One of the great aspects of U.S. immigration law is the fact that it extends a welcoming hand to students from all over the world. Getting an F-1 visa can be highly beneficial and can be a great stepping stone to other immigration opportunities. But just how long is the F-1 processing time? Well, the answer depends on a number of factors, so let’s dive into how you get an F-1 visa and how much time you can expect that to take.
F-1 Visa Overview
Before we can get a better idea of what your F-1 processing time will be, let’s break down what you need to see this process through from start to finish.
Because the U.S. has some of the best educational institutes in the world, students travel from all over to live, study, and work here through the F-1 visa. This is one of two student visas, the other being the M-1 for vocational schools and other nonacademic institutions. The F-1, on the other hand, is the visa for anyone who is enrolling at a private elementary school, high school, college, or university in the U.S. It also covers less well-known schools such as conservatory or seminary schools.
To get an F-1, you need to prove the following to the USCIS:
- That you have a permanent residence in your home country that stands as incentive to return there once your studies are complete.
- That you have a strong connection and reason to return to your home country afterward in the form of a job offer; assets such as a home, land, or a car; close family members, or a bank account.
- That you are able to support yourself during your stay in the U.S.
- That a qualifying educational institution is sponsoring you for your F-1 visa.
When you obtain evidence of all four of the above criteria, you will need to have your school enter your information through the SEVIS database (Student and Exchange Visitor Program). Once this is done, the school will receive an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status and must sign it before sending it to you.
As soon as you receive your I-20, you will need to go online and complete the DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application. Once you have completed it and paid the fee, you can schedule an interview with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your home country. You will have to bring the confirmation page and payment receipt for the DS-160 with you along with your I-20, your passport, a portrait-style photo of yourself,
Keep in mind that not everyone will be asked to go through an interview, as it primarily applies to those within the ages of 14 and 79 years old. However, the consular officer reserves the right to interview any individual applying for a U.S. visa.
Once you pass your interview and present all of the required documents, you’ll likely be asked for biometrics (fingerprints) and your passport will be held and sent to you later with your visa inside. As a pro tip for any visa, it’s a good idea to wait until your visa has been sent to you before finalizing travel arrangements, since approval is not guaranteed and it can sometimes take a few weeks for the consulate to return your passport and visa.
What is the F-1 Processing Time?
Ultimately, your F-1 processing time is dependent on your school or institution. Some schools tell you to allow for a few weeks for I-20 processing while others could take a few months. Contact your school to learn more about your petition.
As far as your student visa interview goes, you want to give yourself a significant amount of buffer time. One mistake that many prospective F-1 students make is missing flights or school start dates due to delays in the consulate. Once you submit your DS-160 application, it might take up to two months for the consulate to get back to you with an interview appointment time. Then that appointment can be set for a week or two in the future, so it’s best to leave plenty of time.
Overall, between your I-20 and consular interview, you should allow for a minimum of five to six weeks for your F-1 processing time. Contact your school, your U.S. consulate, and your immigration attorney to get a better idea of what you can expect.
How Long is the F-1 OPT Processing Time for an EAD?
Being permitted to work through Optional Practical Training during your F-1 schooling requires a few steps:
- Your DSO (designated school official) must recommend you for OPT by indicating it on your I-20 and in SEVIS.
- You must file an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, also known as an EAD.
It may take about a week to ten days before the USCIS gets back with a notice that they received your I-785. If the application is approved, it could take between one and two months for you to receive an approval and to be summoned for a biometrics appointment.
Once you receive your EAD, you will be able to work under your OPT as you study through your F-1 visa.
How Long Does it Take to Have My F-1 Visa Reinstated?
If you fall out of F-1 status and would like to return to your studies, you might be able to apply for reinstatement. However, if your status was revoked because you worked without employment authorization, you will not be able to reinstate your F-1 visa. In this case, you will need to leave the country as soon as possible or be considered “out of status”.
In order to be reinstated as an immigrant student, you need to be re-enrolled in your school and have them issue you another I-20. You will also need to properly file an I-539 form. Because this form has several functions, it is best to have an immigration attorney help you fill it out.
A cover letter detailing the reason for your loss of F-1 status is required. This should cover why your falling out of status was out of your control and why you should be reinstated.
Once this all is filed, you might have to wait up to four months for your F-1 reinstatement processing time.
Can I Use Premium Processing?
Unfortunately, the premium processing service, which shortens processing time to just 15 calendar days for an additional fee, is only available for certain visas that utilize the I-129 and I-140 petitions. Because the F-1 uses the I-20, it is not eligible for premium processing.
Can I Adjust My Status for a Green Card?
So, you’ve had a great time in the U.S. working and studying, what can you do if you want to make that stay longer? Well, you can make the switch to another temporary nonimmigrant visa, or you can shoot for a green card. Unfortunately, there’s just one problem. The F-1 visa isn’t a dual intent visa. So you will likely end up having to do both.
Dual intent refers to nonimmigrant visas that allow holders to pursue green card status while under their temporary visa. The H-1B, L-1, and O-1 visas are examples of dual intent visas. Because the F-1 doesn’t fall into this category, filing for your green card while under student status could violate your F-1 visa.
As evidenced by the requirements for the F-1, you need to maintain a strong indication that you plan to return home after your studies. Filing for your green card does the opposite and could result in issues obtaining the green card down the road.
To avoid complications and status violations, here is a workaround: change your status first. By changing from an F-1 to something like an H-1B status, you put yourself in the position of dual intent, allowing you to file for your green card without complications. However, you still need to qualify for the new visa.
The H-1B visa may seem like the best bet (especially if you are in the STEM OPT), but you will need to make sure that you have a bachelor’s degree for a specialty position. Also, unless your new employer is a non-profit, government, or scholastic organization, your petition will be entered into a lottery and you will have to hope that your petition is chosen among thousands of others.
Another common visa is the L-1, which requires you to be the executive, manager, or specialized employee of a multinational company that has a location in the U.S. Keep in mind that “specialized employee” should not be confused with the “specialty employee” that is eligible for the H-1B. A specialized employee has unique knowledge of the company’s operations or product and does not necessarily need to have any education in that field to qualify for an L-1.
However, for an L-1, you need to work for the employer overseas for at least one year in the three years prior to filing the petition, so you will need to factor that into your processing time.
You can read this article about the differences between the H-1B and L-1 visas.
F-1 Visa to Green Card Processing Time
If you choose to use one of these visas to change your status before applying for an employment-based green card, you will need to find an employer to sponsor you and you need to have that employer file an I-129 petition on your behalf. In the case of the H-1B, you will need to have your employer obtain a Labor Condition Application (LCA) for you.
The exact processing times for the H-1B and the L-1 visa are heavily dependent on your case, but the I-129 tends to take about six months to process. However, with the I-129 visas, you can use premium processing to shorten your processing time to just 15 calendar days.
Once you obtain your dual intent visa, you can immediately have your employer (either your current employer or a new one) file an I-140 petition for you, which takes an average of six months to process. You might be able to use premium processing, but keep in mind that this service is not available for the EB-1C or EB-2 with a National Interest Waiver.
Depending on the type of green card you are applying for, filing an I-140 may require you to also have a PERM Labor Certification, which is also acquired by your employer. This means that your employer must run ads for your position and go through a recruitment process to ensure that no qualified U.S. worker is available for your job.
Under normal circumstances, the PERM can take between six to nine months. However, if your employer is subjected to supervised recruitment or audited (either by chance or because the Department of Labor thinks that the recruitment report is fraudulent), this could add up to a year and a half to your PERM processing time.
Once your I-140 is submitted, you will need to make a note of the date that the USCIS receives it. This will be your priority date, which will have to be compared to the final action dates given in the monthly visa bulletin released by the Department of State. Final action dates are listed according to your country of origin and the type of green card you are pursuing.
Once your priority date matches or passes the final action date in your category, you can move onto the next step. However, waiting for your priority date to be “current” can sometimes be the longest step in the F-1 to green card processing time. For example, if you are an Indian national who is interested in getting an EB-3 green card, you might find yourself waiting almost a decade.
On the other hand, if you are from Central America and are getting an EB-1, you might not have to wait at all. Since this varies widely, it’s a good idea to ask your immigration attorney what you can expect as far as processing time goes.
Additionally, if your priority date will not be current for some time, the USCIS may not process your I-140 until your it is closer to being current. So, if you need to wait four years for your priority date to be current, your petition might not be processed until those four years are almost complete. That is, unless you choose premium processing. But even then, you will still need to wait the full four years.
Green Card Porting
What about green card porting? Well, let’s start with an example. Imagine that you graduate with a STEM bachelor’s degree under your F-1 status, you change your status to H-1B, and you file for an EB-3 green card as a professional worker. Depending on your nationality, you might be waiting several years for your priority date to become current.
If, during that waiting period, you were to get a master’s degree and a new job that requires your new degree, you might be able to have your employer (current or new) file a new petition for an EB-2 while retaining the original priority date from the first petition. In this case you could cut the F-1 to green card processing time down by years!
Keep in mind that this is a delicate process and requires that you get a new position that requires your EB-2 qualifications. Speak with your immigration attorney to determine if this is a viable option for you.
Adjusting Your Status
Because you are already in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant status, you will have two options available to you for making that last step from F-1 to green card status:
Adjustment of Status – This option is only available to those who are already in the U.S. It involves submitting an I-485 form with the USCIS to have your status adjusted from nonimmigrant to immigrant status. The processing time for this form is about six months with no premium processing available.
Consular Processing – Here, you will need to travel to your home country to participate in a one-on-one interview with a consular officer. This may seem significantly less advantageous than adjustment of status, but it may be both cheaper and have a faster processing time depending on your case.
After that, you will be sent your green card to be added to your passport. You will have made the full transition from an F-1 visa to a green card and will officially be a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Regardless of which visa you are going for, the process is often filled with documents, forms, fees, and other minutiae that can easily cost you a significant amount of time and money if not properly done. The best way to protect your immigration investment is to hire an expert to handle all of the tedious parts so that you can focus on your studies in the U.S.
Here at SGM Law Group, we have helped countless students just like you study and work in the U.S. We handle everything from the first consultation to the moment you get your F-1. If you want to find out just how long your F-1 processing time will be, you can set up a consultation with our office by filling out this contact form.