Many great and promising careers start with a solid education. Here in the U.S., we have some of the finest institutions in the world. For that reason, people from all over the globe travel to the U.S. to study and further their careers. To do this, foreign nationals need to acquire a student visa. While it may be easy to qualify, there are some limitations that may warrant a switch to a work visa once your studies are over.
Types of Student Visas
There are two main categories for student visas:
This category is for students attending a university, college, high school, or private elementary school. It can also be used for seminary or conservatory school as well as certain private elementary schools. As for other academic institutions, you should consult with your immigration attorney to determine if the institution qualifies.
The M category is mainly for vocational schools or some other nonacedemic institution. However, if your stay will be shorter than six months and you are interested in a recreational course, you may want to consider getting a visitor visa.
What Are the Qualifications?
In order to get a student visa, there are only a few requirements that need to be met. These requirements are mostly associated with proving that you are not intending on staying in the U.S.
- You must be able to prove that you have a residence in your home country and that you will go back after your studies are over.
- Additionally, you need to prove that you have a strong connection with your home country. This can come in the form of an offer for a job in your home country that will be available after you finish your studies, having assets such as land or a car in your home country, having a bank account, and having close family. These will help prove that you have a strong reason to return after your studies.
- You must also show that you will not be a burden on the U.S. economy during your stay. For this, you can either support yourself or show that you have outside financial support.
- Lastly, you will need to have an institution sponsor you for your education.
As you can see, it is not difficult to be eligible for a student visa. However, it is important to be aware of the things that you can and cannot do with your student visa.
What Can You Do on a Student Visa?
As a student under the F-1 student visa, you are able to study at any university, high school, elementary school, seminary, or conservatory school. Because the qualifications ensure that you have close ties with your home country, you will not be able to pursue permanent resident status (green card) while on a student visa. You will first need to transfer your status to a different nonimmigrant visa that is considered to have “dual intent” such as the H-1B or the L-1 visas.
In the first year of your studies, you cannot engage in any employment off campus. However, you can work on campus under specific restrictions. Once your first year is over, you can participate in these kinds of employment off campus:
- OPT (Optional Practical Training)
- CPT (Curricular Practical Training). This means that the employment is part of the established curriculum for your studies like an internship or practicum.
- STEM OPT (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Optional Practical Training)
What is OPT?
Getting OPT employment means that your job is related to your field of academic study. There are two main types of OPT employment for your student visa:
- Pre-completion: Once you have been enrolled for one year, you can apply to work part-time in a job related to your studies. You can switch to full-time employment during breaks.
- Post-completion: After your studies are over, you are able to apply to work part-time or full time for 12 months at a time. Keep in mind that the time you spend working in pre-completion will be deducted from the time you can spend in post-completion.
For example: Janet is finishing her four-year bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in the U.S. During her studies, she spent her summers interning at a local police station totaling eight months of work. Once she graduates, she will only be able to apply for four months of post-completion OPT employment.
Students under the M-1 student visa can only work once they have finished their studies. Like the F-1, this work must also be related to the field of study.
If your degree falls under the categories of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, you can apply to have your F-1 student visa extended to 24 moths past the end of your studies. According to the USCIS guidelines, you also need to fulfill the following two requirements:
- Your employer needs to be enrolled in the E-Verify system, and;
- You must have obtained a grant of post completion OPT employment attributed to your STEM field.
See this full list of programs that qualify under the STEM OPT.
How to Apply for a Student Visa
The first step to applying for a student visa is to secure a U.S. school to sponsor your studies. This school must enter your information into the database for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS), which will produce the I-20 form or the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. This form will vary depending on whether you are applying for an F-1 or an M-1 student visa. Your school must sign this form and send it to you in order to apply.
Once you have the I-20, you can complete the DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application and print out the confirmation page along with the receipt of the fee payment. The base fee for the DS-160 is $160 but could also be subject to additional issuance fees. Speak with your immigration attorney to learn more about the payment schedules.
Once your application has been submitted, you will need to go through a consular interview if you are between the ages of 14 and 79. However, keep in mind that consular officers may still choose to interview individuals who fall outside this range.
Student Visa Interview
If you are called in for an interview, you will need to schedule your appointment with the the designated U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home country. The amount of time that you will need to wait will depend on the caseload of the Consulate or Embassy. You can see the average reported wait times by visiting the Department of State website.
When you appear for your interview, be sure to bring the following documents:
- Your passport that will be valid for at least six months past your duration of stay in the U.S.
- The confirmation page for your completed DS-160
- A passport-sized portrait photo that adheres to the photo guidelines
- The receipt of payment for your application
- The completed and signed I-20 form from your school
While these are the main documents that will be required from you at the interview, you may need to produce additional items depending on your situation. To be sure that you have everything that you need, consult with your immigration attorney.
When at your interview, be sure to speak slowly, clearly, and honestly. It is better to say that you don’t know the answer rather than lie. Remember that the purpose of the interview is to determine whether or not your case is legitimate. So long as that is the case, you shouldn’t need to worry. You may be able to bring an interpreter with you if necessary.
Are There Alternatives to the Student Visa?
As previously stated, if you are only planning on taking a short recreational course in the U.S. that will not count toward a degree, them you may want to consider getting a visitor visa.
Alternatively, if the work limitations present a problem, then you could apply to get an H-1B visa. With this work visa, you can work full or part time and also study full or part time. However, the H-1B is the most popular visa available and is difficult to obtain due to an annual limit.
Lastly, you could also get a J-1 visa for exchange visitors. To qualify for this, you would need to have a school serve as your sponsoring program. However, keep in mind that J-1 visa holders must return to their home country for two years after their visa period before attempting to apply for another visa.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Even though the student visa application process may seem simple, there are still many steps and processes that can stand as impediments to your U.S. education. Rather than attempt to navigate the treacherous waters of immigration law by yourself, consider hiring an immigration attorney to make sure that your case is in the right hands.
Here at SGM Law Group, we have a dedicated team of attorneys that have years of experience working with international students. We can not only help you obtain your student visa, but we can also work with you in the future for work visas and even green cards.
To get in touch with one of our expert attorneys, contact our office and we will schedule your consultation.