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July 16th 2020

An F-1 Visa employment guide

Obtaining a degree in the U.S. can open doors to young people to obtain good jobs in their home countries or elsewhere in the world after they graduate. Here are your options while in school.

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Each year, hundreds of thousands of students from other countries come to the U.S. to study through the F-1 visa program. The F-1 visa program allows eligible students the opportunity to pursue their studies at U.S. universities or colleges. According to the U.S. Department of State, 393,573 F-1 visas were issued in the fiscal year 2017. The program is popular because U.S. universities are recognized as being among the leading institutions in the world. Obtaining a degree in the U.S. can open doors to young people to obtain good jobs in their home countries or elsewhere in the world after they graduate.

What is an F-1 visa?

An F-1 visa is a type of visa that allows international students to study in the U.S. at a university or college. Students who have F-1 visas must maintain at least the minimum number of class hours per semester to keep their status as full-time students. After they complete their studies, they are allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to 60 days to prepare to return to their home countries. However, an exception applies if the F-1 students have been approved to remain and work in the U.S. for a specific time through the OPT program. Students with F-1 visas must complete their academic programs by the date that is listed on their I-20 forms. These forms are given to the students by the institution to which the student has gained admission and will attend in the U.S.

How to get an F-1 visa

If you want to pursue your studies in the U.S. as an international student, you will need to secure a nonimmigrant student visa. The three types of student visas that can be used to study in the U.S. include F, M, and J visas. The F-1 visa is meant for students who want to pursue an academic program at a college or university while the M-1 visa is meant for students who wish to pursue a vocational program. College students may also enter the U.S. to study with a J-1 visa. To enter the U.S. with an F-1 visa, you must meet the following qualifications:

  • Admission to and enrollment in an academic educational program

  • Educational institution that is approved by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service's Student and Exchange Visitors Program

  • Maintain enrollment as a full-time student at the approved institution

  • Have English language proficiency or be enrolled in language courses to obtain proficiency in the English language

  • Have enough money to support yourself during the complete duration of your course of study

  • Keep a home in your home country that you do not intend to give up

Applying for an F-1 visa

The first step to obtaining an F-1 visa is to secure admission to an approved university or college. Universities and colleges in the U.S. each have their own admission policies. You should check with the institution that you are interested in attending to learn about its requirements. Universities and colleges will have academic eligibility requirements and will want you to demonstrate that you have enough funds available to support yourself in the U.S. You will also need to have medical insurance to cover your medical expenses during your stay. Many universities and colleges have agreements with different health insurance providers to provide health insurance policies to international students that you can purchase. After submitting your application to the university or college, the university will review your documents to determine whether to admit you. If you are granted admission, the designated student officer will issue an I-20 form to you. You will take your I-20 form with you to a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country to apply for your F-1 visa.

Applying for your student visa

The application process may require some additional steps, depending on your home country. However, you will generally need to include the following items with your application when you apply for your F-1 visa:

  • Application fee

  • Form DS-160

  • Form DS-157 if you are a male between the ages of 16 and 45

  • Valid passport

  • Photos

The application fee is $160, and it is non-refundable. Form DS-160 is an application for nonimmigrant visas that can be completed online. When you complete it, you will need to print out the bar code page, but you do not need to print out the whole application. Form DS-157, which is a supplemental nonimmigrant visa application, must be completed if you are a male between the ages of 16 and 45. You will need to type in your answers, print this application form, and bring it with you to your interview. You must have a valid passport that will be valid for at least six months beyond your stay in the U.S. Your photo must meet the following requirements:

  • Color photograph

  • Head must be between 22 mm and 35 mm of the total height of the image as measured from the chin to the top of the head

  • Must have been taken in the last six months

  • Must have a plain white background

  • Must be a full-face view

  • Must have a neutral expression with both eyes open

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You must schedule and attend an F-1 visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or consulate. At this interview, the official who interviews you will be determining whether you meet the qualifications for an F-1 student visa. You should come to the interview with all of the documents and receipts that are required. It is a good idea for you to prepare to answer questions about why you want to study in the U.S.

You can expect to be asked about your academic eligibility and why you chose the university that you did. You may be asked to prove that you have ties to your home country that demonstrate your intention to return. Some examples might include titles to property, membership in organizations in your community, and other similar things that show your ties to your home. You will also need to be able to show that you have enough money to pay for your education. Plan to bring a financial plan with you to show how you intend to pay for your educational and living expenses while you are in the U.S. The official might want to know about your past academic record and your test scores on the TOEFL, SAT, or ACT. You will be asked about your intention to return to your home country after you graduate from your academic program. If the officer is satisfied with your answers to the interview questions, he or she will approve your visa application. You will then need to pay a fee for the issuance of your visa, and digital scans of your fingerprints will be taken. The consular officer will take your passport so that you can receive your visa. You will be told when it will be returned either by mail or by picking it up.

It is important to note that the issuance of a visa is not guaranteed. You should not buy plane tickets before you receive approval for your F-1 visa. If the officer denies your visa, you will be provided with a reason why you are ineligible. In some cases, it may be possible to secure a waiver of inadmissibility.

Maintaining your F-1 status

You will be able to enter the U.S. to study after you receive approval for your F-1 visa. Once you arrive in the U.S., you will need to make certain to maintain your F-1 status. If you don't, you will not be allowed to reenter the U.S. if you leave and will not be able to receive OPT or to work on campus. To ensure that you remain in good standing during your stay in the U.S., there are several things that you need to keep in mind.

Arrival time

You should schedule your travel to arrive in the U.S. 30 or fewer days before the first day of your classes. After you arrive, make sure to meet with your international advisor before you begin your classes.

During your studies

You must maintain full-time enrollment at your college or university. If you fail or drop a class that makes you fall below full-time enrollment, the terms of your F-1 visa will be violated. Make sure that you attend all of your classes and maintain good grades. If you have trouble with a class, talk to your international advisor and get help from the tutoring center on your campus. If you cannot finish your program by the expiration date that appears on your Form I-20, ask your international advisor for help with requesting an extension.

If your passport will expire during an extension, you should contact your home country's embassy in the U.S. for help with extending it. Make sure that you carry your passport and your I-94 card with you for identification when you are in the U.S. If you move, change your plan of study, or change your visa status, you must notify your international advisor.

Work rules

As an F-1 visa holder, you will not be allowed to work at an off-campus job. You may be able to work on campus or have options for practical training if you qualify. Talk to your international advisor about your options. If you work without receiving proper authorization, you will be forced to leave and will have your visa revoked.

On-campus work with an F-1 visa

F-1 visa students are not allowed to work during the first year of study off-campus. You may be able to secure an on-campus job to work part-time. Your on-campus job can be through the university itself or for a private company that contracts with the university for on-campus work such as food service, janitorial, or clerical work. While school is in session, you may work no more than 20 hours per week. During the breaks between semesters, you can work up to 40 hours a week at your on-campus job.

There are many different types of on-campus jobs for students. You can check with your university to find out about available jobs for students. The financial aid and international offices may help you to find an on-campus job and may know people in different departments that have available positions.

Off-campus work options for F-1 visaholders

After you successfully complete your first year of studies in the U.S., you will have more options for work. There are three available types of off-campus work, including curricular practical training, optional practical training, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM optional practical training.

Optional practical training or OPT allows F-1 visa holders to hold an off-campus job or to complete an internship if the work is within their fields of study. For example, if you are pursuing a botany degree, you might be allowed to gain some experience by working at a greenhouse.

How to apply for the OPT program

Before you can begin working at an off-campus job through the OPT program, you must apply and gain approval. To apply, you will need to ask your school to give you a recommendation for participating in the OPT program. This recommendation should be given in your record in the student and exchange visitor information system. Your school should endorse your Form-I20 and update your SEVIS record.

You will then need to file a Form I-765 with the U.S.C.I.S., which is an application for employment authorization. You will need to include documentation about your program and your identity. After your application is processed, an employment authorization document will be provided to you so that you can start working.

The OPT program is available to students who have not yet completed their studies and for students who have just graduated. The pre-completion OPT program is designed for students who have not completed their degrees. Students who hold jobs through the pre-completion OPT program will be limited to working 20 hours per week during school or up to 40 hours per week between terms. The pre-completion OPT program is a good way for you to gain experience in your field before completing your degree. It can also help you to pay for some of your living and educational expenses.

The post-completion OPT program is meant for students following their graduation from their degree programs. This program allows you to stay in the U.S. for up to one year while you participate in OPT without having to secure another employment authorization or visa.

Students who are majoring in a STEM field, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, have a different OPT option available. They are allowed to request an extension of their OPT programs for up to 24 additional months for a total OPT period of three years. This program gives graduates the ability to work for a longer period and U.S. businesses more time to seek an H-1B visa for STEM workers. If you can secure an H-1B visa, you may be able to eventually secure a green card and permanent U.S. resident status.

The CPT program

The curricular practical training or CPT program allows students to work in off-campus internships that are required by their degree programs. For example, nursing students are commonly required to work in internships in local hospitals to complete their programs. The CPT program is available to international students who are required to complete internships or off-campus training to complete their degree programs.

Students who participate in the CPT program are generally required to enroll in a specific class together with their internship or training. Talk to an academic counselor for your program to learn more about your CPT requirements for your program.

Preparing to arrive

After you have been approved for your F-1 visa and are preparing to travel, there are several things that you will need to take care of. You should make sure that you have a health insurance policy that meets the requirements of international students. You will need to maintain this insurance during your entire stay. Talk to your university about options for obtaining medical insurance.

You will also need to think about finding housing and transportation and opening a U.S. bank account for your stay. In the U.S., most transactions for housing, transportation, and bank accounts require a good credit history. However, your credit record will not automatically transfer to the U.S. One solution is to secure a credit passport from Nova Credit. This translates your credit history and is used by many banks, large housing companies, and various lenders in the U.S. to determine whether to extend credit to international students. Once you have taken this step and have prepared for your arrival in the U.S., you can concentrate on your studies and the new opportunities that you will experience through your degree program.

Moved to the U.S. from Australia, Kenya, or the Philippines?

Start your U.S. credit building journey on the right foot

A strong credit score helps you access a lot in the U.S., and a credit card is an easy way to start building your U.S. credit score. Access your free international credit score, and see which U.S. credit cards could be right for you.

More from Nova Credit:

The best credit cards for international students

How international students can get financial aid

Student loans for international students

The ultimate guide to the F-1 visa

Everything you need to know about F-2 visas

What is an F-1 visa extension? How do I get one?

What is the difference between CPT and OPT?

The complete guide to OPT work permits: How long does it take to get an EAD card for OPT?

How to transition from OPT to a green card

What is OPT? Everything you need to know about Optional Practical Training What is the F-1 grace period of allowance for OPT extension?

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