Student visas

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.

Where can I study with a student visa?

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.

The student visa application process

After acceptance at a U.S. school, schools will send the foreign student form I-20, which the applicant must 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 the following:

  • Financial independence

Applicants for F-1 visas must show that they have the money to pay for their first year of study and that they have dependable financial resources for the duration of the planned study program in the U.S. One common method of demonstrating financial independence is an Affidavit of Support, in which a family member, friend, or organization assumes financial responsibility for the cost of the F-1 applicant’s studies and living expenses in the U.S and documents adequate resources to do so. If the applicant is personally capable of paying for his or her own studies, an Affidavit of Support is not necessary, but he or she will need to present a bank statement or other financial proof to the consulate.

  • Intention of temporary stay

Applicants must also present evidence of strong ties to their home countries, such as close family members who are staying at home, a high-paying job in the home country, or any property or businesses that will oblige return.

Can I bring my family to the United States while I’m studying?

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.

Can I work with an F-1 visa?

As discussed above, applicants must prove themselves financially independent in order to obtain an F-1 visa. However, 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). See Optional Professional Training  for more information.

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.

 Can I lose my student status?

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.

What if I need to drop below full-time status? 

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


The content of this website is meant only to acquaint you with general information about immigration.This information is not legal advice and is not a substitute for having a consultation with an attorney. If you have additional questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please contact us.