F-1 Visa: Student Visa & Exchange Student Visas

The Boston area has more international exchange students than almost anywhere else, and for good reason.  Between BU, BC, Northeastern, Emerson, Simmons, UMass, and other universities here in the City of Boston, and Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Wellesley, Brandeis, and many others nearby, we have students from all over the world, here to study every subject you can imagine.

The downside is that students’ immigration situations come in all shapes and sizes.  Immigration-related challenges can impair one’s studies and lifestyle, or prevent an international student from studying here at all.  The first, often most-important step is to complete the F-1 Visa process.

If you are an international exchange student, or are the parent of one, you may want or need a immigration to help you navigate the system and work through the F-1 visa process.  You can contact me, Boston immigration attorney Giselle M. Rodriguez, for a free consultation, or read on to find out more about the F-1 visa.

Who is eligible for an F-1 visa?

To be eligible for an F-1 visa you must be accepted for full-time enrollment at an SEVP Immigrations and Customs-approved school. Visit the Department Homeland Security website to see if the school you want to attend (or your child wants to attend) is on the list.

Most major colleges and universities will be eligible. Some will show that they are only eligible schools for M-1 isa holders. That’s the visa for students who wish to choose a non-academic or vocational program.

The second requirement is that you must meet the institution’s required English-language proficiency score, or enroll in courses that will help you improve your English.

You must prove you have sufficient funds to finance both your studies and your living expenses while in the United States. (The Boston is particularly expensive.) You won’t be eligible for federal student loans or other programs that often help students pay for their educations in the US, so it’s important to pay close attention to this requirement.

Your passport must be valid for US travel for at least six months after your program completion date, and you must have a permanent home address in your home country to return to when the program is complete. That can be a parent’s address.

While it may be possible to convert to another type of visa at a later date, you will still need to prove you are ready, willing, and able to return to your home country when the authorized purpose of your visit (the exchange program) is complete.

How long can you stay on an F-1 visa?

You can stay up to 60 days past the length of your program completion. If you wish to stay longer you may be able to do so by applying for the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. If approved, you will be able to stay and work for up to 12 more months.

Your designated school official (DSO) will have to recommend you for the OPT program.

Does an F-1 visa allow you to work?

No. To work while you attend school you will need to apply for a J-1 visa, also called “the exchange visitor visa.” J-1 visas let you work on campus for up to 20 hours while you complete your studies.

The J-1 visa does come with some disadvantages. It’s intended to allow people to bring their skills back to their home country, rather than train with the intent to transition into permanent residency or employment in the United States. Once you complete the J-1 program you’ll need to return home for at least two years before coming back to the United States, unless you meet certain hardship requirements.


Can F-1 students apply for a green card?

Though there is no direct path from an F-1 visa to a green card, there are options. You may be able to apply for a green card under the Extraordinary Abilities Program.

If you complete either the OPT program or the Curriculum Practical Training program for teaching and research assistants you may also be able to transition to a dual-intent visa.

Is it hard to get an F-1 visa?

It’s not easy to get any kind of visa, and student / F-1 visas are no exception. To improve your chances of obtaining both your visa and the education you want, contact my office here in Boston to ensure your application is handled correctly from start to finish.

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