What to Do If Your Student Visa Is Denied

Because appeal opportunities are rare, your best bet after an F-1 or M-1 denial by DOS or USCIS is often to reapply.

By , Attorney · University of Pittsburgh School of Law

After gaining acceptance to a school or university in the United States, it can be quite a disappointment to have your application for an F-1 or M-1 visa (or a change of status to F-1 or M-1) denied. What to do next depends in part on where you applied; either:

  • at a U.S. consulate abroad, or
  • to an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS) within the United States.

We'll explain the next steps in both circumstances here.

After a Visa Denial by a U.S. Consulate

If you are overseas, and the U.S. consulate denies your F-1 or M-1 student visa application, that's final. There is no appeal process. But hopefully you learned the exact reason underlying the denial from the consular officer. If you can correct the problem, you can start over and submit a new application (hopefully very soon).

In rare cases, the U.S. consular officer might have actually misapplied the law to your case. If the officer mentioned or wrote down the legal grounds for the denial, look the exact section number of the law under, in order to read it yourself or assist any lawyer whom you later consult.

Also check into the consulate's rules on reapplying. Some have special procedures to reduce your paperwork if you are reapplying within one year.

After a Change of Status Denial by USCIS

If you are in the United States in valid immigration status, and submit an application to USCIS for a change of status (from your current status to student status, typically using Form I-539), there is no appeal from a denial. However, a lawyer can help you request that your application be reconsidered. The lawyer will need to argue that USCIS incorrectly applied the law to the facts in your original application—not an easy argument to make, unless an obvious error occurred.

If you decide to consult a lawyer or to apply for reconsideration, act quickly. If your original visa status has already run out, you can no longer gain protection by having a pending application. USCIS will likely follow its denial of your application with an NTA notice placing you into removal (deportation) proceedings. If you can't show that you have some separate basis for being allowed to stay in the United States (for example, asylum or marriage to a U.S. citizen), you will be asked to voluntarily depart by a certain date or you will be ordered deported.

Most people who are given a choice depart voluntarily, because once you have been deported, you cannot return to the United States legally for at least five years without special permission (a "waiver") from the U.S. government.

If your change of status application in the United States is denied and you leave within the time required (or voluntarily), you can always try applying for a visa at an overseas consulate. If the timing is right, you could possibly still start school on time.

But watch out if you have already spent more than six months in the United States unlawfully. That would make you unable to return for three or ten years. (See Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S.—Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars.) Consult a lawyer if you're facing this issue.

Reapplying for a Student Visa at a U.S. Consulate

If you decide to reapply for a student visa, the main question will be, can you correct the underlying problem that led to the first denial?

If the problem had to do with your basic eligibility, such as whether you have enough cash in savings or other source of funds with which to cover your stay, or whether you truly plan to return home afterwards, you might be able to fix it yourself. Read about how to establish your eligibility in the first place, including F-1 Student Visa to the U.S.: Do You Qualify? and M-1 Vocational Student Visa to the U.S.: Do You Qualify?

Think about what additional forms of evidence you can come up with to tip the balance in your favor. The consulate will want to see something new, such as a source of financial support that you did not mention before, your recent wedding to someone who will stay behind in your home country during your studies (thus giving you a reason to return), or a home purchase indicating your plans to live permanently in your home country.

The more difficult problems to correct are those having to do with fraud and inadmissibility, especially for security or health reasons. These are problems that would stop you from getting any kind of visa, not just the one you're applying for now. See Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out for more information. If fraud or inadmissibility is the reason for a visa denial, consult with an immigration lawyer in the United States to discuss whether you can overcome this ground of inadmissibility or whether a waiver is available.

Long-Term Consequences If Your F-1 or M-1 Application Is Denied

Having a visa or change of status application denied could have long-term consequences for your visits or eventual immigration to the United States. The U.S. government will keep a record of your visa denial. If you used fraud or they discovered that you were inadmissible for some other reason, this could affect your future visa applications.

At the least, having one visa application denied will mean that the U.S. government will look hard at any other immigration application that you submit. U.S. immigration authorities can consider this denial when making other visa decisions for you, no matter how long ago the denial happened. If you later try and hide the denial and are caught, it will probably destroy your chances of ever getting a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit.

Getting Legal Help

It can be helpful to consult with an attorney who specializes in immigration law in order to discuss the likely reasons for the denial and strategize going forward.

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