F-1 students, with the exception of Border Commuters, are permitted to be accompanied by a legal spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21, known as F-2 dependents. Other family members (e.g. parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) are not eligible for F-2 status. Each dependent will be issued their own I-20 and SEVIS number to allow them to obtain F-2 status.
The dependent’s status is completely dependent on the student’s status. Each dependent will have the same program end date as the student, and will receive the same extension(s) if applicable. Once the student completes the program and leaves the United States or changes status, the dependent is also required to leave or change status.
OIP should be notified, and evidence of the event may be required, if:
- The dependent changes status or departs the U.S. before the I-20 program end date and does not intend to return during the program;
- The dependent spouse becomes legally divorced from the student spouse;
- The dependent dies; or
- The dependent wishes to terminate his/her SEVIS record for any reason
New F-1 students will indicate whether they plan to bring F-2 dependents when completing the I-20 applications through their Admission Checklist in Sunapsis.
Current F-1 students may request to add a dependent any time by completing the "Add a Dependent" e-form through Sunapsis.
Dependents are not automatically granted F-2 status once their I-20 is issued. Just like F-1 students, F-2 dependents must obtain their status one of two ways:
- Prospective F-2 dependents in the U.S. may choose to file a change of status application (Form I-539) with USCIS
- The application must be received by USCIS while maintaining another valid immigration status
- For assistance with the change of status application, please consult with an experienced immigration attorney
- Due to lengthy USCIS processing times, the dependent may wish to exit the U.S. and apply for a visa from abroad
- Prospective F-2 dependents outside the U.S. must apply for an F-2 visa at a consulate/embassy abroad
- Dependents may enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the I-20 program start date
- The F-2 dependent may not enter the U.S. before the F-1 student enters for the first time
F-1 students must show evidence of sufficient financial resources to OIP in order to receive the dependent's I-20. Evidence of financial resources must also be shown to USCIS or the consulate/embassy in order for the change of status or visa application to be approved.
The status of the F-2 depends on the status of the F-1. Therefore, if the F-1 fails to maintain status, the F-2 is also out of status, even if the F-2 did not commit a status violation.
Additionally, F-2 dependents MUST:
- Maintain an unexpired passport at all times;
- Reside with the F-1 student;
- Report changes in address within 10 days to OIP;
- Report changes in legal name or other contact information (foreign home address, phone number, personal email address) to OIP;
- NOT work under any circumstances (see Employment section);
- Leave the United States if the F-1 will be absent for an extended period;
- Leave the United States, transfer to another program, or request a change of status at the end of the F-1's program;
- Remain legally married to the F-1 student (spouse dependents); and
- Remain unmarried and be under the age of 21 (child dependents).
If arriving for the first time after the F-1, the F-2 should present copies of the F-1’s passport biographical page, I-20, visa, and passport entry stamp as evidence that the F-1 has already arrived.
After initial entry, F-2 may travel independently of the F-1. The F-2 may remain in the U.S. while the F-1 travels as long as the F-1’s absence is brief, and the F-1 will return in F-1 status.
Because an F-2’s status is dependent on the F-1’s status, it is against regulations for an F-2 to remain in the U.S. while the F-1 is outside the U.S. for a significant period of time. If the F-1 takes a leave of absence, the F-2 must also leave the U.S. until the F-1 resumes studies.
F-2 dependents are not permitted to work under any circumstances, but may serve in non-paid volunteer positions.
An F-2 dependent who wishes to work must either do so outside the U.S., or obtain another immigration status that permits employment.
F-2 dependent children may attend any U.S. elementary or secondary (K-12) school full time.
F-2 dependent spouses and children may attend a college or university as long as they are enrolled in less than a full course of study. A full course of study is generally defined as 12 credit hours per semester for undergraduate students, 9 credit hours per semester for graduate students, or 18 clock hours per week for language students. F-2 dependents are also eligible to participate in avocational (hobby) or recreational studies.
Because they are required to live with the student for the duration of the program, dependents should not attend a school that would require him/her to relocate, unless attending via distance learning/online.
F-2 dependents who wish to attend a college or university full time must obtain their own F-1 immigration status.
In order to remain an eligible dependent, children must be unmarried and under the age of 21.
If an F-2 dependent child plans to get married or will soon be turning 21, he/she must either depart the U.S. or apply to change status before the event. Many dependents who are about to “age out” (turn 21) obtain their own F-1 status to begin or continue college.
Children should start making a plan for obtaining another immigration status once they turn 20 years old to allow time for government processing delays.
If dependents will only be making brief trips to the U.S. to visit the F-1 student, they may choose to do so with a B tourist visa or on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) instead of obtaining an F-2 visa. The best option will depend on the situation and the true nature of the visit—whether they intend to reside in the U.S. or just make brief visits.
Advantages of an F-2 visa include the ability to study and stay for an extended period, while disadvantages include the requirement to show proof of funding for all F-2 dependents during the visit.
For countries where obtaining a B visa is difficult, an F-2 may be a better option. Also, any family members who choose to enter on a B visa or through the VWP must prove that they intend to depart the U.S. within the allotted time period (usually 3-6 months), which can be more difficult to show since the F-1 student resides in the U.S.
Friends and family members who are not the legal spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21 of the F-1 student are not eligible for an F-2 visa, and should use a B tourist visa or the VWP to visit.
For questions about B tourist visas or the VWP, please consult with an experienced immigration attorney.