Increasingly, visiting Pinoy families come to see me for advice on how to satisfy immigration requirements in order for their children to study in the United States. Usually the family entered the U.S. on a visitor's visa and subsequently decided to enroll their children in a private school. In a majority of cases, I have had to tell the family that they must go back to the Philippines before the child can apply to change their status to a student visa. Knowing some basic rules regarding student visas can prevent this type of inconvenience and cost.
As a preliminary note, one must keep in mind that to study in the U.S. you do not necessarily need to acquire a student visa such as a F-1 or M-1. Certain accompanying nonimmigrant dependents, such as those carrying H-4, L-2, J-2 may attend school on a part-time or full-time basis. If you do not fall into one of these categories then you must obtain a student visa in order to attend school legally in the United States.
An F-1 Student is in part defined as an individual, "having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning, who is a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study who seeks to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study..."
Students are subject to the doctrine of duel intent, which means that applicants for F-1 student visas must demonstrate that they are bona fide nonimmigrants and that they have no aspirations of immigrating to the United States. Prospective Pinoy students will face rigorous questioning by U.S. consular officers as to their long-term educational and career goals, the extent of their ties to the Philippines, their sources of financial support, and the ways they will apply their U.S. acquired education once they return home. Knowing this can better prepare you for a successful outcome at the U.S. Consulate.
Once it is determined to attend a U.S. school the applicant must obtain an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility from the chosen school. The Form I-20 certifies the admission of the student to a program of study. Schools that may be approved for attendance by F-1 students include:
- A college or university wherein awards recognized Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, or other professional degrees; or
- A community college or junior college that provides instruction in the Liberal Arts or in the professions and that awards recognized Associates degrees; or
- A seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or an institution that provides language training, instruction in the liberal arts or fine arts, instruction in the professions, or instruction or training in more than one of these disciplines.
If you have found the school you would like to attend you must then obtain Form I-20, applying for acceptance to the school of your choice, being accepted and present evidence of financial support for the period of the program does this.
With the I-20 in hand the prospective student must then apply at the appropriate consular post for an F-1 visa before he or she enters the U.S.
What about prospective students who are already in the United States? Requirement fort these applicants have significant differences and this is where we find the most common problem.
If a prospective student has not decided which school to attend and enters the United States on a visitor visa it is imperative that he or she have the U.S. consul or a U.S. inspector upon arrival notate in their passport " prospective student." Without such a designation the Immigration Service will deny a request to change status from visitor to student visa.
If an individual is planning a trip to the United States believes that it is possible that he or members of his family may want to stay and attend school it is important to express that desire to the consul or to the inspector upon arrival in order to obtain the proper notation in their passport so that they may change status in the U.S. after their arrival. Without such a notation an application for a student visa will be denied.
If a student visa is granted an F-1 will be allowed to remain in the U.S for a period of time designated as "duration of status", which means that he or she will be allowed to stay a period time necessary to stay a full-time student and to complete the program of study.
The United States has wonderful educational opportunities, making sure you or your child can take advantage of such requires knowledge of the various Immigration Service hurdles. If you are in doubt about in part of the process make sure to speak with an experience immigration lawyer.