F-1 Visa Application Process

Immigration Status

The difference between U.S. immigration status and a visa stamp is an important and sometimes confusing concept. F-1 status can be extended, shortened or even changed to a different immigration status (such as the H-1B) while you are inside the U.S., yet your F-1 visa stamp does not have to match your immigration status while you are inside the United States.

The visa stamp is only necessary for travel purposes. Initial entry and subsequent re-entry into the U.S. from abroad requires a valid visa corresponding to your particular immigration status at all times. However, you do not need to depart the U.S. if your visa stamp expires as long as your F-1 (or other) immigration status is still valid.

The U.S. Department of State has more information about the visa application process, visa fee payments, and reasons for possible delays in the issuing of U.S. visas.

Canadian citizens are not required to obtain a visa stamp from a U.S. consulate. Canadians are inspected at the U.S. border and admitted there in F-1 status

Visa Appointment

Do not schedule a visa appointment until you have received your Form I-20 from Dartmouth. Apply for the visa at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy in your country with jurisdiction over your residence abroad. Appointment procedures and times vary from consulate to consulate, so check for details at the U.S. consulate where you will apply.

What to Bring to Your F-1 Visa Appointment

  • The completed Form DS-160 from the appropriate U.S. consulate
     
  • Form I-20, issued by Dartmouth College
     
  • Your passport (valid for at least six months into the future)
     
  • Proof (receipt) of the SEVIS fee payment
     
  • Documentary evidence of the funding listed on your Form I-20
     
  • Evidence of sufficient English language ability
     
  • Evidence that you have strong personal, financial, academic and/or professional ties to your home country, and that you plan to return there after your U.S. program of study (non-immigrant intent). This evidence may include:
     
    • A simple statement that you plan to leave the U.S. at the end of your program and return to your home country
       
    • Evidence of property, real estate or land ownership in your home country
       
    • Evidence of financial holdings in your home country
       
    • Ownership of a car or other liquid assets
       
    • Spouse, children or significant other family relatives in your home country
       
    • Permanent employment offer in the home country
       
    • Strong religious or civic ties to your local community
       
    • Proof of acceptance to your Dartmouth degree program

Fees

There are two application fees for F-1 visas. There is a one-time SEVIS fee. A standard worldwide Machine Readable Visa (MRV).

Depending on your own country's policy on fees for U.S. citizens, you may also have to pay a reciprocity fee. Depending on how far away the nearest U.S. consulate is from your home, you may also need to allow for additional travel and accommodation costs to get to your nearest consulate city.

If Your Visa Expires

Your F-1 status is valid as long as you are maintaining full-time enrollment and satisfactory progress in your degree program, even if your F-1 visa expires. You would only need to obtain a new, extended visa if you have plans to depart the U.S. for a visit abroad and re-enter the United States.

You may legally remain in the U.S. if your F-1 visa has expired, without any negative consequences, as long as your F-1 status is still valid.

Change of Status to F-1 Status

It may be possible for you to change your status from another valid nonimmigrant status in the U.S. to F-1 status.  This requires filing an application for change of status with USCIS using Form I-539, and paying the USCIS filing fee. 

The request for change of status is a personal application. While OVIS can provide general guidance and issue the Form I-20 you will need in support of the application, the application filing and filing fee are your responsibility. 

To file a Form I-539 request for change of status you must be in a valid status at the time of application, must be eligible for F-1 status at the time you file, and your nonimmigrant status must not expire more than 30 days before the requested start date on the Form I-20.  If the change of status application will not be approved before the requested start date on the Form I-20, the F-1 sponsor must defer the start date to avoid automatic cancellation of the F-1 record in the SEVIS system. 

The Form I-539 includes a USCIS filing fee and a biometrics fee.  Applicants will be required to attend a biometrics appointment for photograph and fingerprinting at a designated location. USCIS will issue the biometrics appointment notice after the application is received.

Changes of status can take many months to be processed by USCIS, and international travel is prohibited when the application is filed, and while it is pending.  For this reason, you may wish to consider traveling overseas to apply for the F-1 visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate, preferably in your home country, and seeking reentry to the U.S. in F-1 status.  You should carefully consider whether international travel is the best option based on your personal situation, considering such factors as ability to travel, wait times at the U.S. Consular post, and others.

You can find the link to the Form I-539 and instructions to the Form I-539 on the USCIS website.