Obtaining an "F-1 Student Visa" in California

Foreign students who wish to travel to the U.S. to study in California need an F-1 student visa. The three main requirements for getting an F-1 visa are

  1. getting accepted to an academic institution,
  2. having enough money to pay for tuition and living expenses in the U.S., and
  3. intending on leaving the U.S. after school ends.

The F-1 visa application process costs a total of $360 and takes up to a year. The student's family may be able to live with him/her in the U.S. during school. But everyone needs to leave the U.S. no later than 60 days after school ends.

In this article, our California immigration lawyers answer frequently-asked-questions about F-1 student visas in California. Click on a topic to jump to that section. 

F-1 visas are for foreign nationals studying at an academic institution.

1. How can I obtain an F-1 student visa to study in California?

Foreigners may be eligible for an F-1 student visa if they meet these five qualifications:

  1. The foreigner's home country is not the U.S. 
  2. The foreigner has already been accepted by a U.S. school pre-approved by SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program).
  3. The foreigner has ties to his/her home country, such as family and bank accounts.
  4. The foreigner has sufficient funds to pay for tuition and living expenses.
  5. The foreigner intends to return to his/her home country after school ends.

F-1 visas will be denied to foreigners who indicate that they wish to remain in the U.S. following school.1

2. Which California schools take F-1 visa students?

Many California scholastic institutions take F-1 visa students. These schools include not only universities and colleges but also secondary schools, seminary, conservatories, and language training schools.

A sampling of Los Angeles colleges that accept F-1 visa students are:

UCLA, in particular, prides itself on its alien student population from 80 different countries. Popular majors for non-citizens include computer science, mechanical engineering, and chemistry.

See the full list of California F-1 SEVP schools. To learn about student visas for vocational, non-academic programs, go to our article on M-1 vocational student visas.2

3. The application process for a student visa in California

The F-1 student visa application process consists of five steps:

  1. The foreigner gets accepted to a SEVP-approved California school of his/her choice. Foreigners should apply at least six (6) months prior to school beginning.
  2. The foreigner pays the required SEVP fee.
  3. The foreigner completes an I-20 form (which is a certificate of eligibility to apply for a student visa).
  4. The foreigner completes a DS-160 form.
  5. The foreigner attends a visa interview at his/her local U.S. embassy or consulate. The foreigner may be required to produce various documentation at the interview, such as a passport, past degrees and standardized test scores.

Note that applicants under 14 and over 79 are usually not required to have an interview.3

4. How much does it cost to get an F-1 visa?

The SEVP fee is $200, and the visa application fee is $160.4

5. How long does it take to get an F-1 visa?

The time frame is about six months to a year.5

6. Can my family come with me on an F-1 visa?

Possibly. During the application process, the foreigner needs to fill out I-20 forms for every family member that will come with him/her to the U.S.6

7. Can I work while on an F-1 visa?

Possibly, but the student needs pre-approval from the school and the Department of Homeland Security.

F-1 students may work on-campus full-time in between semesters and 20 hours a week during semesters.

F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year. Afterward, F-1 students may be able to work off-campus for one (1) year through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

Other off-campus work opportunities may be possible through Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs as well as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Optional Practical Training Extension (STEM OPT).7

8. How long are F-1 visas good for?

F-1 students are permitted to remain in the U.S. for only 60 days after their academic program or OPT training ends. Otherwise, they need to apply for a different kind of visa to remain in the U.S.8

Call a California immigration attorney...

california f-1 visa legal experts
Call us for help

Are you looking to study in California? Call our Los Angeles immigration attorneys at (855) 396-0370 for a free consultation. We will do everything to try to bring you to America so you can achieve your academic dreams.

Go to our California visa main page.

See our article on F-1 visas in Nevada.

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