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Everything you need to know about F-2 visas

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Studying at a college or university in the United States is a dream for many international students, but leaving behind a loved one can be a hard decision. If you are on an F-1 student visa, u may have the option of bringing your dependents with you.

Everything you need to know about F-2 visas

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An F-2 visa is a type of visa that allows dependents of F-1 student visa holders to move to the U.S. and live with the F-1 student while they complete their degree programs at approved U.S. colleges or universities.

Eligibility for F-2 visas

To be eligible for an F-2 visa, applicants should fulfill the following requirements:

  • Be a spouse of an approved F-1 visa foreign national
  • Be an unmarried child under the age of 21 of an approved F-1 visa foreign national
  • Have the financial capacity to support their stay in the U.S.

The eligibility of the F-2 visa is normally based on the status of the F-1 visa holder.

How to get an F-1 visa

Before foreign nationals can apply for their dependents to come to the U.S., they must first apply to a university or college that's been approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP, and obtain an F-1 visa. Once they've successfully gained admission, the designated school official (DSO) will provide the F-1 student with Form I-20.

Form I-20 includes details such as the purpose of the visa, a list of estimated expenses and the length of the F-1 visa program. In the form, the F-1 visa holder may also indicate that he or she wishes to apply for F-2 visa status for their dependents. With this information, the SEVP educational institution may also provide additional Form I-20s for each dependent the F-1 visa holder wants to bring to the U.S. The foreign national applying for an F-1 visa will have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee of $350.

After receiving Form I-20, you'll then have to complete DS-160, a nonimmigrant visa application you can complete online. Print out DS-160 ensuring that the barcode is included and visible and include the receipt of payment when submitting your requirements. The visa application fee for DS-160 is $160. 

Next, schedule an interview at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in your home country. You will need to bring several documents to your F-1 visa interview, including the following:

  • Valid passport
  • Complete Form DS-160
  • The payment receipt for your application fee
  • Passport photo
  • Complete Form I-20

You may also be requested to submit proof of your academic qualifications to study in the U.S. Examples of these documents can include your academic transcripts and your TOEFL, SAT/ACT, GRE, and GMAT scores. Documents that demonstrate your financial capacity and show your intent to return to your home country after completing your studies in the U.S. should also be submitted.

During the interview, the consular officer may ask you questions about your intent to study in the U.S. and your chosen field. The interviewer will then decide whether to deny or approve your application for an F-1 visa. Approved applicants will need to provide their passports for visa stamping. The interviewer will also inform you whether you can pick up your passport yourself or if it will be sent to you in the mail.

After receiving your F-1 visa stamp, you can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before your educational program starts.

How to get F-2 visas for your spouse and minor children

If you are an F-1 visa holder planning to bring your spouse or minor children with you to the U.S. during your educational program, ask the DSO at your school or university to issue Form I-20s for each family member who intends to travel with you.

Each dependent will need to complete the visa application or DS-160 and pay the $160 application fee. They will then need to schedule interviews with the U.S. consulate or embassy.

F-2 visa applicants must bring enough evidence to show their identities and their relationship with the F-1 international student. When you go to your interview for an F-2 visa, you will need to bring all of the following documents with you:

  • An original valid passport and photocopies
  • Form DS-160
  • Passport photo
  • For children of F-1 visa holders, their birth certificates
  • For spouses of F-1 visa holders, their marriage certificates
  • Payment receipt for the visa application
  • Form I-20
  • Photocopy of the F-1 student's I-20 form
  • Evidence of your finances such as tax records, bank statements, and salary statements

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A step-by-step guide to applying for an F-2 visa

The process of applying for an F-2 visa is fairly straightforward. Below is the application process in easy-to-follow steps to help you prepare for what you need to do.

1. Obtain a Form I-20 from the approved school

The DSO is normally responsible for handing out Form I-20s for you and your dependents at an approved university or educational institution.

You may have to inform the DSO of your intention to bring your spouse and/or minor children with you with nonimmigrant dependent F-2 visas, after which you and your dependents will each be provided with your own Form I-20 to fill out.

2. Complete the online Form DS-160

After you have received your Form I-20, the next step is to complete Form DS-160, the application for a nonimmigrant visa. Have in mind that you won't be able to complete Form DS-160 without the Form I-20 from your SEVP-approved school.

Form DS-160 can only be completed and submitted online on the Consular Electronic Application Center of the U.S. Department of State (DOS). 

After you fill out this application form and submit it, you'll be taken to a confirmation page that generates a unique barcode for your application. Print this barcode and bring it with you to your visa interview appointment. The information that you provide on your visa application will be used to process it.

3. Pay the visa application fee

Each dependent for whom you are requesting an F-2 visa for will have to pay the application fee of $160. Depending on your home country, you may also have to pay a visa issuance fee. Once you've made the payments that apply to you, keep the receipts; you’ll need them later on during your interview at the U.S. consulate or embassy.

4. Schedule your visa interview

After you have completed your visa application and paid your fees, the next step is to schedule a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. Visa interviews are usually held on a first-come, first-serve basis and may be scheduled for months in advance. This makes it important for you to schedule your appointment early. Once you schedule your interview, a confirmation will be sent to your email. You will need to print this interview appointment confirmation to show to the officials when you arrive for your visa interview.

5. Gather all important documents

You may refer to the list of recommended documents above so you know what to provide during the interview. Organize the receipts and documents and group them together according to who they are for—you, your spouse or your children. Failure to bring required documents may result in unnecessary delays and, in worse case scenarios, may lead to application denial. 

6. Go to your interview

Arriving early on your interview date is a good idea. Have all your documents, including your proof of financial capability. You will present them to your interviewer, who will ask you questions about your intent to study in the U.S. and desire to bring your spouse or children with you.

How long does it take to process an F-2 visa?

The processing time for F-2 visa applications tends to vary. In many cases, however, you can expect an official decision to be made one to two weeks after your interview. Don’t make travel plans before you’ve received an official decision from the embassy or consulate.

Benefits enjoyed by F-2 visa holders

F-2 visa holders are allowed to legally enter and remain in the U.S. as long as the F-1 student's status remains valid. To maintain his or her status, the F-1 student must enroll and remain in a full-time program of study in the U.S. He or she must report any changes of address to the DSO and will not be allowed to work for the first academic year. After the first academic year, the F-1 student may ask for permission to work at an on-campus job, but he or she will be limited to working 20 hours per week during the academic term or 40 hours per week during holidays.

F-2 visa holders are able to live in the U.S with the F-1 visa holder. They are not, however, normally allowed to work. Spouses of F-1 visa holders may attend school on a part-time basis. Additionally, F-2 dependents who are school-age will be required to attend K-12 schools while they're in the U.S.

Granted extensions of stay for F-1 visa students also apply to his or her dependents. Following the extension, proof should still be submitted to prove the financial capability of the family, as well as an application for renewal of the F-2 dependent visa. You will need to file Form I-539 and provide proof that you still have sufficient financial resources to obtain an extension and to renew your F-2 dependent visa.

Changing your visa status

Foreign nationals who enter the U.S. on an F-2 visa are also eligible to apply for an adjustment of status. For example, if you're an F-2 dependent and you want to enroll in a full-time educational program at a U.S. college or university, you may apply to a SEVP-approved school and submit an application to adjust your status to a different type of visa. Once you change your status, you may then be allowed to study in the U.S. on a full-time basis until your program is completed. You can apply to change your status by filing Form I-539.

You also have the option of changing your status from an F-2 visa to a different type of nonimmigrant visa such as an H-1B or an L-1 visa, which are both nonimmigrant and dual intent visas. 

If you secure an H-1B visa, you may remain and work in the U.S. for up to six years. Eventually, you may also apply to become a lawful permanent resident. However, you must find an employer willing to sponsor you and that can petition for an H-1B visa on your behalf. 

Restrictions on F-2 dependent visa holders

The F-2 visa is only meant for dependents of F-1 visa holders to enter the U.S. to live with the F-1 student. As such, there are several restrictions placed on F-2 dependents. 

For example, F-2 visa holders usually can’t work with their visas since they can’t usually obtain a work permit. They can, however, engage in unpaid voluntary work. Without a work permit, the F-2 visa holder also won't be able to get a Social Security Number. One option you have is to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file any reports or tax returns with the IRS. If you wish to work, you will first need to apply to change your visa to a different type that allows you to work.

While you can take vocational or recreational courses on a part-time basis, you are not typically allowed to enroll in university or college programs full-time to pursue a Bachelor's or graduate degree program with an F-2 visa. Minor children who are of school age can enroll in K-12 schools in the U.S. to comply with compulsory education laws. If you want to pursue a bachelor's or graduate degree, you may start by applying to adjust your status to an F-1 visa after securing admission to a SEVP-approved university or college.

When to arrive in the U.S. with an F-2 visa

You won't be able to enter the country before the arrival of the F-1 student. You may either travel with the F-1 visa holder or follow him or her to the U.S. at a later time.  This restriction only applies, however, if it's your first time entering the U.S. on your F-2 visa. After the initial entry, you will normally be able to re-enter the U.S. even without the presence of the F-1 visa holder.

How long does an F-2 visa last?

Your F-2 visa will last for the duration of the F-1 student's educational program. When the F-1 visa holder completes his or her degree program, you both must return to your home country within 60 days of the end of the program unless the F-1 student has applied for and has been approved for the OPT program or a STEM OPT extension. If the F-1 student receives an extension, you will be able to remain in the U.S. on your F-2 visa until the end of the extension period.

Your F-2 visa status depends on the status of the F-1 visa holder. This means that if the status of the F-1 visa holder lapses, you will have to leave the U.S. with the F-1 student to return to your home country. Examples of actions that could cause the F-1 student to lose his or her status include falling below full-time study, failing to report changes of address or work, working without an employment authorization document (EAD), or committing a criminal offense.

The takeaway

F-2 visas allow spouses and minor children of F-1 students to enter the U.S. to live with the F-1 student for the duration of the educational program. However, this does not allow you to work in the U.S. or study full-time. The good news is that you may have the option to apply for an adjustment of status to a different type of visa that will allow you to work or pursue a degree.

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After receiving your F-2 visa, you may have your own concerns about traveling to the U.S with your family. There's a lot to consider and prepare for ahead of your arrival. One of the first things you'll need to think about is finding a place, opening a bank account and smoothing your transition to life in the States. If you have a good credit history in your country, Nova Credit can help simplify that process by helping you use your international credit history to apply for products and services for newcomers here in the U.S. Learn more here

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