F-2 visas are issued to the spouse and children under 21 years old of foreign students who have been granted F-1 visas. An F-1 visa grants a person permission to enter the U.S. so as to enroll as a full-time student in an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program.
The purpose of an F-2 visa is to allow dependents of foreign students to live in the U.S. with them while they are studying. An F-2 dependent visa holder can stay in the United States only as long as the F-1 visa holder remains in lawful status. So, F-2 holders lose their status once the F-1 holder loses status. An F-2 visa holder is allowed to change their status while they are in the U.S. provided they meet all the qualifications for a different visa status, of course.
How Do I Obtain an F-2 Visa for My Spouse/Minor Children?
In order to obtain an F-2 visa, an F-1 visa holder must show that their spouse or minor children are their dependents and that their finances are adequate to support them during their stay as a student in the U.S.
When the F-1 visa holder is accepted by a school that is part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the school releases a form I-20. The form I-20 states the purpose of the visa, an estimate of expenses, and the length of time it will take for the F-1 holder to complete the educational program in which they will enroll. If the F1 visa holder wishes to obtain F-2 visas for their dependents, the F-1 person should inform the SEVP institution that the dependents intend to apply for F-2 visas.
With this information, the SEVP institution should complete a form I-20 for the dependents too. Each person who wants to obtain an F-2 visa must have a form I-20 to qualify for an F-2 visa.
If the person is applying at a U.S. consulate, they would want to bring along a completed form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, and a recent color photograph of each applicant for an F-2 visa, with the entire face visible.
The picture should be taken before a light background and without head covering. Also, an F-2 visa applicant must have a passport which would be valid for travel to the U.S. for at least six months longer than they intend to stay in the U.S. And the F-1 visa holder must present evidence of having sufficient funds to support their F-2 dependents while they are in the U.S.
Once the F-1 visa holder obtains the I-20 and DS-160 forms for their dependents, the dependents would take the forms and the necessary supporting paperwork, such as marriage certificates and birth certificates, to a U.S. embassy or consulate for a non-immigrant visa interview. Generally, children under the age of 14 are not required to attend an interview, however that may change depending on the consular officer.
The SEVP is a program of the Department of Homeland Security that manages schools, nonimmigrant students in the F and M visa categories and their dependents. Both the SEVP and Department of State use the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to track and monitor schools; exchange visitor programs; and nonimmigrants with F, M and J visas while they reside in the U.S. and participate in the U.S. educational system.
What Can You Do on an F-2 Visa?
Dependents who are present in the U.S. on an F-2 visa cannot study full time at the post-secondary level, e.g. in a college or university. In order to be able to study for a degree, the dependent would have to apply for an F-1 visa.
Spouses who have F-2 visas may attend an SEVP-certified school for post-secondary study. The program of study in which the F-2 visa holder enrolls must be within the school’s SEVP certification. Also they must enroll only to an extent that is less than a full-time course of study. Enrolling in online classes only is considered to be less than a full-time course of study for F-1 students, so it is permissible also for an F-2 dependent at the postsecondary level. An F-2 dependent may also enroll in a combination of online and in-person classes provided it is less than a full-time course of study as defined by regulations for F-1 students.
Spouses with F-2 visas are allowed to take part-time vocational or recreational classes, such as cooking or language classes, as well.
Children of F-1 visa holders are allowed to attend K-12 schools full-time. In most cases, children lose their F-2 status at the age of 21 and must apply for a change of status to F-1 or M-1 if they want to remain in the U.S. and continue with their education.
Also, people who hold F-2 visas can travel outside of the U.S. If the F-2 dependent has an unexpired visa and properly signed I-20s, they are free to leave and re-enter the U.S. for as long as their visas remain valid.
While a person on an F-1 visa can work in the U.S., a person on an F-2 visa cannot work, unless it is in an unpaid or volunteer position. In order to work, an F-2 visa holder would have to apply for an employment visa.
Can I Change from an F-2 to F-1 Visa?
A person can change their visa status from F-2 to F-1 if the person intends to study full-time in the U.S. To do this, the person must apply to and be accepted by an SEVP school in the U.S. The school should then send the person an I-20 Form which you should submit along with an USCIS Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The person will have to prove that they have the financial resources to cover the cost of their education in the U.S.
Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?
Your dependents’ status as F-2 visa holders is dependent on your visa status as an F-1 visa holder. So if your F-1 visa expires, your dependents’ F-2 visas expire as well. If you or a loved one needs assistance with a visa application, you should contact an experienced immigration lawyer for assistance.
An experienced immigration lawyer can explain all the requirements for an F-2 visa and help you obtain one. They can also explain what an F-2 visa holder is and is not allowed to do while residing in the U.S. It is important to comply with the law regarding which activities are allowed and which are not. So you want to understand clearly what you can and cannot do with the visa you have.
Also, if you are denied a visa, a lawyer may be able to help you submit another, stronger application. Or, the lawyer will be able to explain what other visa options are available to you and will be able to help you with the application. An experienced immigration lawyer can offer help in a number of ways, so it is a good idea to consult with one regarding visa issues.