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Can a minor child use an F-1 visa to attend public school?

By November 22, 2022Immigration
A child raising her hand to answer a question at school

The F-1 student visa is a great visa for students who want to come to the U.S. and attend university, college, high school, elementary school, or other academic institutions. Whereas our earlier post focused on students applying for an F-1 visa to study at a U.S. college or university, this post considers use of an F-1 visa to study at the elementary, middle, and secondary school levels (grades kindergarten through 12).

As brief background, F-1 students can only attend a school that is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). A search tool and list of SEVP-certified schools can be found here.

Whether an F-1 student can attend school at the elementary, middle, or secondary school level – and for how long — will depend on whether the school is public or private.

What is the difference between a public school and a private school?

In the United States, the difference between public and private schools often comes down to the source of the school’s funding. Public schools are funded by local, state, and federal tax revenue. Private schools are funded by tuition that the school collects from its students.

Can a student on an F-1 visa attend a private school?

Yes. Immigration regulations do not place a limit on the length of time that an F-1 student can attend a private school between grades kindergarten to 12. In order to enroll an F-1 student, the school must be SEVP-certified.

Can a student on an F-1 visa attend a public school?

F-1 students cannot attend public schools at the kindergarten through 8th grade levels. Public schools for kindergarten through 8th grade cannot be SEVP-certified.

However, F-1 students can attend public secondary school, meaning grades 9 through 12. These public secondary schools can be SEVP-certified. Certain important restrictions apply to F-1 students who attend a public secondary school (grades 9 through 12).

What restrictions apply to F-1 students who study at a public secondary school?

1.First, the F-1 student can only study at the public secondary school for a maximum of 12 months. This 12-month limit applies to all of the public schools that the child has attended – meaning the 12-month clock does not restart if the child transfers to a different public school. However, the 12-month limit does not include time that the child studied at a public school while they were not in F-1 status (such as if they were in F-2 status, as described below, then changed to F-1 status).

    • If a child reaches the 12-month limit and wants to continue studying, they would need to transfer to a private school (which, as noted above, does not limit the length of time the child can study while on an F-1 visa).

2. Second, the F-1 student must pay the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of attending school for one year in the school’s location. They must do so before the student applies for the F-1 visa, and they must bring proof that they have paid this cost to the visa interview and to the port of entry when they travel to the U.S.

    • To determine the per capita cost of attending the school, please perform a search on the National Center for Education Statistics website, which can be found here.

Can the minor children of those on an F-1 visa (in other words, a child in F-2 status) attend public school?

Yes. The minor dependents of F-1 visa holders typically have F-2 status. Minor F-2 dependents are permitted to attend public school from kindergarten through grade 12, and they do not need any additional permission from the government. Also, the school that the F-2 dependent child attends does not need to be certified by SEVP.

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