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F-1 : Academic Student

When a foreign citizen wants to study in the U.S., he or she must have a valid F-1 nonimmigrant visa, allowing him or her to study for a specific time.  A lawful nonimmigrant in a status other than F-1 may or may not be permitted to engage in study depending upon the regulations governing her or his status and the facts of the case.  Without F-1 status, any foreign national who undertakes study risks violating his or her nonimmigrant status.  

 Statutory Definition 

 A foreign student seeking to come to the U.S. for non-vocational study under the F-1 visa classification must satisfy each element of the statutory definition at INA §101(a)(15)(F), basically proving that their sole purpose of coming to the U.S. is to study and they have strong ties abroad that they don’t intend to abandon and permanently immigrate to the U.S.  

Qualified dependents may accompany the principal F-1 alien, in which case they are classified in F-2 status.  

How to Obtain Student Status 

To obtain F-1 student status (and F-2 for accompanying spouse and unmarried minor children), a foreign student must submit an application for F-1 visa, accompanied by SEVIS Form I-20, issued in his or her own name by a school approved by the USCIS, adequate documentary evidence of financial support.  

A bona fide nonimmigrant, who entered the U.S. with a visa other than F-1 status, may apply to USCIS to change his or her classification to that of an F-1 student. 

Term – Duration of Status 

Except for border commuter students, an F-1 student is admitted for duration of status. Duration of status is defined as the time during which an F-1 student is pursuing a full course of study at an educational institution approved by USCIS for attendance by foreign students, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies.  

An F-1 student who is admitted to attend a public high school is restricted to an aggregate of 12 months of study at any public high school(s).  An F-1 student may be admitted for a period up to 30 days before the indicated report date or program start date listed on Form I-20.  The student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a course of study. 

If a student fails to complete his or her stated academic objective within the time estimated on the I-20, the student must apply for a program extension and an extension of stay. 

Employment 

Under limited circumstances, an F-1 student may have the following options for employment: (i) on-campus employment; (ii) off- campus work authorization; (iii) employment due to severe economic hardship; (iv) international organization internships; (v) practical training.  

Travel and Temporary Absences 

An F-1 student returning to the United States from a temporary absence of five months or less may be readmitted for attendance at a USCIS approved educational institution, if the student presents evidence of current or new Form I-20 from the institution.  

School Transfer 

A student who is maintaining his or her status may transfer to another USCIS approved school.  However, an F-1 student is not permitted to remain in the United States when transferring between schools or programs unless the student will begin classes at the transfer school or program within 5 months of transferring out of the current school or within 5 months of the program completion date on his or her current Form I-20, whichever is earlier. 

Border Commuter Students 

"Border commuter student" means a national of Canada or Mexico who is admitted to the United States as an F-1 nonimmigrant student to enroll in a full course of study, albeit on a part-time basis, in an approved school located within 75 miles of a United States land border.  A border commuter student must maintain actual residence and place of abode in the student's country of nationality, and seek admission to the United States at a land border port-of-entry.