U.S. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service
March 21, 1997
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
of 1996 Changes Affecting F-1 Student Visas
As of November 30, 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform
and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 prohibited any
alien from receiving an F-1 student visa if the alien was
coming to attend a public elementary school, grades
Kindergarten through 8, or a publicly-funded adult education
program. Students in grades 9 through 12 must pay the
unsubsidized, per capita cost of education in advance to be
eligible for an F-1 student visa and are limited to a period
not to exceed one year.
* Who is eligible to attend public school in the United
States on an F-1 student visa?
The Immigration and Nationality Act defines the F-1 non-
immigrant alien as one who has not abandoned their residence
in a foreign country and who is a bona fide student coming
temporarily and solely to the United States to pursue a
course of study at a recognized institution of education
approved by the Attorney General to accept foreign students.
The 1996 changes to the immigration law prohibit attendance
at a public elementary school or publicly-funded adult
education program, and restrict attendance at a public
secondary school to a cumulative period not to exceed one
year while requiring reimbursement of the unsubsidized, per
capita costs of education.
* Why are elementary and secondary school students being
turned away at the border ports of entry?
A student seeking entry into the United States with an F-1
student visa after November 30, 1996, must meet the
requirements of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act of 1996. The new law includes provisions
that eliminate F-1 visas to students attending public
elementary school (kindergarten through grade 8) or
publicly-funded adult education programs, regardless of
ability to pay. The law also requires that public secondary
school students pay, in advance, the full unsubsidized per
capita cost of their education, and limits attendance to a
cumulative total of 12 months.
* Why are students with valid multiple-entry, F-1 student
visas being refused entry?
An unexpired, multiple-entry F-1 student visa is valid only
if the alien remains eligible for the visa. Many aliens may
have been eligible for an F-1 student visa prior to the
changes to the law that became effective November 30, 1996.
By leaving the United States, even for one day, the F-1 visa
holder must reapply for admission at a port of entry, and at
that time, the F-1 student must meet the requirements of the
changes to the law.
* Who sets the levels of tuition that must be reimbursed?
The local public school system is responsible to determine
the unsubsidized, per capita cost of education at its
schools. Student visas for attendance at a public school
are restricted under the new law to students in grades 9
through 12 who have paid the unsubsidized, per capita cost
of education and for a period not to exceed one year.
* How can a student continue his or her education at their
U.S. school if unable to enter the U.S.?
The law does not allow an alien to be admitted with an F-1
student visa to attend a public elementary school or
publicly-funded adult education program. This includes
aliens formerly attending such academic programs who seek
readmission to the United States to resume their studies.
Aliens who seek to continue their education may transfer to
a private elementary or secondary school, or privately-
funded adult education program.
* What are the penalties for continuing to go to school?
The provisions of the new law apply as of November 30, 1996
to aliens who seek an F-1 visa or a change in their
immigration status while already in the United States.
Aliens in the United States on F-1 visas who do not apply
for an extension or plan to leave the United States and
apply for readmission are not affected by the changes.
Aliens admitted as an F-1 student to attend a private
secondary school who transfer to a public school and who do
not reimburse the school for the full, unsubsidized cost of
education are in violation of their status and are subject
to a five-year bar for readmission to the United States.
* Are Mexican students being targeted by this change in the
The new provisions affecting student visas apply to all
aliens, regardless of nationality.
Prepared by the Office of Public Affairs (202)514-2648