Most nonimmigrant students enter the United States with the legal status of an F-1 (student) visa and continue in that status throughout their period of study. To apply for an F-1 visa, a student needs a government document called a Certificate of Eligibility, or Form I-20, that is issued to the student by the university that the student will attend. A university must receive government permission to issue these I-20 forms.
Form I-20 & Verification
Before issuing an I-20, a university is required by law to verify that prospective students have:
- Academic ability
- English language proficiency
- Financial support for the intended program of study.
Marquette University issues an I-20 for a prospective F-1 student after the student has been accepted for studies and has provided evidence of full financial support for the expenses of living and studying here for the proposed period of time.
F-1 Visa Application Procedures
Prospective students who are outside the United States may use the I-20 to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Each prospective student should learn the details of the procedure by checking the Web site of the embassy or consulate where he or she will apply.
A student may also receive good advice from an adviser at an official Education U.S.A. office in his or her city or region. The locations of these offices may be found on the Web. Canadian students do not need U.S. visas stamped in their documents to enter the United States. Canadians apply for F-1 status by presenting their I-20 forms at a port of entry into the United States.
Filing Your I-20 Form
A student may receive I-20 forms from many universities, but he or she may use only one of them to apply for a student visa. The student is then required to begin the studies at the university whose I-20 was used in the application for the visa.
U.S. Based Students
Prospective students who are already inside the United States with a different valid legal status may be eligible to apply for a change from that status to F-1 status by action of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. That application will also require a Form I-20.
Home Government Requirements
The government of a prospective student's home country may impose many kinds of regulations to control the exit of students or money from the home country. Keep in mind that:
- Some governments allow students to study outside the home country only in certain fields or to study only at postgraduate levels.
- Some governments may accept U.S. degrees earned only from certain universities or only in certain fields or at certain levels of study.
- Some governments require student compliance with extensive procedures in order to begin and continue remittances of funds to the United States.
Each student should be sure to understand his or her own government's regulations, if any, before completing plans to study in the United States.