By Pietro Rossini
“I didn’t know I couldn’t work outside the campus; I didn’t know it would take so long; I didn’t know I needed a sponsor,” these are just a few complaints of many others that international students with a F-1 visa usually express. But is it so bad to have a F-1 visa? Is it so disadvantageous? Not at all! You just need to know what means having an F-1 visa and what its advantages and disadvantages are to be ready to come to the U.S.
First and foremost, American embassies and consulates around the world take a long time issuing F-1 visas. My experience is a great example of that. I started my application in May 2019, and I got my visa in September 2019. You are going to say that four months are not a big deal. I agree with you; however, my visa came just after the deadline to enter the U.S., and so I could not use it. The F-1 visa is strictly related to the university that issues your I-20 form. You cannot enter the U.S. after the beginning of classes nor one month before the starting class date. This is what happened to me: my classes began on September 7th, and I got my Visa on the same day. So, I couldn't plan my flight on the same day. For this reason, I had to wait until January and ask my university for another I-20. Therefore, if you are good at math, you should realize that I waited about 7 months to come to the U.S. since my first application.
Why are embassies so cautious issuing this kind of visa? It seems like that, in the past, many people with this visa remained in the U.S. after their studies. Someone found a job here and others because they found love and got married. Generally speaking, there is no problem with that. Maybe, you are thinking of having your career here in the U.S. So, what’s the problem? It seems that the Trump administration put many obstacles in the way of international students, and one of the examples was last July 2020 when Trump issued a law against foreign students. With this law, all international students were threatened to leave the country, if they would have not had in-person classes for the fall semester. And no new F-1 visas would have been issued for only online-classes students. Universities around the country protested against this foolish law. As a result, in August, the Trump administration repealed the legislation — or better they repealed just half of it. Indeed, the new legislation did not affect students that were already in the country. But the restrictions for new students who are trying to apply for a new F-1 visa remains until now.
So, what should you do? Considering what we have just said, when you will start your application, try to find a university in the U.S. with in-person classes (not online or hybrid). You will have more chances to get the visa. Plan your application with time, and prepare all your documents.
- A valid passport (check that it is valid with your local authority! Mine was stolen years before my application, and even though I found it, it still appeared as stolen. Therefore, I had trouble with that. So just go to your local authority checking that everything is alright);
- an I-20 form issued by your university;
- a bank account with the amount of money necessary to cover your expenses in the U.S. (try to find a loan or a sponsor if you have problems with that);
- Medical insurance (every university in the U.S. requires health insurance for students);
- DS-160 online form pre-filled before the interview (all your information in the DS-160 should match with your declaration the day of the interview with the U.S. embassy).
Finally, I will tell you what are the requirements that you have to fulfill this kind of Visa. First, you must study at least 18 hours/week. You can take a break of just 40 days without studying. Usually, this happens during summertime. Second, you cannot go home until you have fulfilled one complete year in the U.S. You cannot have vacations before that time. And third, you can work only on-campus for just 20 hours/week at most. You cannot work outside the campus at all because with an F-1 visa you will not have a social security number (SSN) that is necessary to be hired outside the campus. However, you can apply for a driver’s license.
I hope that all this information does not discourage you. I did not write this article for this purpose. I told you what you need to know before starting this process so that you might be ready for it. Furthermore, there is one big advantage of having an F-1 visa. It lasts four years! When you will get it, therefore, you can celebrate because you will not worry much about it. However, legislations change continually, and most now because the U.S. is in time of elections. For this reason, you need to check the official website to be updated on any changes in your student Visa status.
I wish you good luck with your visa process. The U.S. is waiting for you for a great experience in a unique academic environment. You will find great opportunities for your career in a multicultural country. Just be ready and do your best!
Pietro Rossini is a Xaverian Missionary and an ESL student at Framingham State University (MA). He came to the U.S. in January 2020 with the purpose of studying a master of arts in journalism at Boston University. His dream is to collect and share stories of humanity around the globe, making the world a single family.