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Duration of Stay

Unlike most other nonimmigrant who are given definite period of stay in the United States, foreign students are permitted to remain in the U.S. for the "duration of status." Duration of status means that a student remains in valid status during enrollment in any number of academic programs (e.g., high school followed by college followed by master's degree), plus any periods of authorized practical training, and a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S.

The INS has adopted rules, which eliminate completely the extension of stay application for foreign students. Under the rules, the student remains in valid status as long as he or she has not exceeded the estimated program completion date inserted by the foreign student advisor on the student's Form I-20 A-B; that date, in turn, can be an estimate based on the time an average foreign student would need to complete a similar program in the same discipline, and can include a grace period of up to one year. If a student completes the program by the estimated completion date, he or she can advance to the next academic level without requesting an extension from the INS, and remain in valid status (a change of schools requires notification to the INS). If a student fails to complete the program by the estimated completion date, the foreign student advisor can "extend" the anticipation program completion date upon application by the student. If the foreign student advisor will not "extend" the anticipated completion date, the student is out of status, and can only continue his or her academic program by applying to the INS for reinstatement of student status. Reinstatement requires that the student show that the violation of status was due to circumstances beyond the student's control or that the student would suffer "extreme hardship" if he or she is not reinstated. The fee of $120.00 is required.

Application Process

The foreign national seeking to enter the United States to study does not need any advance permission from the Immigration Service. The student must obtain a certificate of eligibility (INS Form I-20 A-B) from the academic institution at which he or she will enroll, and submit this certificate, together with a nonimmigrant visa application and supporting documentation, to a U.S. consulate in the alien's home country. Once the visa is issued, the student can apply at the border for admission to the U.S., the same as any nonimmigrant. A prospective student already in the U.S. in a different nonimmigrant status may apply to the INS to change to student status to undertake studies here. Such changes are often viewed skeptically by INS officers, however, based on their suspicion that the alien intended to engage in studies when he or she entered the U.S. in the different category.

Special Conditions

Foreign students must be enrolled in a full course of study, not part-time studies. They must also demonstrate prior to the granting of a visa that they have sufficient means of support to cover them through their full academic program. Authorization to work because of financial need is granted to students in only the most limited circumstances. Other limited employment opportunities are also available to students. Although the spouses and family members of students may enter the U.S. with the principal student in the F-2 visa category, under no circumstances may they be granted permission to work. Unlike some students who enter in an exchange-visitor program sponsored by their school (J-1 status), F-1 students are not subject to any special requirement to return to their home countries for two years prior to accepting employment here as a nonimmigrant or prior to immigrating.

Restrictions on pursuing a course of study at public schools

The 1996 Act places certain limitations and restrictions on the granting of F-1 status to attend public schools. Note the following:

  • an alien cannot be granted F-1 status in order to pursue a course of study at a public elementary school or in a publicly funded adult education program
  • an alien cannot be granted F-1 status to attend a public secondary school unless the alien reimburses the school for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of his or her education, and the alien intends to remains at the school in such status for no more than a year
  • an alien who obtains an F-1 visa to attend a private elementary school, or a language training program that is not publicly funded, may not transfer into a publicly funded elementary school, a publicly funded adult education program, or a publicly funded adult education language training program.




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