Extending Your Student Visa
What is the Difference Between an F visa and an M Visa?
The type of educational institute a person is planning on attending and their course of study determines what type of visa the person needs. A person needs an F visa if they enter the country to attend:
- A college or university;
- A high school;
- A private elementary school;
- A seminary; or
- A conservatory.
However, a person needs an M visa if they are attending a vocational or other recognized non-academic institution, other than a language training program.
How Long Can You Stay Under a Student Visa?
Because a student visa is a temporary visa, a person is only permitted to be in the country for a certain period of time. A person’s Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, will generally indicate how long they can stay in the U.S. If a person holds a student visa, it is important to leave no later than the date on which the visa expires or to get an extension of the visa if it is needed.
In some cases a person’s Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, will indicate “Duration of Status” rather than a specific date. In these cases, the person can stay in the U.S. as a student for the entire length of their studies as long as they maintain their status as a student.
Also, a person must leave the U.S. after their studies have been completed. If a person has an F-1 visa, they will generally have 60 days to transfer schools or leave the country after they have finished their studies. With an M-1 visa, they will have only 30 days to leave the U.S.
What are the Penalties for Violating Your Student Visa?
If a person is a student, it is important to leave no later than the time specified in their visa or get a proper extension of their visa if they need it in order to complete their studies. Overstaying a visa by even one day is considered a serious violation of immigration law and can lead to serious consequences such as:
- Automatically voiding of the visa that a person holds at the time of the overstay;
- Difficulty with re-entering the US if a person should decide to visit or study in the US again;
- Becoming completely ineligible to receive a visa in the future; and/or
How Do You Extend Your Stay Under a Student Visa?
A person is generally eligible to extend their student visa if there are compelling reasons. This typically includes valid academic or medical reasons such as the following:
- Dealing with an illness;
- Transferring between different schools;
- Changing majors; and/or
- Embarking on extra studies or research.
However, to extend an F-1 or M-1 visa, a person has to remain a full-time student and not miss five months or more of classes. If a person does not meet these requirements, they will not be able to extend their current visa and will need to apply for a new student visa.
What are the Procedures for Extending Your Student Visa?
If a person is eligible and wants to extend their student visa, they must file a Form I-539, an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A person must do this before their stay expires. If a person allows their current visa to expire before applying for an extension, the person risks being barred from returning or deportation.
A person may apply to extend their stay if they meet the following criteria:
- Were lawfully admitted to the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa;
- Their nonimmigrant visa has not expired;
- Have not committed any crimes that would make them ineligible for a visa;
- Have not violated the conditions of their admission, e.g. by working without authorization;
- Their passport from their country of citizenship is valid and will remain valid for the duration of their extended stay; if a person’s passport would expire, they would have to go to the embassy of their home country and obtain a new passport.
The necessary form can be downloaded and instructions can be found online at the USCIS website The following documents must be submitted with the form.
- A letter which explains the person’s request;
- Two passport photos;
- All the documentation that was needed for their student visa;
- A copy of their Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student, Form I-20
- Evidence of the person’s ability to pay for their studies and support themselves and their dependents.
A person will generally have to prove that they maintain a permanent residence outside the U.S., plan to return to their home country and have enough funds to support themselves and dependents during a longer stay in the U.S. and to pay for their continuing studies.
If a person has allowed their F-1 visa to expire, they might be able to get it reinstated by presenting the following to the USCIS:
- A copy their Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student, Form I-20;
- Evidence of their ability to pay for their studies and to support themselves and their dependents;
- Evidence that their violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond their control or that the violation relates to a reduction in their course load that is within a designated school official’s power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the person;
- If the person was out of status for more than five months, evidence of exceptional circumstances and that has filed the application for reinstatement as promptly as was possible under the exceptional circumstances
Also, a person may want to enter the U.S. before their student visa takes effect. To achieve this, a person is required to file Form I-539, Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status, and Form I-20 to the USCIS.
What About Changes in Status?
If a person’s plans change while they are in the U.S. because of circumstances such as marrying a U.S. citizen or receiving an offer of employment, the person may be able to request a change in their nonimmigrant status to another category through the USCIS.
If a person is already in the U.S., then receiving a change of status from USCIS does not require application for a new visa. However, once the person travels outside the country, they must apply in the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a new visa which would reflect the changed status.
Should I Contact a Lawyer for Issues with My Student Visa?
Immigration laws can be complex. Overstaying your visa can lead to serious consequences. If you are a student and if you wish to extend your student visa or obtain a different visa, it would be beneficial to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can inform you about the relevant laws and guide you through the process.
Be sure to act well in advance of the expiration of your current visa, because you want to extend your visa or change your status before your current visa expires. Do not wait until the last minute, because processing requests for extensions or changes takes time. You are most likely to have the best outcome if you have an experienced immigration attorney representing your interests.
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