The ABCs of Immigration - F-1 Student Visas – Part I
If you are interested in studying in the US, changes are you will need an F-1 student visa. US immigration law allows for the admission as nonimmigrants those who are coming to the US to participate in a full time course of study. Most such students enter in F-1 status, although the J-1 visa (for exchange visitors participating in a program approved by the State Department) and M-1 visa (for vocational students) are also sometimes available. What follows is an overview of the process of obtaining an F-1 visa and maintaining that status. Employment related issues will be addressed in a future article.
As with all nonimmigrant classifications, the most important requirement to obtain an F-1 visa is the demonstration of nonimmigrant intent. The student must maintain a home abroad that they have no intention of abandoning. The student must be coming to the US to pursue a full course of academic study, and must demonstrate that they possess the financial resources to allow them to study without the need to engage in unauthorized employment. Most students are able to get approved for a stay equal to the duration of their studies in the US and can study in any pre-approved institution. However, there are important exceptions.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 imposed a number of new restrictions on foreign students. Among these are the exclusion of foreign students from kindergarten through eighth grade at public schools and from publicly funded adult education programs. Also, foreign students in grades 9-12 at public schools must reimburse the school for the cost of the education. Failure to do this can result in a bar to admission. Foreign student in public high schools are limited to 12 months of study.
Step 1: Find a School
A prospective student must first identify a school that is qualified to sponsor a student for a visa. A school that wishes to have foreign students enroll must first make an application with the INS. For a school to become qualified to participate in the F-1 process, it must 1) demonstrate that it is a legitimate educational institution, 2) appoint a designated school official (DSO) who will sign all necessary forms, 3) institute a record keeping and reporting system satisfactory to the INS.
Step 2: Get an I-20
For a foreign student to obtain F-1 status they must first receive a Form I-20 issued by the school that provides information about the school and the student. Before the school can issue an I-20 the following conditions must be met:
Step 3: Apply for a Visa at a US Consulate
After the school issues the I-20, it sends it to the student abroad, who then applies for a visa at their local US consulate. To make the visa application the student must present the I-20, their passport, the necessary visa fee (which varies from location to location), Form OF-156 Application for a Nonimmigrant Visa, and evidence of financial support. Unless there are unusual circumstances, the visa will generally be issued on the day the application is submitted, or only a few days afterward. A prospective student who has not yet decided on a school can request a B-2 prospective student visa, and once in the US they can seek F-1 status. Note, however, that is a prospective student does make his or her intentions clear at the time of entry, the INS could very well deny the case.
Step 4: Entering the US
After receiving the visa, the student may make an application for admission at a US port of entry. The student must present their passport, visa, evidence of support and the I-20. If admission is granted, the INS will keep one copy of the I-20 and return the second to the student. The student is issued an I-94 Arrival/Departure Record that contains a unique control number. This number is noted on the I-20, and becomes a sort of permanent identifier. For example, if an F-1 student leaves the US, upon reentry they are given a new I-94. However, the number on it is crossed out and replaced with the initial number noted on the I-20.
Step 5: Maintaining Status
In light of the bars on admission created in 1996, it is very important for the student to maintain their status while in the US. There are eight important things that must be done to maintain status.
In next week’s issue, we’ll discuss employment authorization for F-1s and changing educational programs.
About The Author
Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.
After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.
Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.
Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.
In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com
Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org