Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram

F1 Visa – Student Guide


– F1 Student Visa Home Page
– Student Guide
– F1 Visa Testimonial – Paul
– Student Issues for Under 18
– Qualification Evaluations
– Finding a Community College in USA


Every year thousands of foreign students enter the US to attend a University or College. These students are primarily looking to further their education. In addition to developing their education other opportunities may follow such as gaining paid practical work training. Having studied in the US many students are able to find US employment. There are two types of student visas; the F-1 visa for academic based courses and M-1 visa for vocational courses or non-academic courses.

People who are interested in attending college in the US may wish to visit a number of colleges first. If the student intends to remain in the US after he or she has found a college place then they must first be careful how they plan to enter the US . In this case the student should apply for a B-2 tourist visa and make it plain in their B-2 visa application that it is their intention to look for a college to attend. By making their intentions known, the B-2 visa will be marked accordingly. When the student is accepted onto a course he or she will not be able to actually attend classes until they have applied for and have been granted an F-1 student visa.

For students who enter the US under the visa waiver program, they will not be allowed to extend their stay in order to attend college. Instead, they will be required to take their acceptance letter from the college back to their home country and complete their F-1 visa application there.

Before a student can be accepted onto any college course his or her qualifications and experience must be evaluated and translated into a US equivalent. After credential evaluation the college can determine whether or not the student qualifies to be admitted to a particular course. The independent credential evaluator will require copies of all academic qualifications earned, transcripts of those qualifications, the name, address, telephone, email address and contact person with whom the evaluator may contact. In addition, a full and detailed resume / C.V., with similar contact information should also be provided. For full details on the credential evaluation process go to and select the 'Credential Evaluation' button and go from there.

In the US there are two main groups of colleges; private and state funded colleges. There are many local private colleges that offer excellent courses. Local private colleges tend to specialize in vocational and other undergraduate courses. There are two fundamental differences between private and state funded colleges. Private colleges tend to be four times more expensive than state colleges, and more state colleges are accredited to take on foreign students than private colleges. So when choosing a college the student should find out whether the college is an accredited college to accept foreign students and whether the college is a privately funded or local state college.

When a college has been accredited to accept foreign students they will have a Designated School Official (DSO) to handle all the students' questions and them through the acceptance process. If the college is a large one, it may have a Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) along with other DSO staff. The PDSO or DSO should be your only points of contact at the college, except when you are simply touring the college.

Most State and Private Universities specialize in Bachelor Degree and Post-Graduate programs and will have a PDSO and DSO available on each campus

Only full-time college courses will qualify for F-1 visa / M-1 visas. Full-time hours typically mean a course that carries at least 12 semester hours per week. Some full-time courses may require higher workloads. Your DSO should confirm whether your course qualifies.

Having made your initial contacts with the DSO you will need to submit all of the information they require to officially determine your suitability for their course as outlined above. Your credential evaluation report will be their primary basis for admission. In addition, they will require proof that you have sufficient monies to fund the course and yourself. These are called living expenses. Proof of funding will include a showing of bank accounts, tax returns and any other documentation proving that you or the person vouching for you can do so, so be prepared.

Example: John Smith Community State College

Tuition and fees $8,500.00
Living Expenses $14,000.00
Books $900.00
Total $23, 400.00

Once the college has accepted your suitability for a place they will issue an official certificate of acceptance called an I-20 A-B. The next step is for the student to make a formal student visa application at the Embassy or USCIS.

We will work closely with you in the preparation of your visa application. You will be required to complete a General Client Questionnaire (GCQ) and from this information we shall be able to prepare your official visa application papers. You will also be required to post to us any appropriate supporting documentation required. When we've put your visa application package together all you will need to do is take it down to the London Embassy (along with any family members traveling with you) and hand it in. The Embassy may interview you there and then or they make ask you to return at an appointed time so it's probably a good idea to call the Embassy first. The Embassy's policy is subject to change without notice, so again, be prepared.

PS: If you're a Parent and you're considering whether to stay where you are until your children get their GCSEs or A-Levels please visit a special page I've created that speaks directly to this issue. Click Here.

Credential Evaluations

You can get your foreign qualifications evaluated by clicking Here

Finding a Community College

You can find a list of all the US Community Colleges by clicking Here

SEVIS Fee Here

When Do I need To Apply For My Visa?

Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Remember, it could take several weeks to get your credentials evaluated and get an official acceptance from the college.

Students may enter the US up to 30 days prior to the official start date of their course. If the student wishes to enter the US sooner than 30 days prior to the start of their course, they are required to apply for a B-2 visa instead with the notation that the purpose of the visa is to ultimately attend college. June, July and August are the busiest months so it's always a good idea to get your application in early.

How Long Can I Stay In The USA ?

You are allowed to stay in the USA for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student and making normal progress. Thus, if your course lasts three years then you will be granted a three-year visa.

Also, you may (subject to DSO and immigration approval) be allowed to stay in the USA after your course ends for a further 12 months to pursue practical training. Again, if your employer offered you suitable employment that would qualify for a work permit (for example, a H-1B), then you may be able to switch from the F-1 to the appropriate employment status without having to leave the USA .

Can I Extend My Stay To Complete My Studies?

You do not need to apply to extend your stay in the USA while attending college. However, if you need an extension because you were unable to complete your course within the normal time period due to compelling academic or medical reasons then your DSO will complete forms required. This must be submitted within 30 days of the normal course completion time as stated on your original I-20 A-B.

Can I Work Whilst a Student? Once you have completed your first academic year as a student you may be allowed to work on or off-campus, subject to DSO approval, this is called Optional Practical Training. The DSO can tell you if you are eligible to work and with regards to jobs on-campus may give you a list of available jobs. Family members accompanying the student may not work.

When Can I Obtain A Social Security Number?

To get a SS# to work on campus all that is required is a letter from your DSO stating that you are authorized to work and that you are enrolled in a full course of study as second year student. If you wish to work off campus your DSO will confirm as above but in this case you will need to also submit your college transcripts to date.

Can I Travel Outside The USA?

Students may leave the USA and be readmitted after absences of up to five months. All absences should be approved and signed by your DSO. On the student's return, he or she must present their valid passport, valid F-1, current I-20 ID (student ID card), and DSO departure authority.

Can I Switch Courses Or Institutions?

In order to be eligible to switch institutions you must be a full time student in good academic standing. This basically means that you have maintained good attendance and maintained good grades. You must complete your portion of the I-20 A-B and give it to your new DSO within 15 days of transferring.

Your spouse and children may come with you and will be issued with F-2 visas. Your DSO will issue I-20 certificates for each family member that will be submitted with the student's general visa application documents. Copies of the family members' passports will also be submitted. Therefore, all that is required is that they must attend any Embassy interview. All passports must have at least six months left prior to expiry.

As can be seen the student option can be a positive first step up the immigration ladder. Although, colleges are very helpful in this, you would always have your attorney prepare and submit your final immigration package. The primary reason for this is section 214(b) INA. Many student application are fake in that the applicant has no intention to actually college or even if they do have the agenda to start college but drop out so they can pursue their American Dream.

Most student are genuine in the motives so the Embassy has to determine the fakes from the genuine. Attorneys therefore are far more skilled than colleges to ensure that the entire application, not just the college portion, is prepared with section 214(b) in mind. We do come across applicants who have tried to do it alone and have whilst some may well succeed others have failed because of the above-mentioned difficulties.

I hope you have found this mini-guide useful and we look forward to hearing from you in due course.


US Immigration Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram
Chris M. Ingram LL.M., ESQ – Immigration Attorney
Admitted in New York.
Practice Specializing in US Immigration Law
520 Broadway, Suite 350,
Santa Monica,
California 90401
Tel: 310 496 4292


Everyday the Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram provides a comprehensive range of US Immigration expertise. We also provide a free consultation for our prospective clients.


General Location: Santa Monica, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Serving all 50 States
Copyright 2010


Please note that nothing contained in this website or link therefrom shall be regarded as providing legal advice. Please contact us directly for legal advice specific to your situation. Thank You.

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