An F1 visa—commonly referred to as a student visa—is a nonimmigrant visa that is granted to international students. To qualify, the F1 student must enroll in a full-time academic or English Language Program at a university or college in the United States. The F1 student is expected to maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status (typically 12 credit hours during primary semesters). At the conclusion of the program, the F1 student must leave the United States no later than 60 days after the end of the final semester, unless he or she applies and is approved to stay and work in the US under the OPT Program.
It’s important to keep in mind that an F1 visa does not guarantee admission into the United States. When an F1 student receives a visa, the visa acts as a permission slip to travel to a US port of entry. Upon arriving at the port of entry, the F1 student will be interviewed by a Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officer. The final decision as to whether the F1 student should be allowed into the United States rests with the CBP officer. Should the F1 student fail the interview, he or she may be denied entry into the United States.
If you are an F1 student and you are denied entry into the United States at a port of entry, you should consult with a US-based immigration attorney. Being denied entry at a port of entry isn’t as serious as deportation (there must be a removal order from immigration court to be considered deportation), but it can be challenging to enter the country after previously failing a CBP interview. It can be relatively simple to clear up a bad interview or missing paperwork, but if you have violated the terms of your visa you may need to reapply for a new visa.
What to Expect at The Port of Entry
When you arrive at the port of entry, you will initially meet with a CBP officer at the primary inspection booth. After waiting in line with other non-citizens, an officer will call you up for a short interview. The officer will inspect your travel documents, and ask you a few questions:
- What is your purpose in entering the United States?
- What school are you attending?
- How will you pay for your education?
The interview typically lasts 5 – 10 minutes. If you pass the interview, the officer will stamp your passport indicating your US visa status, and your F1 student visa will officially take full effect. If you fail the interview—perhaps due to issues with your travel documents or a suspicion that you have violated the terms of your visa—you’ll be sent to a secondary inspection booth for further screening.
A secondary inspection is significantly more comprehensive than a primary inspection, and often takes several hours to complete (though you probably won’t be interviewed for that long—there’s typically just a longer wait). The CBP officer with validate your status in SEVIS, and if there are any issues he or she may check with your school’s Designated School Officer (DSO). With this in mind, it’s beneficial to carry your DSO’s name and contact information with you at all times.
As long as everything is in order and your intention to enter the US as a student is genuine, you shouldn’t have any issues passing the secondary inspection. Again, the officer will stamp your passport and your F1 student visa will take full effect.
Reasons Why an F1 Student May Be Denied at a Port of Entry
There are a number of factors that could cause a CBP officer to deny entry to an F1 student. Some of the more common reasons include:
- The CBP discovers that the student has a criminal background
- The F1 visa has lapsed (the visa typically lapses 60 days after graduation)
- The student did not pay the SEVI fee
- The student doesn’t have a valid passport
- The student has failed multiple courses
- The student has not been attending classes
- The student is working off-campus (and the work is not an approved program)
- The student presents fraudulent documents
- The student’s schedule is considered part-time (must be full-time for an F1 visa)
- The student’s travel documents are invalid
- The student’s travel documents cannot be verified
Note that a CBP officer can deny entry to a student if he or she strongly suspects that the student intends to violate the terms of their F1 visa. This information typically arises in the course of the interview and can prevent the student’s entry even if he or she has yet to do anything wrong.
Solutions for F1 Students Who Are Denied Entry to the United States
Under certain circumstances, an F1 student may be permitted to use Form I-515A to enter the United States temporarily for 30 days while the issues with their student visa are sorted out. This commonly occurs when the student’s travel documents cannot be properly verified, or the student failed to pay a SEVI fee. Before the 30-day permit expires, the student would need to work with their DSO and/or immigration attorney to remedy the problems.
If the conditions surrounding the F1 student’s denial of entry don’t allow the use of Form I-515A, the student will need to return to their country of residence and solve the problem through the applicable US embassy or consulate and the school’s DSO. In some cases, the student may be permitted to try again relatively soon under the same F1 visa. However, if US officials determine that the student violated the terms of their visa, the visa will be revoked, and the student would need to re-apply for a new F1 visa. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to receive a new F1 visa soon after a previous visa has been revoked.
Documents an F1 Student Should Bring to the Port of Entry
While there us ultimately no guarantee that you will pass the CBP officer’s interview, you’ll have the best chances of entering the United States if you comply with the terms of your F1 visa and come fully prepared. Following is a comprehensive list of the documents that you should bring with you to the port of entry to ensure all of your documentation is in order:
- A valid passport with an expiration date after the completion of your US educational program
- Form I-20 signed by your DSO
- Copies of your acceptance and admission letters from the school
- A receipt for the I-901 SEVIS fee payment
- Documentation to prove valid financial support for your US education
- Original documents relating to your undergraduate and/or other education degrees
- A copy of any past educational transcripts
- The name and contact information of your school’s DSO
- Your address in the United States
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