The United States welcomes foreign citizens who come to the U.S. to study. Before applying for a visa, all student visa applicants are required to be accepted and approved by their school or program. Once accepted, the educational institution will provide the applicant with the necessary approval documentation to be submitted when applying for a student visa. Students can apply within 120 days from the start date indicated on the Form I-20 and can travel within 30 days from the start date on the Form I-20.
Visa descriptions and qualifications
This is the most common type of student visa. If you wish to engage in academic studies in the United States at an approved school, such as an accredited U.S. college or university, private secondary school, or approved English language program then you need an F-1 visa. You will also need an F-1 visa if your course of study is more than 18 hours a week.
If you plan engage in non-academic or vocational study or training at a U.S. institution then you need an M-1 visa.
More information about each of these visas and opportunities for studying in the United States can be found at the Education USA website.
U.S. public schools
U.S. public school
U.S. law does not permit foreign students to attend public elementary school (kindergarten to 8th grade) or a publicly funded adult education program. Hence, F-1 visas cannot be issued for study at such schools.
An F-1 visa can be issued for attendance at a public secondary school (grades 9 to 12), but the student is limited to a maximum of 12 months at the school. The school must also indicate on the Form I-20 that the student has paid the unsubsidized cost of the education and the amount submitted by the student for that purpose.
For more information about F-1 legal requirements, visit the Department of State website.
Note: Holders of A, E, F-2, G, H-4, J-2, L-2, M-2 or other derivative nonimmigrant visas may enroll in public elementary and secondary schools.
EducationUSA – finding a U.S. higher education institution
EducationUSA is the Department of State’s official advising network providing accurate, comprehensive, and current information on higher education. In India, three EducationUSA partners administer seven centers in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai employing more than 30 student advisors. We encourage all students considering higher education in the United States to check out EducationUSA online followed by engagement with one of the centers. Bhutanese students are welcome to connect with either Delhi or Kolkata. For more information about the U.S. Embassy’s higher education activities, click here.
Spouses, including same-sex spouses, and/or unmarried children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal visa holder in the United States for the duration of his or her stay require derivative F or M visas. There is no derivative visa for the parents of F or M holders.
Family members who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but wish to visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas.
Spouses and dependents may not work in the United States on a derivative F or M visa. If your spouse/child seeks employment, the spouse must obtain the appropriate work visa.
To apply for an F or M visa, you must pay your $160 application fee and submit the following:
- A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 web page for more information about the DS-160.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
- One 2 x 2 inch (51 x 51 mm) photograph taken within the last six months. This web page has information about the required photo format.
- If a visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on your nationality. The Department of State’s website can help you find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
- An approved original signed Form I-20 from your U.S. school or program.
In addition to these items, you must present an interview appointment letter confirming that you booked an appointment through this service. You may also bring whatever supporting documents you believe support the information provided to the consular officer.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
F-1 visa holders may be eligible for up to 12 months of optional practical training following completion of all course requirements for graduation (not including thesis or equivalent), or after completion of all requirements. OPT is separate from a student’s academic work, and time for OPT will not normally be reflected during the student’s academic program or in the completed study date. Students applying for an F visa to do OPT may present an I-20 with an original end of study date that may have passed. However, these I-20s must be annotated by the designated school official to reflect approval of an OPT program that extends beyond the end of the regular period of study. In addition, the student must have proof that USCIS has approved their practical training program or that an application is pending, either in the form of an approved Employment Authorization Card or a Form I-797 indicating that s/he has a pending application for an OPT program.
Validity of student visas after a break in studies
Students who are away from classes for more than five months can expect to apply for and receive a new F-1 or M-1 student visa to return to school following travel abroad, as explained below.
Students within the U.S.
A student (F-1 or M-1) may lose that status if they do not resume studies within five months of the date of transferring schools or programs, under immigration law. If a student loses status, unless USCIS reinstates the student’s status, the student’s F or M visa would also be invalid for future travel returning to the U.S. For more information see the USCIS website, and instructions for Application for Extend/Change of Nonimmigrant Status Form I-539 to request reinstatement of status.
Students returning to the U.S. from travel abroad
Students who leave the U.S. for a break in studies of five months or more may lose their F-1 or M-1 status unless their activities overseas are related to their course of study. In advance of travel, students may want to check with their designated school official, if there is a question about whether their activity is related to their course of study.
When the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration inspector at port of entry is presented a previously used, unexpired F-1 or M-1 visa by a returning student who has been outside the U.S. and out of student status for more than five months, a CBP immigration inspector may find the student inadmissible for not possessing a valid nonimmigrant visa. CBP may also cancel the visa after granting the student permission to withdraw the application for admission. Therefore, it is prudent for students to apply for new visas at an Embassy or Consulate abroad prior to traveling to the U.S. to return to their studies, after an absence of more than five months that is not related to their course of study.