F1 visas issued to international students from certain countries such as mainland China are typically valid for less than the duration of the intended academic program (e.g. 1 year). Visa renewal is expensive and time consuming. The duration of validity should be extended to be commensurate with the intended academic program (typically 2 yr for master's and 5 yr for Ph.D.). An alternative approach is to allow renewal of F1 visa prior to the travel, so that in case the renewal is denied, the student would be given a chance to consider a later date of travel to avoid unexpected interruption of study and teaching. This would also prevent international students from risking their safety to renew their visas in neighboring countries, such as Mexico which is currently suffering from drug wars.
Response to Petition
By Janice L. Jacobs
Thank you for signing the petition "Extend the validity period of F1 student visas to be commensurate with the academic program or allow renewal within U.S." on the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.
International students are a vital source of people, ideas, and resources, and we are committed to streamlining the visa application and renewal process, consistent with national security, for those who choose to study in the United States. We recognize some students face challenges with visa renewals, and continue to examine processes to expedite student visa applications. To acknowledge the time constraints on students, the Department of State prioritizes student visa interview appointments worldwide, and expedites the application process for student visa applicants whenever necessary.
In any discussion regarding visas, it is important to distinguish visa validity from length of stay in the United States. Students use their visas only to apply for admission to the United States. When they are admitted to the United States, students are given an I-94 card, which establishes their status and the amount of time they can remain in the United States. International students admitted in F-1 status are admitted for the duration of their student status, which means they can stay in the United States for the duration of their program, as well as for additional post-graduate training and opportunities. Therefore, while a student's visa might be valid for only one year, they would be allowed to remain in the U.S. for the entirety of their four-year undergraduate program.
The duration of visa validity, as opposed to authorized length of stay, is a complex decision that depends largely on the treatment of U.S. citizens by foreign governments, as required by U.S. law. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 221(c):
A nonimmigrant visa in the case of nationals of any foreign country who are eligible for such visas, the Secretary of State shall, insofar as practicable, accord to such nationals the same treatment upon a reciprocal basis as such foreign country accords to nationals of the United States who are within a similar class.
Based on that standard of reciprocity, students from countries such as India, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom, may receive student visas valid for up to 60 months because their countries issue student visas to American students up to a similar time period. Students from countries which grant U.S. students' shorter periods of visa validity must themselves receive shorter visa validity.
The Department of State offers guidance on the visa application process to assist international students. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security recently launched a website dedicated to assisting international students as they navigate the process of studying in the United States.
Janice L. Jacobs is Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State