For many international students who have never traveled outside of their home country before, the visa process can be daunting and confusing. At Westminster Seminary California, we desire to be of assistance to you during this process; however, most of the responsibility involved in obtaining a visa and maintaining visa status is on the part of you, the student. Therefore, the following information and resources are provided in order to assist you with understanding the F-1 visa. This information is a reference only and is subject to change. The student should consult U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Department of State, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
What is a visa?
- A visa is issued to a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the U.S. for a specific reason. A visa does not guarantee entry into to the U.S.; rather, its purpose is to verify that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate and has been found acceptable. This process is under the oversight of the U.S. Department of State.
- Once you arrive at a U.S. port of entry (U.S. airport or border), your visa and paperwork are reviewed by an immigration officer. He or she determines whether or not you may enter the country and how long you can stay. For almost all F-1 visas, the officer marks them with “D/S” (i.e. Duration of Status), meaning that you are eligible to remain in the country for your duration of status as an F-1 student, which is until the end date listed on your I-20. Immigration processes are under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa and is the only visa for which admitted students are eligible to apply. Non-immigrant visas are for those with permanent residence in a country other than the United States who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily.
How do I obtain a F-1 visa?
Please review the policies and procedures outlined under the “Apply for Certificate of Eligibility” section on our International Student page >>
What does the date on my visa signify?
- The date in your visa does NOT show how long you can legally stay in the U.S.; rather it shows the last possible date you may seek entry to the U.S. Thus, while you are able to stay in the U.S. beyond the date on your visa as long as you are in-status (i.e. for your duration of F-1 status), you are not able to re-enter the country beyond the date on your visa.
- If you anticipate needing to re-enter the country after the date on your visa but before your duration of status as a F-1 student is complete, you will need to arrange to re-new your visa at the U.S. consulate in your country of citizenship. If you make arrangements to renew your visa while a student at WSC, please notify a DSO at least one month in advance of your departure from the U.S. so that you may obtain the necessary documents that you need from WSC for visa re-application.
What is the difference between the I-20, the F-1 visa, and “immigration status?”
- I-20: This is the document issued by WSC to the admitted student to provide confirmation that a Designated School Official (DSO) at WSC has reviewed your application file and documentation of your financial resources and determined that you are both eligible and able to pursue studies at WSC. It also demonstrates that you are registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The I-20 document is required by U.S. consulates as part of your visa application.
- F-1 VISA: As described above, a visa is documentation that you have met the U.S. consulate requirements to legally enter the U.S. Your visa and I-20 are reviewed by an immigration officer who is responsible to grant or deny you entry. If you leave the U.S, you must have a valid U.S. visa in order to re-enter.
- IMMIGRATION STATUS: When an immigration officer at the port-of-entry grants you entrance to the U.S., you are given an immigration status which is listed on your I-94 card and your I-20. Typically your visa type and immigration status are the same unless you change your immigration status after entry to the U.S. To maintain legal immigration status on a F-1 (academic student) visa, be sure to register each semester as a full-time student in correlation with your program outline in the Academic Catalogue. Also, pay attention to the end date on your I-20. If you need to extend your program end date beyond the date listed on your I-20, please notify a DSO at WSC as soon as possible so that he or she may determine if your reasons for extending your program are legitimate according to F-1 student policies.
What is a F-2 visa?
- A F-2 visa is the type of visa that is issued to the dependents of the F-1 principal (you, the student). The F-2 visa is only necessary if your dependents (spouse and/or children) intend to travel and stay with you during your studies at WSC.
- In order to receive dependent I-20 forms so that your dependents may apply for F-2 visas, you will need to provide WSC with documentation of the necessary financial resources to support your dependents’ cost of living (in addition to your own as described on the Apply for Certificate of Eligibility (I-20) page).
- The process to apply for a F-2 visa is the same as the process you followed to apply for a F-1 with the additional requirement of proof of each dependent’s relationship to you.
Where can I get more extensive information on F-1 and F-2 visas?
- Student and Exchange Visitors: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement >>
- Student Visas: U.S. Department of State >>
- Visa Information: U.S. Department of Homeland Security "Study in the States" site>>
- SEVIS I-901 fee: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement >>
- U.S. Embassy and Consulate Websites: U.S. Department of State >>
- Students’ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement >>