Student Visas

by Tudor Mihai Neagu on Oct. 04, 2018


Summary: Student visas are an excellent option for young people to attend school in the United States and attain practical training upon graduation.

Today I’d like to discuss student visas, which are visas for young people from other countries who want to come study in the United States.  There are three kinds of student visas, F, for academic students, M for vocational students, and J for exchange students, as well as the corresponding visas for their family members.  I am primarily going to focus on the F-1 student visa today. 

So generally the way it works is that, step one, your child is accepted into a college that has been approved by the government.  There is a list on the government’s website of approved universities, and you should definitely check that list before enrolling and paying tuition.  Don’t pay tuition to fake schools that can’t issue the proper documents. 


Once accepted, each school generally has a Designated School Official whose job it is to make sure your immigration paperwork is in order, which means that they will issue a form I-20, which indicates to the government that your child was accepted to the school and is now eligible for an F-1 student visa. 

Next, the student then has an interview at the consulate in their home country, where they have to bring the I-20, proof that they have enough money to live and pay tuition, they have a home in their home country and don’t intend to abandon it, and they intend to go to the US for the purpose of studying. 

Must start courses within 30 days of entering the US on an F1 student visa, and the start date goes by when the semester is scheduled to start – so don’t plan to come to the United States on an F1 visa two months before classes start to get yourself set up, that may result in a rejection at the airport. 

To maintain status a student must maintain a full course of study, which means different things for different courses of study and different universities, but generally it means that you can’t take less than 12 hours per term.  If the student takes less than the full course of study without talking to the Designated School Official, the school may inactivate their status with the government, and when the student comes home for the holidays, they may have the unpleasant surprise of not being able to reenter the US to go back to school. 

F1 students are given “duration of stay” status, plus 60 day grace period, meaning that students are allowed to remain in the US as long as they maintain a full course of study, plus CPT (Circular Practical Training) or OPT (optional practical training) plus a 60 day grace period after that to leave the country.  That means that the student can stay in the US as long as they attend school.  That includes if they transfer to another school, but the I-20 must also be transferred, or if they graduate college and they go on to do a graduate program.   

Students generally can’t work during the semester, except for on-campus work, or if there’s a severe economic hardship, or with certain internships with international organizations.  However, OPT and CPT allow the student to work during the summers when school is not in session, and for 14 months after completion of the course of study, if there is a job offer.  Certain fields in science, technology, engineering and math allow for longer OPT, and can have a total of up to 29 months after completion of study. 

At the completion of this process, if students still want to stay in the US, they have to have a job offer and then go through the H-1B and change of status procedure, that would be the subject of a different talk. 

You can travel with student visas out of the US while here, but you must have your signed I-20 with you showing that you’re in status.  It’s also a good idea to double-check with your school that your I-20 is still active, because if it’s not for some reason, you won’t be able to reenter the US. 

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