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Understanding Your F-1 Visa

What is an F-1 visa?

An F-1 visa is a stamp or document that is placed in your passport. It was issued when you presented your Form I-20, financial documentation and other documents to the U.S. Consulate abroad. The visa includes the school at which you intend to study, the date it expires, and the number of times that you can use it to enter the United States.

NOTE: An approval notice from USCIS granting a change of status to F-1 is NOT an F-1 visa.

What if my F-1 visa expires while in the United States?

Once you are here, you do not need to be concerned if your F-1 visa expires unless you are intending to travel outside the United States. Before you re-enter the U.S., you will need to make sure you have a valid F-1 visa. The F-1 visa itself (unlike your F-1 status) is only important at the port of entry into the United States.

The length of time you may remain in the U.S. is indicated on your I-94 card. For most students, the I-94 card has the notation "D/S." D/S means "duration of status" or the length of time you are maintaining your legal F-1 status. Please see the handout regarding "Maintaining Legal F-1 Status" for more information. If your I-94 card does not say "D/S," you should speak with your International Student Counselor.

When do I have to renew my F-1 visa?

If you decide to travel outside the U.S. AND your current F-1 visa will expire before you re-enter the U.S. to continue your studies, you will need to renew your F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. If you plan to apply for an F-1 visa in a country other than your home country, you will want to make sure they accept visa applications from "third country nationals (TCNs)." Some consular offices do accept nonimmigrant visa applications from TCNs. However, it may be more difficult and more time consuming, mostly because a consular officer must evaluate the applicant’s ties to their home country and consular officers in your home country are in a better position to do so. Some consular posts also accept mail in or drop off requests. Processing times vary and not all posts accept these types of applications. Before trying to apply for an F-1 visa in this manner, it is essential to find out directly from the consular office whether this is acceptable. U.S. Consulates can be found on the web at http://travel.state.gov/

What can I do if my visa request is denied?

If your visa request is denied, make sure you obtain an explanation of the SPECIFIC REASON you were denied the visa and ask about re-application procedures BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE U.S. EMBASSY OR CONSULATE. Also, try to obtain the full name of the officer who interviewed you, as well as his/her fax number. The International Student Counselor MAY be able to help you, if you can provide this information.

What if my visa was issued for a different school than I am currently attending?

If you have transferred schools since the time you entered the U.S., you do NOT have to renew your F-1 visa if it has not expired. Bring copies of all your previous I-20s with you when you travel. These documents show your history in the U.S. and explain why your current school is not on your F-1 visa.

What if I changed my status while in the United States?

If you were approved for a Change of Status to F-1 student status from USCIS, then you are legally in the U.S. as a F-1 student and expected to be enrolled as such. You have the same responsibilities and benefits as all other F-1 status students. However, you do NOT have an F-1 VISA. A visa is only obtained from outside the United States. You changed your status so you could pursue your studies without traveling to your home country and applying for an F-1 visa.  This means that if you intend to travel outside the U.S. (with only a few exceptions), you will need to apply for and obtain an F-1 visa in order to return to the U.S. as an F-1 student. However, if you do not intend to travel, you will not need the F-1 visa. Your F-1 status is what you will need to maintain to remain in legal status. Do not use another visa type to travel in and out of the U.S. as that will terminate your F-1 status.

Do Canadian students have to obtain an F-1 visa?

No. Any students from Canada do not have to obtain an F-1 visa. However, you must be sure to have all your documents process at the port of entry as an F-1 student. You also have the same responsibilities and benefits as all other F-1 status students.