Author: Julia Yong-hee Park
Foreign students who come to the United States to study are granted F-1 student visas. If someone gains entry into an undergraduate program that lasts for 4 years, they are given a document called an I-20 that is evidence of their student status. But even if the i-20 is for 4 years, Chinese students would only get an F-1 visa that was valid for 1 year and students from China needed to go through an application process to extend their F visas. Because a visa is something that you need only to “enter” the country, once you enter the United States with a valid student visa you can stay as long as the program time in your I-20 has not expired. However, once you leave, in order to re-enter the United States, Chinese students had to get an extension on their visa.
Contrast this with a Korean student: once that student is admitted into a US college and is issued an I-20 for the duration of her program (for example, 4 years if it were an undergraduate program), she would get a 5 year F-1 visa at the US embassy in Seoul. In other words, this student would only have to do one interview and then be free to travel back to her home country for all 4 years and then even in the additional OPT year.
Now it is possible for Chinese students to do the same as the US Consulate in China will begin issuing 5 year visas.
This is also important for EB-5 investors. Once an investor files an I-526 petition, it is difficult to get a new student visa. This is because one cannot have immigrant intent in order to get a student visa and once an immigration petition (I-526) is filed, it is very hard to argue that you don’t have intent to immigrate (though depending on the circumstances it is not impossible to do).
As a result it was common for Chinese F-1 students who pursue EB-5 visas to just forego travel until the I-526 is approved and then the I-485 adjustment of status is approved (or at the very least until they got their advance parole travel documents).