111,387 visas issued in 2020*
364,204 visas issued in 2019
43% of F-1 visas originate in China
Source: U.S. Department of State
*2020 visa numbers reflect lower overall visa numbers because of Executive Action restricting certain visas specifically and reduced participation generally due to the coronavirus pandemic
Last updated Nov. 2015
The F-1 nonimmigrant visa is for foreign students to study “at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the United States.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State oversee the F-1 visa program. Schools apply for designation to be able to enroll foreign students, and once they enroll, schools are responsible for updating all pertinent information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a data base administered by DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement which tracks foreign students. The DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol oversees every admission to the U.S. at the border and other ports of entry. Indeed, the F-1 visa has come to be widely recognized as another temporary work program for jobs ranging from low-wage retail clerks to skilled information technology positions. F-1 students are allowed to work off-campus when they show economic hardship or through practical training programs. Some students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields may stay and work in the United States for more than two years after graduation. Students working post-graduation do so only with authorization from DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The U.S. Department of Labor does not regulate the program at all despite its impact on U.S. labor markets. DHS spends considerable resources tracking foreign students, and their enforcement efforts center on finding and removing foreign students who violate the terms of their visa. There is a gap, however, in achieving justice for the students who fall victim to predatory schools that recruit them, charge exorbitant fees, and upon enrollment, immediately farm them out in low-wage jobs that double as curricular training programs. When the U.S. government discovers these visa mill schemes, the schools and officials are punished, and the students simply deported. While DHS and the U.S. Department of State publish the number of F-1 students, neither agency regularly releases information about F-1 students who work. A nongovernmental organization, the Institute of International Education, annually estimates the number of participants in post-graduation work programs based on an extensive surveys, and that number alone has tripled in the span of a decade, from 22,745 participants in 2002 to 85,157 in 2012. By 2014, this number had increased to 105,997.