According to U.S. immigration law, an immigrant visa is a type of visa document which allows a foreign national to enter into the U.S., and eventually apply for lawful permanent residency. Lawful permanent residents are generally granted the same rights as natural-born citizens, such as the right to work within the country, and the right to pursue citizenship.

Immigrant visas can be thought of as three broad categories. A person who is seeking an immigrant visa must find another person or organization who will petition them to relocate to the United States. Because of this, immigrant visas are generally categorized according to the applicant’s relationship to their petitioner.

An example of this would be the following types of immigrant visa categories:

  • Family-Based: Family based visas are considerably popular. The petitioners for such visa may include immediate relatives, close family members, fiancés, and other people who are willing to help the applicant receive their visa;
  • Employment-Based: Employers may act as a petitioner, in order to petition a worker to relocate permanently to the United States; and
  • Special Immigrants: An example of special immigrants as employees would be religious workers, or applicants who are from selected countries which may change with each presidential administration.

It is important to note that for some employment-based immigration visas, work certification may be required. What this means is that the employer will need to verify that the person is filling a legitimate employment need.

Immigrant visas are largely characterized by the applicant’s general intent to relocate permanently to the United States. This is in contrast to other types of non-immigrant visas, in which the applicant only intends to stay temporarily. An example of this would be student visas, or temporary work visas.

An applicant for nonimmigrant status must prove that they do not intend to stay or live permanently in the United States. Additionally, there are specific factors which may exclude an applicant from receiving a non-immigrant visa, such as having a criminal felony record.

What Is An F-1 Student Visa?

A specific type of temporary visa would be the F-1 visa, which is required for foreign students in order to study in the U.S. Under the F-1 visa, students may be employed under specific circumstances. Generally speaking, students will be allowed to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their studies, plus one year of authorized Optional Practical Training (“OPT”). Simply put, this is training in their area of study. Additionally, students may stay another sixty days in order to prepare to leave the U.S., or to transfer to another school in order to continue pursuing their studies.

A foreign student can stay in the United States and remain in status once they have become a full time student, even if their F-1 visa has expired. However, if they leave the U.S. on an expired visa, they will be required to get a new and valid student visa before they will be allowed to re-enter the U.S. in order to complete their studies. Additionally, a student visa cannot be re-issued or renewed in the United State. Rather, they must go to an Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Can I Attend Public School While On An F-1 Visa?

If you are on an F-1 visa, you can attend public school. However, if you are attending a public high school, you are only allowed 12 months of study; if you attended a public high school prior to 1996, that time does not count towards the 12 month limit. F-1 visas will no longer be issued in order to attend public elementary or middle schools, or publicly funded Adult Education Programs. Additionally, should you violate these restrictions, you will be denied a visa for 5 years.

You may attend a public university or college; however, before an F-1 visa will be issued for any education, you must show that the school will be reimbursed for the full unsubsidized cost of your education. This amount is calculated by the school.

Can I Travel Outside Of The United States While On An F-1 Visa?

In short, yes, you may travel outside of the U.S. while you are studying on an F-1 visa. However, you should have your I-20 Form with you every time you enter the U.S. The I-20 Form is issued by your school and states which school you will be attending, as well as your expected graduation date and how your education will be funded.

It is important to remember that a visa does not guarantee that you will be allowed to enter the U.S. This is because the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have been given the authorization to allow or deny your request to enter into the U.S.

What Should I Know About Employment Under A Student Visa?

International students possessing an F-1 may work up to 20 hours per week on the campus of their school while it is in session; or, 40 hours per week if the school is on a break. In order to secure on-campus employment, the student must prove that they are in good academic standing with their school, and that they are a full-time student.

Off-campus work is generally prohibited for F1 visa holders. However, there are 3 exceptions:

  • Hardship: An F1 visa holder may apply for off-campus work based on a sudden economic hardship, such as the sudden devaluation of home currency, medical expenses, or the sudden financial loss of their sponsor;
  • Curricular Practical Training: This includes training programs or paid internships that are directly related to the student’s academic studies; and
  • Post-Grad Practical Training: This is work that is intended to provide practical experience which complements the academic course of study. Students must have an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”) issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) before employment can legally begin.

What Else Should I Know About Temporary Visa Laws In General?

Some immigrants may be permitted to enter the United States without going through the regular visa application procedures. Doing so is referred to as a visa waiver.

Some examples of criteria associated with obtaining a visa waiver include, but may not be limited to:

  • The recipient’s stay must amount to ninety days or less;
  • The immigrant must be a citizen of a visa waiver country, which may change;
  • All recipients must possess a valid passport;
  • Immigrants are generally required to provide a round trip ticket with their return date as proof of their intention to only stay temporarily; and
  • Recipients must complete specific forms which are provided by the Bureau of Citizenship, as well as Immigration Services.

No matter the type of visa that is being sought, whether temporary or nonimmigrant, you will be subject to a maximum length of stay in the United States. This is because these visas are issued for a limited length of stay. Because of this, if the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services claim to have reason to believe that you intend on staying past that date, they could revoke your temporary visa.

In order to obtain any kind of visa, you must first schedule an appointment for a visa interview at an U.S Embassy or Consulate of your country. Alternatively, this appointment may take place at any U.S Embassy or Consulate; however, it is best to schedule an appointment in the country of your permanent stay.

Do I Need An Attorney For Help With F-1 Student Visa Restrictions?

If you need help with F-1 student visa restrictions, you should consult with an immigration attorney as soon as possible. Your immigration lawyer can help you understand your legal rights, responsibilities, and options, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.