F-1 Student Visa

The information below contains pertinent information regarding F-1 student status in the United States.

To enter the U.S. on an F-1 visa, the student will need to make an appointment with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Students may apply for a visa up to 120 days before the start date on their I-20.  Citizens of Canada do not require an F-1 visa to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student.

How to get an I-20 to begin study at Meharry

  1. Once being admitted to Meharry and paying the deposit, a confirmation email will be sent out to the new student from the International Office.
  2. With the assistance of the International Office, the new student will complete the necessary forms and submit passport identity page copies (if applicable) and financial documentation (i.e., proof of funding).
  3. The International Office will issue the I-20, send it out, and the new student will be notified.

Once the student acquires their I-20, they should follow the steps below:


Step 1: Pay the SEVIS Fee

Before applying for an F-1 visa, the student must pay a SEVIS fee of $350. For more information on the SEVIS fee, read ICE I-901 FAQ.

If the student has previously paid the SEVIS fee, and their F-1 record has stayed active, they do not need to pay it again.


Step 2: Schedule a visa interview appointment

Instructions will be on the website of the embassy or consulate at which the student applies. This is typically handled by a call center or service that contracts with the embassy. U.S. State Department policy requires that embassies and consulates give students priority in visa appointments.

As a part of the process, the student will pay a visa application fee and sometimes a visa reciprocity fee, which varies by country, and is rarely applicable.


Bermudan or Canadian Citizens

Bermudan or Canadian citizens do not need to apply for a student (F-1 or J-1) or dependent (F-2 or J-2) visa; they may simply enter with the I-20, proof of citizenship (i.e. passport or driver’s license and birth certificate), admission letter, SEVIS Fee payment receipt, and evidence of financial support. They will however, have to pay the SEVIS fee at least 3 days before entering the U.S. The SEVIS fee cannot be paid at the border.


Step 3: Apply for the Visa

At the visa application appointment, the officer will conduct a brief interview of the student and review their documents. Sometimes they will thoroughly examine the provided documents.  Other times they will not look at everything. It’s still best to bring all documents in order to be prepared.

To obtain the F-1 visa, the student will need the following documents:

  • an I-20
  • a valid passport
  • evidence of financial support (Certification of Financial Support, bank statement, assistantship or scholarship letter)
  • evidence of ties to the student’s home country (employment offer, concrete plans on how their education in the U.S. will help their career in their home country, family and property ties, etc.)
  • visa application form DS-160.  If the student needs to list a U.S. address in their application, they can list the address of their department, or the physical address of the Office of General Counsel (1005 Dr. D. B. Todd, Jr., Blvd, Nashville, Tennessee 37208).
  • refer to the list below for additional items the student will need.

In some cases the consulate may keep the student’s I-20. If they do not receive their I-20 after their appointment, they should contact the International Office for a replacement, as they will need this when traveling to the U.S.

Additional Documents


New Students will need:

  • documents listed above
  • receipt of the SEVIS fee payment
  • admission letter from Meharry


Continuing Students will need:

  • documents listed above
  • valid travel signature on form I-20 (signatures valid for 1 year from date of signing)
  • Meharry transcript (official recommended)
  • letter from department/program (optional)


Students on OPT will need:

  • documents listed above
  • valid travel signature on form I-20 (while on OPT, signatures valid for 6 months from date of signing)
  • EAD card (OPT card)
  • letter from employer, verifying employment, recognizing travel (recommended)

The student must check with their U.S. Consulate to see if they require any additional documents.

Security Checks

Some students may be subject to a security check as part of their visa application, which may delay getting their visa. This is often referred to as “administrative processing.” While most security checks are completed within 2 weeks, (the U.S. State Department works with the other federal agencies involved to expedite them), in rare cases they can take several months. Various factors may make a student more likely to have a security check, such as their country of citizenship, their gender, and the field they are studying.

Authorization of the student’s F-1 Visa

If the consular officer grants the student the visa, he or she will instruct them on when and where they can pick it up. The visa will have an expiration date; however, the expiration date on the visa is not the date by which the student must leave the U.S. As long as the student maintains F-1 status, they may stay in the U.S. until the completion of their program plus 60 days (After completion of their program, the student has a 60 day grace period in which they may travel in the U.S., prepare for their return home, etc; however, they cannot work during that period – even on-campus).

Entry to the US

On the student’s first entry to the US with their I-20, they cannot enter any earlier than 30 days before the start date on their I-20. For travel after that, (e.g., summer break), there is no restriction.

I-20 Example

New Students – How to request the Initial I-20

  1. Once being admitted to Meharry and paying the deposit, a confirmation email will be sent out to the new student from the International Office.
  2. With the assistance of the International Office, the new student will complete the necessary forms and submit passport identity page copies (if applicable) and financial documentation (i.e., proof of funding).
  3. The International Office will issue the I-20, send it out, and the new student will be notified.

Current or Returning Students – How to request an updated or replacement I-20

  1. Contact the International Office, who will issue a replacement I-20 if the new student’s form has been lost/stolen/damaged

It is important that F-1 students understand their immigration responsibilities in order to maintain their status. Please read carefully. These rules are extremely important. Any violation of these regulations puts the F-1 student at risk of disciplinary action or deportation.

  1. The student must keep their passport, I-20, and I-94 valid at all times. If one of these documents will expire during a student’s stay in the U.S., they must contact the International Office at least 30 days before the expiration date.
  2. The student must always be enrolled full-time for the Fall and Spring semesters. For graduate students this means 9 credit hours per semester. If a student needs to drop below full-time, they must make sure that they have received authorization from the International Office.
  3. The student must obtain a travel signature on their I-20 prior to leaving the U.S.  They will need this to return to the U.S. on their F-1 visa. Travel signatures are valid for only one year.
  4. The student must not work without authorization. Students can work for Meharry on-campus a total of 20 hours per week during the Fall and Spring semesters and as many hours per week (on-campus) as they wish during official school breaks (Summer Break). For ANY work, or work-like activity, off-campus or for an on-campus employer, paid or unpaid, the student must have prior approval from the International Office. Engaging in unauthorized employment may result in the termination of the student’s SEVIS record and they will be required to leave the U.S. In addition, their future employment eligibility and academic program may also be impacted.
  5. The student must update their address within 10 days of moving.
  6. The student must notify the International Office to update their I-20 and SEVIS Record of any changes to their academic program or plans. Students must obtain permission from the International Office in advance if they 1.) need to drop below full-time enrollment, 2.) extend their I-20, or 3.) obtain work authorization.  Students must notify the International Office immediately of 1.) changes of major or funding, 2.) plans to transfer to a different school, or 3.) plans to start a new degree program. The International Office must update students’ SEVIS Records (sometimes in advance) in order for these changes to be allowed.
  7. The student must not engage in illegal activity. Conviction of certain crimes can negatively impact a student’s immigration status and may subject them to deportation from the U.S. If a student is arrested or charged with a crime, they must notify the International Office immediately so that we can refer them to an immigration attorney.

Meharry Employment

Students in valid F-1 status, with an I-20 issued by Meharry, are eligible to work for Meharry within certain limits.



Employment authorization is not necessary for Meharry on-campus employment during the academic year and official breaks for F-1 students.  Students can work for Meharry on-campus a total of 20 hours per week during the Fall and Spring semesters and as many hours per week (on-campus) as they wish during official school breaks (Summer Break). Students must first contact the International Office.


Non-Meharry Employment/Earning Money

If a student would like to work in a job that does not qualify as Meharry employment, F-1 students can do so through CPT or OPT.  A student’s work for CPT or OPT must be related to their major.


During Fall and Spring Semesters

F-1 students may work up to a total of 20 hours per week during the fall and spring semesters. This total is the aggregate of all employment.


During Official Breaks

During Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break, F-1 students may work for Meharry full-time (more than 20 hours a week).

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT Duration of Authorization

  • Part-time CPT is for employment 20 hours per week or less. During the fall and spring semesters, students may only be authorized for part-time CPT (see “Full-time CPT” below for exceptions). If the student has an on-campus job, the on-campus job and CPT employment cannot exceed 20 hours per week
  • Full-time CPT is for employment over 20 hours per week. Students may only be authorized for full-time CPT during official school breaks (spring, winter, and summer breaks only).
  • Students must be registered for the appropriate CPT course for each semester of authorization.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

This provides information regarding the 12-month period of post-graduation OPT*.

  • If a student is interested in applying for OPT, they must first attend an OPT session.
  • *Most students use OPT for post-graduation employment and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for pre-graduation employment.

Students in F-1 status travelling outside the U.S. need these documents in order to re-enter the U.S.:

  • valid passport
  • valid F-1 visa (if applicable)
  • copy of their unofficial transcript (Recommended. Transcript requests should be submitted to College Registrar)
  • I-20 with a current travel signature (i.e., page 2 must have been signed by the International Office within the last 12 months)
  • Students on OPT must also carry their EAD (OPT card), and the I-20 must be signed for travel every 6 months. Read more about traveling abroad while on OPT.

Note: This list only applies to return travel to the U.S.; the student must check and see if they need a visa to enter the country (including transit visas) where they are going.

Getting a Travel Signature

Travel signatures cover all return travel to the U.S. for 12 months from the signature date (i.e. the student does not need to get a new signature each time they travel). If a student travels outside the U.S., to return they need a travel signature on their I-20 from the International Office signed in the last 12 months. Travel signatures are on page 2 of the I-20.


Note: Travel signatures for students on OPT are valid for 6 months only.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

These are U.S. territories and thus an F-1 student does not need a visa to travel to these locations from within the U.S., or to return to the U.S. from these locations.

International Cruise Travel

When a student travels on a “closed loop” cruise (beginning and ending the cruise at the same port in the U.S.), their I-94 record will not show their entry date after returning from the cruise. The lack of an entry date in this situation is not an I-94 error. Once the student reenters the U.S. after the cruise, their I-94 will be revalidated with no change to their status or previous date of entry.

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Contact General Counsel

Office of General Counsel
Hulda Lyttle Hall, 3rd Floor, Suite 314
1005 Dr. D. B. Todd, Jr., Blvd.
Nashville, Tennessee 37208
Telephone: 615.327.6102