Understanding the F1 Student Visa
As a family member of an H-1B visa holder, the spouses and unmarried children under 21 are eligible to enter the US as H4 dependents. This designation allows the beneficiary to live in the US for the entire length of the H-1B visa’s validity period. The holder can attend school, open a bank account, and get a driver’s license.
However, family members aren’t required to use the H-4 designation. If they qualify for other classifications, such as the F-1 student visa, they can enter under that visa category instead.
F-1 student visas are nonimmigrant visas that permit international students to obtain their education at a university or college, high school, or other academic institution in the US. Students on this path typically apply at a US consulate in their home country with the goal of seeking admission through international student status.
Students on F-1 visas are in the country to pursue an education. Their visa status does not allow them to work full-time employment. They are permitted to obtain extra work through optional practical training (OPT), which gives them part-time work on campus during active sessions or full-time through recess. OPT authorization must be obtained from the Department of Homeland Security and the campus’s International Office before work begins.
Changing nonimmigrant status from an H-4 to an F-1 visa is possible if the holder was admitted lawfully as a nonimmigrant and none of the conditions of the status were violated. Additionally, the student must meet rigorous criteria, including the following:
● They must be enrolled in an accredited US institution, documented by an admission letter from the school.
● They must demonstrate that they have the funds to pay for their schooling, including tuition, living expenses, lodging, meals, and other necessary costs.
● F-1 Students must demonstrate English Language Proficiency by passing an English proficiency exam (TOEFL, IELTS, etc.) and providing evidence of their results.
● They must prove that they have sufficient ties to their home country that will encourage them to return after their education is completed. This could be close family ties, a job offer, or property they own.
● They cannot have a criminal record of convictions for any crimes or offenses.
Change of status petitions from an H-4 to an F-1 is usually performed outside the US to get the F-1 visa stamp. However, it is possible to apply for this status change in the US. The petitions can take up to nine months, depending on the workload of the processing center in charge of your petition.
The petitioner will need the following to complete this request:
● Form DS-160, the online nonimmigrant application form for all visa applicants.
● SEVIS I-20 form, the document from the US institution that confirms the applicant’s acceptance and enrollment in an education program, including the start and completion dates.
● A valid passport with an expiration of at least six months past the expected completion date.
● Previous official academic transcripts.
● Financial documents that demonstrate the ability to pay for education and cost of living expenses.
● Evidence of passing grades on the English proficiency exam.
With these documents, students can apply to transfer their H-4 status to an F-1 visa. The process includes the visa application fee, an appointment with the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country if you are unable to obtain permission to apply within the US, and a biometrics screening. After those elements are completed, you’ll need to wait for the results of the application.
Applying for a change of status for your now-grown dependent is a complicated process. Your H-1B visa category affords your family members specific rights, and when they become adults (either married or over 21), those rights are no longer valid.
Talk to our legal experts at Visa2US. We’ll help you understand your rights and point your child in the direction to best remain in the country with you and your family. Our friendly professionals at Visa2US understand that navigating immigration law is complex, and we’re here to assist you with any H-1B visa questions you may have.