Many foreign students have questions regarding an education in the United States and have no idea how to begin the process of immigrating to the U.S. and applying to schools in the United States. To begin the process there are several steps that need to be taken by international students to attend a qualifying institution of higher learning. Primarily, the school must be certified by the U.S. Investigations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student Exchange Visitor Program. A list of qualifying school can be found on the ICE website. The student must apply and gain admission to an educational institution and be issued a SEVIS Form I-20.
Younger students who are elementary and secondary school aged will be issued H-4 or L-2 status by ICE. These are non-immigrant statuses but there are elementary and secondary schools in the United States who issue I-20’s with the approval of ICE. The schools are listed on the ICE website. An F-1 student visa holder may also attend a public secondary school in the United States for up to twelve months, but they must reimburse the public school for the full cost of their attendance. The I-20 is the first step in obtaining an F-1 Visa, but there are other important steps that must be taken for students wishing to attend school in the U.S.
Students who are currently in the United States under a different non-immigrant status must change their status to student before they attend school in the U.S. Students can apply for a student visa at the U.S. Consulate in their country or another Embassy outside of the United States. By obtaining this change students will be allowed to apply for an F-1 Visa if they obtain the issued I-20 and meet the following qualifications; 1) students must prove they have the funding to attend school in the United States; 2) students must not intend to remain permanently in the United States after their studies end; 3) students must be proficient in the English language.
Students who are married and intend to study in the United States will need their qualifying family members apply for F-2 status. Children of an F-1 student are eligible to attend public elementary and secondary school. Spouses of F-1 students are allowed to live in the United States but they are not allowed to work in the U.S. A dependent child of a student under F-1 status must be age 21 or younger.
Students who are under F-1 Visa status are not allowed to work off campus for the first academic year of their education. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or (CIS) has specific rules and guidelines for students under F-1 Visas working on or off campus. F-1 students are allowed to work on-campus during their first year of academic study. F-1 students can begin working on campus as much as 30 days before the beginning of the school year. During their second and subsequent years, students are allowed to work off-campus but only as part of their educational affiliation or directly related to their field of study.