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The F-1 visa is the US visa required for international students who wish to enrol in a program at one of the top US Universities. In this article, our immigration experts provide an overview of the F-1 student visa and more importantly highlight legal routes to be considered for those who want to stay in the U.S. post-graduation, including a permanent option through the U.S. EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. The EB-5 Program allows the applicant to obtain a U.S. Green Card in exchange for an investment in a government approved project.
F-1 student visa
The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa that allows foreign nationals to pursue academic studies in the United States at an accredited US college or university.
Who can apply for an F-1 visa?
International students: If you are not a US citizen or permanent resident and you want to study in a US college or university, or even a private school for minor children, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa.
Language students: If you want to take a language course that is not for academic credit, you can apply for an F-1 visa. This type of visa is also known as an English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
Exchange students: If you are participating in an exchange program that allows you to study in the US, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa and a J visa.
Research scholars: If you are a research scholar or professor who wants to conduct research or teach at a US academic institution, you can apply for an F-1 visa or a J visa.
Overall, the F-1 visa is designed for individuals who want to pursue academic studies in the US, including those who are pursuing non-degree programs such as language courses, vocational programs, and exchange programs.
Is it allowed to work under an F-1 student visa?
International students may be eligible to work under an F-1 visa but there are limited opportunities. Under this visa, you are generally allowed to work only on-campus part-time (less than 20 hours per week), and the job should be related to the student’s field of study. For those studying in fields like engineering or law, it may be difficult to find a suitable position at school, thus missing out on some valuable practical training in actual US companies and firms. This practical experience can help accelerate their career growth after the completion of their studies.
F-1 visa validity
The F-1 visa is typically issued for the duration of the academic program a student is enrolled in. The length of the F-1 visa validity period varies depending on the length of the academic program.
Generally, an F-1 visa may be issued up to 120 days before the program start date, allowing students to enter the US within that period. After entering the US, students must maintain their F-1 status by attending the authorized school, making normal progress toward completing their course of study and avoiding unauthorized employment.
It’s important to note that the F-1 visa does not confer permanent residence or the right to remain in the US indefinitely. If a student’s academic program or OPT ends, they will need to leave the US or obtain a different visa status in order to stay in the US.
How long can F-1 visa students stay in the US after their program ends?
After an F-1 visa student completes their academic program, they are allowed to remain in the US for a period of time known as the “grace period.” The grace period is typically 60 days after the completion of the program date on the Form I-20. During this time, F-1 visa students can prepare to leave the US, apply to change their visa status or decide to pursue additional studies.
It’s important to note that during the grace period, F-1 visa students are not allowed to work or study in the US, except in some limited circumstances outlined by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Therefore, it’s important for F-1 visa students to plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements before their grace period ends.
What are the options for F-1 students who want to stay in the US after graduation?
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
After completing their degree, F-1 students may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to gain work experience in their field of study in the US for up to 12 months. After 12 months, some international students who have earned a degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, may be eligible to extend their OPT for an additional 24 months after which the student must return to their home country.
In case a student wants to continue after the OPT expires, they must find another option to stay and work legally in the US. In some cases, their employer can initiate the sponsorship of the student and start the process of an H-1B visa through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- H-1B Employment Visa
The H-1B visa allows immigrants and newly graduated international students to work in high-skilled job positions in the US. However, the H1-B visa route has become frustrating and uncertain for many applicants. As an increasing number of foreigners apply to migrate to the US via this visa category, H1-B employment visas are now allotted annually on the basis of a lottery draw. This means that now even for those who have secured a job position or found an employer willing to sponsor them, the H1-B visa is not guaranteed.
For those who are lucky enough to secure an H-1B visa, it still comes with some limitations. The foreign workers are tied to their employers, sometimes limiting career growth or movement. If one were to lose their job, the time to find another position is also limited after which they must exit the US. This is disappointing for those who have built their homes and families in the US over many years.
- EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program
An international student can also choose the route of investing in the US economy in exchange for a permanent resident card also called a US green card. This path has become immensely popular among international students and their families over the past years, as it offers more security than other routes. The US EB-5 Visa Program allows the applicant to invest a refundable amount of USD $800,000 in a government-approved project. Under this route, the investor, the investor’s spouse and any children under the age of 21 can obtain a green card under one single application. A child can be the primary applicant having the funds for the investment gifted from a parent. This strategy is being used by many families across the GCC who already have a child studying in the US on an F-1 visa or who may be on OPT post-graduation.
Also Read: Guide To The Us Eb-5 Green Card
Contact Immigration Advisory Firm Step Global to start your immigration journey
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