F2 Status for the Spouse or Child of an F1 Student



The F-2 (“F2”) nonimmigrant visa category is for the derivative spouse and children of a principal F-1 (“F1”) nonimmigrant student [see category]. The F1 nonimmigrant visa category is for foreign students engaged in full courses of study at qualifying institutions in the United States. F2 status is tied to F1 status. That is, an F2 spouse or child can only maintain F2 status so long as the principal F1 student maintains his or her student status. Below, we will describe the rules and regulations surrounding F2 status.

Who is Eligible for F2 Status?

In order to be eligible for an F2 visa, the applicant must be the spouse or minor child (unmarried child under 21) of an F1 student. The F2 applicant must either be accompanying an F1 student or, if applying for a visa abroad, following to join the F1 student. An F2 visa holder seeking to follow to join an F1 student “must demonstrate that the F-1 student has been admitted and is, or will be within 30 days, enrolled in a full course of study, or engaged in approved practical training following completion of studies” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(3)). Moreover, F2 students seeking admission “must individually present a Form I-20 or successor form in the name of each F-2 dependent issued by a [SEVP-certified] school for attendance by F1 students” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(3)).

In short, an F2 derivative must establish that he or she has a qualifying spouse or child relationship with a principal F1 student (parents of F1 students are not eligible for F2 visas). The F2 derivative must further establish that the F1 student is maintaining F1 status.

An individual maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status in the United States may also change from a separate nonimmigrant status to F2. This scenario is most likely in cases where the principal F1 student changes from a different status to F2. We discuss change of status generally [see article] and change of status to or from F1 [see article] in separate articles.

While eligibility for an F2 visa requires the applicant to have a qualifying relationship with an F1 student, an F2 applicant must also establish that he or she is eligible for F2 status in his or her own right. The main barrier in F2 cases is section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which requires most nonimmigrant visa applicants to establish “nonimmigrant intent.” F2 derivatives must satisfy the adjudicator that they intend to depart the United States when their F2 status expires — which should generally be when the F1 student completes his or her full course of study. Another issue for F2 derivatives is that they are not allowed to engage in employment. Thus, F2 applicants must also satisfy the adjudicator that they will be able to support themselves in the United States without engaging in employment. Here, it is important to note that F1 students have strict limitations on permissible employment outside of the limited context of optional practical training [see article].

Maintaining F2 Status

As a threshold matter, the maintenance of F2 status requires that the F2 visa holder have a qualifying relationship (spouse or minor child of) to an F1 student. If the F1 principal fails to maintain status, the F2 derivative cannot maintain F2 status. F1 students and F2 derivatives should be aware of the fact that an F2 derivative accrues unlawful presence if he or she remains in the United States after the F1 student violates or otherwise fails to maintain F1 status, which can lead to serious immigration penalties [see article]. Thus, it is especially important for F1 students who have dependent F2 family members in the United States to be diligent about following all of the rules of F1 student status.

It is possible for an F2 derivative to violate his or her status while the F1 principal student maintains status. Thus, it is also important for the F2 derivative to understand the limitations of F2 status.

No F-2 Employment

F2 nonimmigrants are prohibited from engaging in employment (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(i)). Engaging in employment as an F2 nonimmigrant constitutes a violation of status. For this reason, F2 status may not be viable for all spouses of F1 students.

Studying on F-2 Status

F2 nonimmigrants are permitted to engage in courses of study with certain restrictions and limitations.

There are separate rules for studying on F2 status for post-secondary/vocational students and elementary/secondary school students (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)). If an F2 visa holder engages in a course of study other than what is authorized in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15) (see below), he or she will be determined to have violated his or her nonimmigrant status even if the F1 principal student abides by the rules of his or her status (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(C)).

We discuss rules for studying as a nonimmigrant generally in a separate article.

F-2 Post-Secondary/Vocational Study

F2 nonimmigrants are permitted to enroll in less than a full course of study at an SEVP-certified school. This includes less than a full course of study at the following SEVP-certified institutions:

Postgraduate or postdoctoral study at a college or university
Undergraduate study at a college or university
Undergraduate or postgraduate study at a conservatory or religious seminary
Study in a postsecondary language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational program
Study in any other language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other non-vocational training program
Study at a community college or junior college
Study at a postsecondary vocational or business school
Study in a vocational or other nonacademic curriculum
Study in a vocational or other nonacademic high school curriculum

In short, F2 students are generally permitted to study at the same post-secondary/vocational institutions and programs that are permitted in F1 and M1 student status, but they are not permitted to engage in a full course of study like F1 and M1 students. With respect to F2 study at a college, university, community college, or junior college, the F2 regulations make clear that such study “is not a full course of study solely because the F-2 nonimmigrant is engaging in a lesser course load to complete a course of study during the current term” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(A)). F2 status plainly does not permit a full course of study under any guise. However, “An F-2 spouse and child may engage in study that is avocational or recreational in nature, up to and including on a full-time basis” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(2)). In general, F2 students should exercise extreme caution before engaging in full-time study of an “avocational or recreational” nature, including consulting with an experienced immigration attorney, to ensure that the study falls within the limitations of F2 nonimmigrant status. We wrote a bit about avocational or recreational study in the context of B2 visitor visas [see section]. The regulations make clear that F2 nonimmigrants engaging in less than a full course of study are not eligible to engage in the limited employment authorized for certain full-time F1 students (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(A)).

The F2 regulations suggest a method by which an F2 nonimmigrant may engage in a full course of study at a post-secondary/vocational institution: “[A]n F-2 spouse and child may engage in a full course of study only by applying for and obtaining a change of status to F-1, M-1, or J-1 nonimmigrant status, as appropriate, before beginning a full course of study” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(A)). That is, if the spouse (or more rarely, the child) of an F1 student wants to engage in a full course of study at a SEVP-certified school, he or she should apply for an F1 visa in his or her own right instead of seeking an F2 visa as a derivative.

F-2 Elementary or Secondary Study

While F2 status does not permit full-time study at a SEVP-certified post-secondary or vocational program, it does permit “full-time study … in any elementary or secondary school” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(B)). The regulation defines this as “kindergarten through twelfth grade.” Thus, an F2 nonimmigrant child may partake in a full course of study at a kindergarten through twelfth grade program similarly to a child on F1 status. The main difference between F1 and F2 for children attending school from kindergarten through 12th grade is that F2 status is tied to the parent's F1 status whereas a child on F1 status can maintain status separate of the parent. There may be cases in which it would still be beneficial for the parents to seek an F1 visa for the child instead of F2, but that should be a case-specific determination.

Reinstatement of Status

Because F2 nonimmigrant status is tied to an F1 student's maintaining his or her status, the failure of an F1 student to maintain status results in any F2 derivatives also falling out of status. In certain cases, an F1 student may seek reinstatement of status after falling out of status and include F2 derivatives in the reinstatement application. We discuss reinstatement of F2 status in a separate article [see article]. F2 derivatives should bear in mind that they accrue unlawful presence when they remain in the United States after the F1 principal falls out of status and that the accrual of unlawful presence can cause serious immigration issues [see article].


F2 nonimmigrant status allows the spouse and children of F1 students to join the principal F1 student while he or she studies in the United States. Due to the fact that F2 status is not employment authorized, it may not be a viable option for the spouse and children of F1 students in every case where it is theoretically available. There may be cases where the spouse of an F1 student would be better served seeking a different nonimmigrant status (including F1 or M1 student status) or where the minor child of an F1 student may be served by an F1 visa in his or her own right. However, in cases where F2 status fulfills the needs of a particular family, it provides a solid solution for keeping a spouse and/or children together with an F1 student so long as the F1 student and F2 derivatives fully understand the rules for maintaining their respective nonimmigrant statuses.