondary schools. Vocational programs usually involve M-1 visas.
After acceptance by a U.S. school, the foreign student will receive a Form I-20, to use to apply for the F-1 visa at the U.S. consulate in the country where he or she currently resides. F-1 visa applicants must demonstrate financial independence and intention to stay temporarily in the US.
F-1 students may bring their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 with them to the United States on F-2 visas. In order for family members to obtain F-2 status, F-1 students must present evidence of sufficient financial resources to cover all expenses of their family members during their stay because they will be ineligible to work in the United States. In many developing countries, it is difficult to obtain F-2 visas because USCIS believes that it is more likely that students will attempt to stay in the United States if their family members are also in the country.
In certain circumstances, F-1 students may be eligible to work up to 20 hours per week on the school campus, or be allowed to participate in off-campus training programs and internships, assuming that the training is a degree requirement or part of the general curriculum of the selected course of study. A designated school official must authorize both on-campus and off-campus employment assignments.
Other types of employment require a work authorization document from USCIS in addition to the approval of a school official. F-1 students can work off-campus in a field related to their studies for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. They can also work full-time during vacations and recess periods. However, USCIS will deduct the time worked from the one year of practical training usually allowed after degree completion (OPT).
Also, in the case that an unforeseen circumstance places F-1 students in a situation of unexpected economic hardship, they may be eligible to work at a job of their choosing for up to 20 hours while school is in session and full time during vacation periods. In addition to providing evidence of the change in economic status, F-1 students must be in good academic standing and must apply for work authorization from USCIS. Although students with F-1 visas are typically permitted to remain in the U.S. for duration of status, they can lose that status by violating the terms of the visa. It is extremely important that foreign students maintain a full-time course load and not work without authorization. They should communicate frequently with the Designated School Official (DSO) to ensure that there are no lapses in their student status, and must not change schools or drop courses without consulting with an immigration lawyer and/or the DSO of both schools. If for medical or mental health reasons a student needs to take a reduced course load, it is possible to obtain an exception, however the health problem must be documented and communication with the DSO and/or an immigration lawyer is crucial. Further sources of information on student visas
USICE SEVIS – Student and Exchange Visitor Information System
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