A step-by-step guide on how to extend your F-1 student visa

student visa extension
International students are allowed to file for a visa extension under certain circumstances. Source: Ludovic Marin/AFP

An F-1 visa is granted for the duration of your programme. Most times, you won’t have to do anything to legally stay in the US.

But sometimes you’ll need a student visa extension.

Anything can happen while you’re studying abroad. You may face problems in your research or have a medical condition.

In such situations, you’ll need more time to complete your coursework, which may go beyond your “F-1 status.”

Having “F-1 status” means you are legally in the US, with benefits and restrictions as conferred by the F-1 visa’s immigration regulations.

The F-1 status covers the period when: 

  • You are a full-time registered student progressing through your degree
  • An optional period of practical training following the completion of your studies if you have applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • A 60-day “grace period” to prepare to depart the US or change to another status (in this situation, your grace period will start when you complete your degree or your OPT period) 

If you end up in the US longer than this period, it’s not the end of the world. you can file for a student visa extension to stay in the US longer. 

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through the process of student visa extension in the US:

student visa extension

You are allowed to apply for a student visa extension if your visa is expiring before your programme ends. Source: Jeenah Moon/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Am I eligible to apply for a student visa extension?

Before applying for your F-1 student visa extension, check if you’re eligible to apply for it.

There are requirements that should be met when applying for a student visa extension: 

  • You entered the US lawfully with a nonimmigrant F-1 visa
  • Your F-1 visa status is still valid
  • You have not committed crimes that make you ineligible for a visa
  • You have not violated any of the conditions of your F-1 visa
  • Your passport is valid for the remainder of your intended stay

Once you find out you require additional time to finish your programme, reach out to your designated school official (DSO).

Your DSO will help you determine your eligibility for an extension and will verify that you’ve legally maintained your F-1 status and are applying due to academic or medical reasons.

Reasons may include:

  • Documented medical illness
  • Change of desired major or research topic
  • Unforeseen challenges encountered during research

You have a higher chance of your student visa extension being approved if it’s a health-related problem.

This is provided you can prove your ability to support yourself financially during your extension period and if there’s enough time before the end date indicated on your Form I-20.

It’s important to know that the following situations may not be considered valid reasons:

  • For personal interests, such as taking extra classes to raise your GPA
  • To retake a class after receiving an incomplete grade
  • To take delayed classes because you participated in curricular practical training that was not required by your programme
  • To take classes after an academic suspension

What documents do I need? 

student visa extension

If you’re eligible for a student visa extension, prepare the required documents needed. Source: Money Sharma/AFP

Once you’ve checked if you’re eligible, below are some documents you have to prepare for your F-1 student visa extension:

  • Your passport has to be valid for at least six months after you plan on leaving the US.
  • Visa picture. You have to upload your visa photo when you fill in your online application, but make sure you get your picture taken so you can have a physical copy in case the digital version fails to upload.
  • Application form. You need to print the confirmation page of Form DS- 160.
  • Form I-20. You must also have your Form I-20 which you receive from your education provider.
  • University records. You must also submit some supporting documents related to your study time in the US:
    • A description of your study programme
    • A description of your research activities in the US
    • A copy of your school transcripts and CV
    • A letter of confirmation for your current programme
    • Evidence that you have paid all the visa fees.
    • Evidence of the funding for your study program.
    • Proof that you were not involved in any type of criminal activity during your stay in the US.
    • Proof that you will return to your home country.