Bringing Family to the U.S. While on a Student Visa

If you're applying for an F-1 or M-1 visa, your spouse and children might be able to travel to and stay in the U.S. with you.

Are you a foreign-born person planning to study in the U.S. on an F-1 or M-1 visa? If so, your spouse and minor children (under 21 years of age and unmarried) may request visas to come and stay in the United States with you. They are eligible for visas (F-2 and M-2) simply by virtue of being your spouse and children. (See 8 C.F.R. Section 214.2(f)(3).) In other words, they won't have to prove that they are coming to the United States for a specific purpose, such as to travel or study.

Your family members will not get visas automatically. In fact, certain consulates, particularly those in Southeast Asia, have been known to routinely deny student visas to family members in order to ensure the return of the student. This article will discuss how to maximize your chances of obtaining visas for your family members to accompany you during your U.S. schooling.

Basic Procedural Steps Family Members of Foreign Students Must Take to Get a Visa

First, you will have to prove to the satisfaction of the U.S. government that the applicants are really your spouse and children, as discussed below.

Your family members will also have to fill out a separate set of application forms, summarized on the checklist below. Once you have filled out your own form and prepared your documents, helping your family members with their applications should be no problem. In fact, you have probably covered some of the requirements for your family members' applications already, for example when you dealt with such necessities as proving that your financial resources were enough to cover your accompanying family along with yourself.

Who Counts As a Family Member for U.S. Visa Purposes?

The F-2 and M-2 visas were specially created for the legal spouse and children of F-1 and M-1 students. Children over the age of 21 or who are married will not qualify.

If you want to bring your spouse and children to the United States while you study, you will have to prove that they are in fact your spouse and children. To do so, use official marriage and birth certificates, accompanied by a complete translation if they are not in English.

You will also have to ask your school to not only issue your I-20, but also "SEVIS dependent" I-20s for each family member. Ask the school about its requirements for issuing these.

Make Sure Your Family Members Are Not Inadmissible

Every applicant for a U.S. visa, your family members included, must prove that they don't present such a high health, security, or other risk that they cannot be admitted to the United States. If one member of your family is found to be inadmissible, that person's visa could be denied even if the other family members' visas are granted.

For more on this topic, see Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.

More Distant Family Members Might Be Able to Come Along on Tourist Visas

Family members who are not your spouse and children do not receive the same recognition when it comes to U.S. visas. Your live-in domestic partner for example, will not qualify for an F-2 visa if you have not actually gotten married.

However, such family members might not be left completely out in the cold. A B-2 (tourist) visa may be given to family or household members with close ties to you, such as elderly parents or domestic partners of the same or opposite sex. See A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify? for details on obtaining one.

Overseas Family Members' Visa Application Checklist

Although your family members' visa applications are dependent on yours, each member of your family will need to be just as careful as you are to prepare a complete application. Your spouse or children's visas could be rejected if they don't prepare a satisfactory application, are inadmissible, or don't appear likely to return to your home country.

Your family's applications should include the following items:

  • receipt for having filled out Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application online
  • one digital passport-style photo for upload with the DS-160
  • proof of family member's relationship to you (copy of marriage or birth certificate, with English-language translation if the consulate requires it)
  • copy of your family member's SEVIS-dependent Form I-20 (received from your school)
  • passport (valid for at least six months beyond your family members' intended period of stay)
  • documents showing that your family members will return to your home country for reasons of their own
  • copies of your documents showing that you can pay your tuition, fees and the whole family's living expenses while in the U.S., and
  • visa fee (see details on the State Department website).

After you have prepared visa applications for yourself and any accompanying family members, the next step is to prepare for your personal interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country, described in The Day of Your Consular Interview. If this process seems confusing or fraught with complications, you'd be wise to consult an immigration attorney.

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