Financial Requirements for a Student Visa

As an applicant for a student visa to the United States (F-1 or M-1), you are expected to prove that you can cover your tuition and living expenses.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

As an applicant for a student visa to the United States (F-1 or M-1), you are expected to prove that you can cover the cost of your school or college tuition and living expenses. This means that you'll need to cover not only your own costs, but those of your spouse and children, if any will be staying on with you in the United States. What's more, you will have to do this without relying on any employment that you might pick up in the United States while studying there—and without your spouse or children working at all. (See the U.S. government's Foreign Affairs Manual at 9 FAM 402.5-5(C).)

We'll explain what that means for the visa application process here. The bottom line is that if you can't show sufficient funds in advance, you won't be granted a student visa at all.

How Money Much You'll Need in Order to Qualify for F-1 or M-1 Student Visa

If you will be applying for an F-1 (academic student) visa or status, your financial resources must clearly cover a 12-month academic term. And, you will need to show indications that your additional years of study will be covered, as well. The U.S. government doesn't expect you to literally be able to pay for all your years of education right away, but it does expect you to show where the money will eventually come from.

Similarly, if you will be on M-1 (vocational student) status, your resources must cover your entire 12-month (or shorter) study term in the United States.

Acceptable Sources of Financial Support While Studying in the U.S.

Your sources of financial support can include personal funds; personal assets or property that are readily convertible to cash; pay from work that you do as part of a fellowship or scholarship; or specified funds from other persons or organizations.

As part of the visa application process, you will need to gather documents that will supply proof of the existence of these things. For example, you might show evidence of:

  • Personal or family funds, such as copies of bank statements or stock certificates. Combine this with a list summarizing your total cash assets. Note that if a bank statement shows a recent deposit but a low average balance, the U.S. government will want to know why, and what's going on. You'd want to attach a written explanation in writing (either your own statement or an official document showing the source of the new cash) to the copy of the bank statement. Your goal is to overcome any suspicion that the money was borrowed from a friend to pad the account and make the financial situation look better than it is.
  • The employment status of family members who will support you, such as a letter on company letterhead from their employer (explaining the person's job title, salary, and that it's a permanent position) or copies of their income tax statements.
  • Any assets held by you or your family members that can be readily converted to cash. The conversion must be done in a country whose currency is traded on the international exchange. For example, real estate (land) is a good asset to show. The U.S. immigration authorities will want to see whether the property is owned free and clear or whether it carries any debt or lien, so you'll want to attach bank or other receipts that show to what extent any loans or mortgages have been paid off. If the ownership papers don't make the value clear, or they show a value that seems too low, you can hire a professional appraiser to prepare an estimate and report.
  • Any scholarships, fellowships, assistant-ships, grants or loans from your school, government or private sources. Although these will also be listed on the Form I-20 that you receive from the school that accepts you, you must provide independent confirmation of them. Usually a copy of the notification letter you received is fine.

If your family members will be supporting you, they can use a USCIS Form I-134 to indicate that they not only have the income and assets you've shown, but they are willing to spend them on your studies and living expenses.

How to Make Sure Support From Non-Family Members Will Be Counted Toward Student Visa Eligibility

If individuals who are not members of your family are willing to support you, use any of the types of evidence mentioned above with regard to family members, including a Form I-134 Affidavit of Support.

The U.S. government official who decides whether to issue your visa will wonder, however, why someone who is not related to you will want to pay for you to get an expensive U.S. education. For that reason, non-family members should also write a sworn statement explaining why they are so willing, able, and motivated. The statement should mention that the person understands that they are not just a "backup" if other sources fail, but will be immediately responsible for paying all or part of your tuition, fees, and expenses. And of course, if there's some personal connection that wouldn't otherwise be obvious, like that person being your best friend's parent, that would also be good to mention.

What If Your Sources of Support Later Fall Through?

If something happens that makes paying your tuition and other expenses impossible, such as a family member's illness or an economic crash in your home country, this could, of course, jeopardize your ability to keep studying in the United States. One possibility for F-1 students to look into is that of applying for a work permit (Employment Authorization Document or EAD) allowing you to work at an off-campus job. These aren't normally available to students, but there's a special category for those facing severe economic need. See How to Apply for a U.S. Work Permit (EAD).

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