Another school year has ended—and this coming fall and spring, many students will be headed off to colleges all across the US. That includes foreign students as well! If you (or someone you know) currently live outside of the US, but are planning on completing your postsecondary education here, you will need to apply for and obtain an F1 visa.
An F1 visa isn’t just for college students—or for postsecondary students at all, for that matter. The visa can be granted to students from other countries looking to attend a high school, college, private primary school, language school, seminary, conservatory or other institution in the US. Basically, this type of visa is for you to be able to further your education, whatever that may mean for you specifically.
To be granted an F1 visa, there are a few requirements you’ll have to meet (and, as you might guess, forms to fill out as well). There are three big ones: admission to a school as a full time student, having the financial means to support you while in the US, and having the intent to return to your home country after graduation.
You should be able to prove your admission to the school you plan on attending in the US. This may seem like an obvious tip, but it is an important part of F1 visa policy. This is to prevent potential students from coming to the US in hopes of finding or applying to a school—an F1, in other words, is for concrete education plans.
Having the means to fund your education and living expenses in the US is important to you, your family, and, of course, the F1 visa. This should be ongoing proof, not just the ability to pay based on how much is in you or your family’s bank accounts. You may want to gather letters from your parents’ jobs, bank or other institution to prove that you can reliably fund your education, not just now but in a few years as well.
Finally, F1 visa applicants are expected to return to their home country after completing their education, and need to provide proof of that—an “intent to return.” You can explain your intent to return by providing information about your family, home, and other ties to your country to show that you have a place to come back to upon graduating. Not providing an adequate, reasonable explanation of such intent is a common reason why visa applicants are turned away.
There are a few more things to remember before applying for your F1 visa. Know that while it can be a simple process, it does take time to process and you should allot a safe amount of time for potential delays. Try to apply around three to four months before your anticipated start date, because the earliest your visa can be granted is 120 days before that date.
There are certain visas similar to the F1 but are ultimately separate—the F2 and M1. The F2 visa is for dependents of an F1 visa; if you are a parent attending school in the US, for example, your children or a dependent spouse would need an F2 visa to come with you, and they are not eligible to work or study on that visa. (Children under 21, however, can attend primary and secondary school under an F2 visa.) The M1 visa is for foreign students to come to the US to attend a vocational or technical school, so you’ll need to apply for this visa if those are your plans.