The F-1 visa is the visa used by foreign students who wish to study in the United States.
The first step in acquiring the F visa is getting accepted by a U.S. college or university. Once accepted, the University will issue a document called a form I-20 on which the student and his sponsor (the person who will pay for living expenses and tuition) demonstrate that the student will have enough funds available to undertake studies in the United States without working.
With the I-20, transcripts and other documents in hand, the student will apply for an F-1 visa in his/her country of origin. The F-1 visa is granted for a period known as “Duration of Status” (D/S). For example, if the school denotes on the I-20 that it should take the student no more than four and half years to obtain the degree, then the student is allowed to remain in the U.S. until the degree is completed in four and a half years or less. In general, in order to continue “in status” the student must carry at least a full-time academic load (12 credits) and must not work without proper employment authorization.
While carrying a full-time course load, students are typically discouraged from seeking employment and most requests are not approvable under current regulations. However, students may be able to work under a very limited set of circumstances during the program of study. Normally these circumstances are limited to serious unforeseen financial hardships to the student or enrollment in a program that actually requires work experience for graduation.
Once the student does graduate, he/she is eligible for a year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) during which employment in the field is permissible. In order to apply for OPT the foreign student should consult with his/her international student advisor. If the student desires to remain in the U.S. beyond the period of authorized OPT, he/she should consider changing to H-1B, or some other form of non-immigrant status (see above).
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