Academic Students (F-1)
People who are coming to the United States to pursue full-time academic studies are usually admitted in the F-1 nonimmigrant category. The F-1 category includes academic students in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, other academic institutions, and in language training.
USCIS provides that you first must apply to study at a USCIS-approved school in the United States. When you contact a school that you are interested in attending, you should ask immediately if the school accepts foreign national students. If you are accepted, the school should send you USCIS Form I-20 A-B/IID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for Academic and Language Students).
You must then submit the Form I-20 and an application to change your nonimmigrant status to USCIS. You must also prove that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States.
Please be aware that if you have been admitted as a B-1 (Temporary Visitor for Business) or B-2 (Temporary Visitor for Pleasure) visa holder, you may not begin your program studies until your application for these studies is approved.
Spouses and Children
Your spouse and children may also derivatively apply to change their status to F-2. The F-2 status of your family will be dependent upon your status as the F-1 academic student. This means that if you change your status, your family must change their status. If you lose your status, your family will also lose their status.
Ability to Work
You may be allowed to work on-campus or off-campus (after the completion of your first year of study) under limited circumstances. You may also wish to discuss employment with the designated school official (DSO) at your school. Your accompanying spouse and child may not accept employment.
Immigration rules provided by USCIS note: In general, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant status if you were lawfully admitted into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa, your nonimmigrant status remains valid, and you have not committed any crimes that would make you ineligible.
You may not apply to change your nonimmigrant status if you were admitted to the United States in the following visa categories:
(VWPP) – Visa Waiver Pilot Program (or the Guam Visa Waiver Program):
D – As a crewman
C – As an alien in transit or in transit without a visa
K – As a fiancé(e) or spouse of a U.S. citizen or dependent of a fiancé(e) or spouse
S - As an informant (and accompanying family) on terrorism or organized crime
If you are an international exchange visitor (J visa category) you may not change your nonimmigrant status if you were admitted to the United States to receive graduate medical training, unless you receive a special waiver.
If you are a vocational student (M visa category), you may not apply to become an academic student (F visa category).
If you are in the United States as the spouse or child of someone in the following nonimmigrant visa categories, you do not need to apply to change your status if you wish to attend school in the United States (as long as your parent or spouse maintains their original nonimmigrant status).
A – Diplomatic and other government officials, and their families and employees.
E – International Trade and Investors
G – Representatives to international organizations and their families and employees.
H – Temporary Workers
I – Representatives of foreign media and their families
J – Exchange Visitors and their families
L – Intracompany Transferees
If you are in the United States as the spouse or child of someone in the F (Academic Student) or M (Vocational Student) visa category, you do not need to apply to change your status if you wish to attend elementary, middle, or high school in the United States. If you wish to attend post-secondary school full-time, you must apply for change of status.