Nonimmigrant students must present documentation to the U.S. consulate regarding two principal issues:
• The student's means of support during his or her stay in the United States, which must be sufficient to assure that all expenses are covered without the need to engage in employment
• The student's intention to maintain a foreign domicile and leave the U.S. upon completion of his or her studies ("bona fide nonimmigrant intent")
The school, on Form I-20, includes its estimate of the cost of one year of study at the school, including tuition and fees, living expenses, expenses for family members, and expenses during periods of summer vacations. The school also breaks down the amount of resources available to the student by source: his or her own funds, funds from the parents, funds from the school (such as fellowships or loans), and funds from other sources, mainly from the student's own government or other foreign financial aid source.
The student must document the extent and source of his or her resources to the U.S. consulate in order to obtain an F-1 visa. The purpose of this documentation is to assure that the student will not need to resort to employment in order to finance his or her education in the U.S. or cover other living expenses.
The student should be prepared to produce the following, covering the full amount of expenses projected by the school:
• Financial aid given or disbursed by the school . It is acceptable to show that costs will be covered from the school's financial aid resources, such as fellowships, scholarships, or assistantships. This type of money can be documented in two ways: the school should have indicated its existence on the Form I-20, and it will in all likelihood send the student formal notification of the award of the money or appointment to the assistantship.
• Financial aid given or disbursed by the student's home government . Many foreign students are funded by their home governments in their studies in the U.S. Documentation of this type of funding should include a formal notification of the payment of expenses by the government, as well as the school's indication of this source of payment on the Form I-20.
• Financial aid from private organizations . It is possible that the student is a recipient of some form of grant or aid from a private foundation or other institution. Formal notification of this award should also be included, as well as being indicated by the school as an available resource on the Form I-20.
• Personal funds of the student . The student may pay some or all of the educational expenses. To verify that the student has sufficient resources, he or she should be prepared to show bank statements , backed up by certified statements from the banks regarding the current level of deposits. He or she can also provide a record of other assets that can readily be converted into cash for payment of expenses, such as securities . Real or personal property may be less influential since it is not as readily convertible into liquid assets capable of use for payment of expenses; the student may be able to show, however, that such assets are available to secure bank loans to finance living expenses.
Note that while sufficient resources on hand to cover the first year's expenses usually is sufficient, there must be some showing that similar resources will be available in each succeeding year of the student's program . When the student is funding his or her own education, therefore, it is almost imperative to show sufficient resources for the full educational program, and not just the first year, since the student will be unable to work while studying and will not be in a position to create new financial resources during his or her educational program.
• Funds from the student's family . Their immediate family, particularly parents, routinely funds many students. In addition to bank statements, other records of liquid assets and securities, and real and personal property, the documentation from the family can include statements from the family's bankers regarding the available credit line the bank is ready to extend the family, and employment letters for family members verifying the salary levels of those members. The latter information documents the continuing availability of sufficient resources to pay for the student's education.
When the family is paying expenses, the student must check the restrictions that might exist regarding the export of currency from the student's home country. The consular officers will be familiar with these restrictions and question the availability of this type of support when currency export restrictions exist. The parent or other close family member of the student may want to complete an affidavit of support form (Form I-134) used by the USCIS when one person takes on the obligation of supporting another for immigration purposes. This form is routinely used when B-2 visitors for pleasure come to the United States, sponsored by a U.S. resident or citizen. The form is illustrated as Sample Form 1-3, above.
Funds from other persons . When the alien claims support from persons other than immediate family members, the consular officers are bound to question closely the actual obligation felt by these persons to extend the support. This source of support is the least likely to be accepted, even when the resources of the persons are thoroughly documented by means of the supporting evidence just discussed for family members and for the student. Such persons should certainly complete an affidavit of support on Form I-134, and also should provide a sworn statement or affidavit explaining why they feel an obligation to cover some or all of the living expenses of the student. Without a legal obligation to render such support, however, the affiant would need to be particularly persuasive in order to carry much weight.
Students, particularly when they are young and single, are seen by many consular officers as prime candidates for overstaying their visas and remaining indefinitely in the United States. Whether the perception of consular officers is correct or not, it means that prospective students must be careful to document thoroughly their ties to their home countries --ties sufficient to give some assurance that they will leave the United States and return home at the end of their studies. In preparing the supporting documentation to show that he or she has bona fide nonimmigrant intent, the student should focus on four types of evidence: family relationships, community ties, property and economic interests, and career potential.
• Family relationships . One good piece of evidence on a student's likelihood of returning to his or her home country is the location of the bulk of his or her close family relationships. Ideally, the student can show that he or she has no close family members currently in the U.S. (this question is asked in Item #33 of the visa application form), and that all close family members will remain in the alien's home country. An affidavit to this effect from a parent might be helpful, specifying the residence of each member of the alien's immediate family. Evidence showing that the family is unlikely to relocate, such as a family business or long-standing employment by one or both parents with the same employer is also helpful, as is evidence of substantial family financial or property holdings outside of the U.S. Leaving a spouse or children behind is not supposed to be indicative of the alien's intentions with regard to remaining temporarily in the United States, nor should it be required by consular officers in order to assure issuance of the F-1 Visa. Nevertheless, immediate family members who are nationals of some countries with high visa refusal rates, such as India, are frequently denied F-2 Visas to accompany the principal alien, in effect being held abroad as assurance that the alien will not remain permanently in the United States.
Community ties . The student's participation in community activities also tends to show that he or she has ties to the home country, which are unlikely to be permanently severed. The student should document any organizations that he or she belongs to, including religious organizations or social groups. Of course, the younger the student, the more difficult it will be to establish this type of evidence, and in this type of case, the student may have to rely to a large extent on the family's community ties.
• Property and economic interests . The more financially rooted the alien (or his or her family), the more likely it will appear that the alien will return to his or her home country. The ownership of a business or real property in the home country would demonstrate ties that counteract the impression of "footloose" youth. Documentation of such property interests should also be included with the visa application.
• Career potential . Particularly when the student is young and it is difficult to establish many other ties with his or her home country, it is important to show that the education that the student will obtain in the U.S. will give the alien a tremendous career potential in his or her home country. The ideal situation is a job being held open for or already offered to the alien in the field in which he or she is undertaking studies. More likely, the alien might be able to supply letters from employers or labor market experts recounting the potential for persons with the degree sought by the alien, or the shape of growth in the field in the alien's home country.
An affidavit from the alien stating the use to which he or she hopes to put his or her education in his or her home country would also be helpful. This type of documentation can help to overcome suspicion that the alien, once receiving a degree from an American institution, will be lured by the job opportunities and salary potential present in the U.S. job market. The better the opportunity sounds for the alien in his or her home country, the more likely it will appear that he or she will return there. Remember that consular officers are on the lookout for the converse situation: a proposed course of study in a field in which there is little career opportunity in the alien's home country. If this situation pertains, the alien needs to document even more thoroughly where and how he or she intends to make use of the education received in the United States. Note that availability of an equivalent course of study in the alien's own country is not supposed to be relevant to the issue of F-1 eligibility; consular officers have received a specific instruction to this effect and should not deny a visa on this basis.
Evidence of SEVIS fee payment . In July 2004, the Department of Homeland Security issued a final rule that provides for the collection of a fee to be paid by foreign nationals applying for classification in the F-1 or F-3 visa categories for foreign students. Under the rule, all foreign nationals receiving a Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility with an issuance date of September 1, 2004, or later will be subject to the SEVIS fee of $100 unless they qualify for a fee exemption. Individuals whose certificate of eligibility is issued prior to September 1 are not subject to the fee. The SEVIS fee is intended to cover the operating costs of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, including SEVIS compliance efforts and the hiring and training of SEVIS liaison officers. The SEVIS fee is payable to the Department of Homeland Security through several methods. Foreign nationals may remit the fee by mail, using DHS Form I-901, Fee Remittance for Certain F, M and J Nonimmigrants, together with a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank and payable in U.S currency. In the alternative, the fee may be paid electronically, by submitting an electronic version of Form I-901 visa on the Internet and using a credit card. The payment does not need to be made by the foreign national him- or her; the DHS will accept payments made by third parties, such as the foreign national's school, relatives, friends, or other interested parties. As a general matter payment must be remitted electronically or by mail so that it arrives at least three business days before any scheduled visa interview or, for individuals who are visa-exempt, before an application for admission at a U.S. port of entry, in order for a consular or border officer to verify that payment has been made. Upon payment of the fee, the DHS will generate and mail a paper receipt to be returned to each individual, regardless of the method of payment; foreign nationals can request express delivery of the receipt for an additional fee. Foreign nationals should be sure to bring the paper receipt to the visa interview or port of entry. Though in most cases the fee payment will be verified electronically through the SEVIS Consolidated Consular Database (CCD) screen by a consular, border, or adjudicating officer, the State Department has noted that verification of a fee paid less than three days before the interview may not always be available on CCD. Where electronic verification is not available, the paper receipt -- either received by mail from the DHS or generated from the Internet payment system -- will be the primary means of fee verification.
Evidence of reimbursement if seeking F-1 visa for study in public secondary school. As of November 30, 1996, an F-1 visa cannot be issued for study in a public secondary school unless the applicant demonstrates that he or she has reimbursed the school authority for the unsubsidized, per capita cost of education for the intended period of study. This payment requirement was added by IIRIRA. To evidence reimbursement, the student's Form I-20 must contain a brief statement with a notarized signature of the designated school official (DSO) under the "Remarks" portion of the form. Alternatively, the student must submit a letter (on school board letterhead) with a notarized signature of the DSO which attests that the alien has reimbursed the local public school district, system, agency, or authority for the unsubsidized, per capita cost of education for the intended period of study. It is the local public school system's responsibility to determine what amount constitutes the "unsubsidized per capita cost of education." As a general matter, consular officers and USCIS adjudicators should accept calculations, which are reasonable and realistic. If the estimates are unreasonably low, however, additional information may be requested from the school district. The State Department has cited the figure of $2,000 as a benchmark for annual tuition. School districts can expect estimates below this figure to be questioned. The student's reimbursement must be collected before the visa is issued or the change of status application is approved.
Note regarding educational and career potential for elementary and high school students from some Asian countries. There is a reported increase in the number of denials of F-1 visas for potential students below the college level from some Asian countries. The reason is that because of the rigid examination system in those countries, reentry into the educational system after any period abroad is extremely difficult. Admission to universities and prime employment opportunities is usually dependent on these examinations; therefore, students who have removed themselves from the system are unlikely to have access to those universities or jobs. Because of these circumstances, consular officers may assume that a student below the college level who seeks to undertake studies abroad has the intention to remain abroad and to sever ties with his or her home country. Asian students in this situation must provide an affidavit and documentation demonstrating how they intend to overcome the difficulty in reentering their own educational system and labor market after completion of studies in the United States.
Conditions imposed by foreign governments . The student may be able to rely on conditions placed on the student by his or her government, usually in conjunction with government funding or leaves of absence from government jobs. Often, the student needs to sign a representation to his or her home government that he or she will return to the home country as a condition for receiving government funding. Sometimes, the student or his or her family will be required by the home government to post a bond to assure compliance with the condition. While these assurances are not conclusive in a consular officer's determination, they provide further evidence of the student's intention to return home, particularly when a bond will be forfeited for failure to comply.
We are aware of the various issues facing the F-1 population, including problems with SEVIS, Optional Practical training, Curricular Practical Training, transferring schools, consular processing, STEM students etc. We can advise students on the DO’s and Don’ts of the Immigration System.
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