Immigration and Nationality
F1 Student Visa


A foreign student may enter the U.S. with an F1 visa to pursue a full course of study at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program.  The purpose of the F1 visa is to allow a student to enroll in a full course of study.  While a student's F1 visa will be valid for the duration of his or her full course study, the student must intend to return to his or her home country upon the completion of the program.

The F1 student's spouse and minor children may accompany the student with F2 visas.  If the student is Canadian or Mexican, and will actually reside in Canada and Mexico, the student may commute to the educational institution and may engage in full or part time course of study.

The F1 student may be authorized for employment in limited circumstances and must obtain prior approval.  If the F1 student wishes to change schools, he or she must obtain prior approval.  Finally, if the F1 student will not be able to compete his or her course of study by the program end date (as stated on the I20), the student must apply for a program extension before the program end date.


The student must obtain a SEVIS Form I20 (I20) from the school he or she intends to attend.  The SEVIS Form I20 must be issued in the student's name by a school approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for attendance.  If the student is seeking to enter the U.S. prior to August 1, 2003, he or she may present a current Form I20 A-B/ I20 ID that was issued prior to January 30, 2003.  The student must also have documentary evidence of financial support in the amount indicated on the I20.

If the student is planning on attending a public secondary school, the student must show that he or she has reimbursed the local educational agency that administers the school for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of providing education at the school for the period of the student's attendance.

When the student applies for an F1 visa at the consular post of his or her home country, the student must present the I20, documentation of financial support, and documentation of ties to his or her home country.  The student may obtain detailed information on applying for a visa from the consular post where he or she will be applying.

Full Course of Study

Generally, a "full course of study" must lead to the attainment of a specific educational or professional objective.  The law provides the following definition of a "full course of study":
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  • Postgraduate study at a college or university, certified by a Designated School Official (DSO) as a full course of study.
  • Undergraduate or postgraduate study at a conservatory or religious seminary, certified by a DSO as a full course of study.
  • Undergraduate study at a college or university, certified by a school official to consist of at least 12 semester (or quarter) hours of instruction per academic term, where full time tuition is usually charged for at least 12 semester hours.
  • Study in a postsecondary language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational program at a school that confers recognized associate or other degrees.
  • Study in any other language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational training program, certified by a DSO to consist of at least 18 hours of attendance per week (or at least 22 hours per week if the dominant part of the course of study involves laboratory work).
  • Study in a curriculum at an approved private elementary or middle school or public or private academic high school which is certified by a DSO to consist of class attendance of at least the minimum number of hours a week required for normal progress toward graduation.
  • If the student has been granted employment authorization and remains registered for at least the number of hours of instruction specified by the employment authorization notice.
  • Students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, with one class or three credits per term completed online or through distance education. Students enrolled in a language study program may not credit online or distance education classes toward the full course of study requirement.
  • On campus employment in accordance with the terms of a scholarship, fellowship or assistantship may be part of a student's academic program if he or she is otherwise taking a full course of study.
If a student drops below a full course of study with approval, he or she will be deemed to be "out of status."  A student may request from a DSO a reduction in course load to at least 6 semester hours or half the clock hours required for a full course of study for the following reasons:
  • Academic difficulties. If a student is having initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements, U.S. teaching methods, or improper course level placement, the DSO may authorize a reduction in course load. However, the student must resume a full course of study at the next available term.
  • Medical conditions. The DSO may allow a student to reduce his or her course load if the student is temporarily ill or suffers from a medical condition. The student must provide medical documentation to the DSO.
  • Completion of course of study. The DSO may authorize a reduction in course load in the student's final term if fewer courses are needed to complete the course of study.
Extension of Stay

If an F1 student will be unable to complete the course of study by the date specified on the I-20, he or she must obtain a program extension from the DSO.

School Transfer

A student may transfer to another approved school by following the notification procedure.


A student may work on campus or at a location off-campus that is educationally affiliated with the school.  The student may also request off-campus employment work authorization based on severe economic hardship caused by "unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control."  In any event, if an F1 student would like to work, he or she should consult the DSO or an attorney before beginning employment.
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