For any foreign national that is looking to study full-time in the US, they must apply for a student visa. There are three different types of student visa and it is important to understand the differences, so that you can apply for the correct one or else your application may get declined if you do not fit the criteria.
The ESTA visa does not allow permission to enter the US for studying, unless it is a short recreational course of study, so it is important to obtain a student visa instead.
Requirements and application process
The F-1 student visa is available for international students that are studying language training programs or academic studies in the US. The F-1 visa includes students attending public secondary school through to university studies.
Where the application is for a public secondary school, the F-1 visa will only be for one year and the school must be reimbursed with the cost of attendance.
How to apply for F-1 visa
The starting point is to apply for the course and if the application is successful, the student will then receive a form I-20 which enables them to apply for the F-1 visa. The school must be a SEVP approved school in the US (Student and Exchange Visitor Program). The student is required to pay a fee for the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) to be added into the system.
The form I-20 includes the program start date/course details and requires your personal details such as name, DOB, country of birth and passport number. It also requires you to complete a section regarding financials. Border security will only issue a F-1 visa if you can provide evidence that you will be able to support yourself throughout your studies in the US. You will be required to estimate the costs such as living expenses and tuition fees and show how you will be funding those costs.
The applicant will be required to attend an interview at the US Embassy in their country to go through their application in detail before the Embassy determines whether to approve the application or not. You will usually be asked questions regarding why you want to take the study program and why are you choosing the US to study in. You will also be required to give details around your exam results and will be asked about your finances.
Restrictions and length of stay under F-1
F-1 visa holders are not entitled to work in the US unless they are able to get a job on campus, which is why applicants must show that they can afford to pay for the course and living costs before they arrive in the US.
Most F-1 visas will be issued for the duration of the course, with holders able to enter the US no more than 30 days before the first class begins. On completion of the course, the F-1 visa holder must leave the US within 60 days unless an alternative type of visa has been obtained that permits a stay under different criteria.
Dependents F-2 visa
F-1 students that have families can bring dependents to live with them under F-2 visa status, providing the criteria is met. This includes being able to finance the living costs of all dependents for the length of the study.