Rules for F1 Student Visas at Public High Schools



The F-1 (“F1”) student visa category [see category] is most often thought of as a visa for foreign nationals to study at U.S. colleges and universities. However, the F1 visas are also available for students seeking to attend school at the elementary and secondary level. In this article, we will discuss restrictions on the ability to use F1 visas to attend public high schools, elementary schools, and certain publicly funded programs. You may also refer to the State Department's guidance on the issue [link], which we will refer to below.

F1 Study at High Schools

The F1 student visa category permits studying at qualifying colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, elementary schools, other academic institutions, and in certain language training programs (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)). Note that “academic high schools” are among the places a foreign national may study on an F1 visa. However, there are special rules governing the use of F1 visas for studying at public high schools.

F1 students are admitted for duration of status. This means that they are generally admitted for the time necessary to complete a full time course of study, so long as they maintain status throughout their studies (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(5)). However, F1 students admitted to study at public high schools face limitations on the period of admission: “[A]n F-1 student who is admitted to attend a public high school is restricted to an aggregate of 12 months to study at any public highs school(s)” (8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(5)(i)). This means that an F1 student cannot attend public high schools on F1 status for a period exceeding 12 months.

The regulatory rule stems from section 214(m)(1)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), which provides that a student may not study in F1 status at a public secondary school unless: “the aggregate period of such status at such a school does not exceed 12 months with respect to any alien and … the alien demonstrates that the alien has reimbursed the local education agency that administers the school for the full unsubsidized per capita cost of providing education at such school for the period of the alien's attendance.”

Below, we will work through the rules and regulations in detail.

General Requirements For F-1 Study at Public High Schools

The State Department lists the three general rules for being granted an F1 visa to study at a public high school (quoted):

Secondary school attendance is limited to twelve months.
F-1 secondary school students are required to pay the school the full cost of education by repaying the school system for the full, unsubsidized, per capita cost of providing the education to him or her.

Additionally, the proposed course of study must meet all of the ordinary requirements for studying in F1 status [see article].

Let us examine these points in more detail.

Aggregate 12 Month Limit

The regulations provide that an individual may not engage in more than 12 months of study at public high schools in F1 status.

The State Department explains that “[t]he length of study indicated on the Form I-20” for an F1 visa applicant seeking admission to study at a public high school “must be limited to 12 months.” The 12-month limit is cumulative. Multiple periods of F1 study at public high schools or periods of study at different public high schools cannot exceed 12 months.

While the 12-month limit is a bright line rule for study at public high schools in F1 status, it only applies to study in F1 status. For example, if the student previously studied at a public high school in a different visa classification or nonimmigrant status than F1 (e.g., A1, F2), that time would not be counted against the 12-month F1 limit [see “Limitations Apply Only to F-1 Students”]. Moreover, study at private high schools in F1 status does not count against the 12-month limit for study at public high schools.

Tuition Repayment Requirement

An F1 student studying at a public high school is required by section 214(m) of the INA to pay the full cost of education. The amount will vary based on the public high school, but the State Department notes that “[c]osts normally range between $3,000 and $10,000.” There is no exception to this rule and “school systems cannot waive the reimbursement requirement.” The State Department explains that the F1 student's Form I-20 must include either the cost of tuition or a notarized statement signed by the applicable Designated School Official (DSO) who signed the Form I-20 stating the full cost of tuition and that the student paid the cost in full.

There is one quasi-exception to the rule that the student must pay the cost of tuition. The State Department notes that there is nothing preventing a sponsor from paying the student's tuition. But the State Department cautions that “the payment cannot come from public funds.” Moreover, like any F1 visa applicant, “[t]he student must show that he or she has sufficient funds to cover education and living expenses…”

Consequence of Violation

An F1 student who obtains an F1 visa to study at a private high school and then, without approval, studies at a public high school, will be deemed to have violated his or her F1 status (INA 214(m)(B)(2)). This may lead to removal and other adverse immigration consequences [see article].

Limitations Apply Only To F-1 Students

The 12-month and tuition repayment requirements for F1 students studying at public high schools only apply to F1 students. They do not apply to any other nonimmigrant visa category [see article], including F2 derivative children [see article] of F1 students. They also do not apply to F1 students studying at private high schools.

F-1 Study Not Permitted at Public Primary/Elementary Schools or Publicly Funded Adult Education Programs

An F1 visa may not under any circumstance be approved for study at a public primary/elementary school or a publicly funded adult education program. “Publicly funded education programs” are defined as “[e]education, training or English as a second language programs operated by, through, or for a local public school district, system, agency or authority, regardless of whether such a program charges fees or tuition.” There is no exception to these prohibitions, and engaging in unauthorized study in F1 status will result in the termination of status and subject the alien to potential removal and other immigration penalties (INA 214(m)(1)(B)) [see article].

These prohibitions apply only to studying in F1 status. For example, F2 derivative children [see article] of F1 students may study at public elementary schools and so to may children in other nonimmigrant visa classifications where such study is permitted [see article].


The F1 student visa category categorically prohibits studying at public schools from kindergarten through eighth grade and imposes heavy restrictions on studying at public high schools. With respect to public high schools, it limits students to one year of studying in F1 status. However, as we noted, these specific restrictions apply only to study in F1 status and do not cover studying while in other nonimmigrant statuses.