With US consulates slowly reopening around the world, many international students are preparing to come to the US to begin their studies. While some may be coming alone, others, such as postgraduate students, might be thinking about bringing partners or children with them.
While it is possible to bring family and dependents to the US on a student visa, there are strict regulations around it and the process can be time-consuming.
Here’s everything you need to know about bringing family with you on your US student visa.
How to apply
To obtain a visa for your family or dependents, your university needs to issue an I-20 form. To receive the form, the university requires documents such as a copy of your passport and additional financial statements showing how you support your dependents financially. Usually your university’s international student office or international admissions team will manage the I-20 form requests, so they should be your first point of contact.
Once you have these forms, the visa category that your family members should apply for depends on your relationship to them.
International students who want to bring their spouse or child to the US can apply for an F-1 visa and then add an F-2 visa application for every family member. The F-2 visa is a derivative visa category, meaning you can apply for them at the same time as you apply for your own student visa and the length of stay allowed will be equal to yours.
You will be required to show proof of your familial relationship to any applicants, for example with a marriage or birth certificate.
If you want to bring a parent, sibling, fiancé/e or child over the age of 21 to the US on a student visa, then these individuals must apply for a B-2 visitor visa. These visas allow family members to stay in the US for a maximum of six months and you will also need to provide documents to prove your relationship.
Resources: applying to the US as an international student
Everything international students need to know about US student visas
Everything you need to know about studying in the US
Covid-19 travel updates for international students for the UK, the US, Canada and Australia
Scholarships available in the US for international students
The cost of studying at a university in the United States
What costs do I need to consider?
When applying for dependent visas, family members must provide evidence that they have adequate funds to support themselves during their stay.
The US International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) requires evidence of funding to the amount of $4,500 per year for a spouse, and $2,500 per year per child in order to issue an I-20 form.
Although this is the minimum required amount you must prove, the cost of living is rising in the US, so make sure you do your research to find a realistic estimate of the funds you will need to cover rent, food and other expenses.
Dependents must also show that they will be returning home when the F-1 student’s education is complete. This can be demonstrated with a return flight booking.
While international students might be able to find on-campus jobs or take on some work, the dependents of international students are not permitted to work under the F-2 visa regulations and will not be provided with a social security number.
We would also recommend securing more than the required amount of funding, in case of any possible emergencies related to the pandemic.
What’s different under Covid-19
The visa application process itself is not overly complicated and the rules remain largely the same despite Covid-19. However, given consulate closures and local lockdowns, you may have to spend more time gathering all the required documentation and filling out various forms.
It’s also worth enquiring with your university about its Covid-19 safety measures. From autumn 2021, many universities with in-person classes are requiring all students to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Speak to your university about its specific requirements and whether its vaccine requirements extend to your dependents. In addition to the Covid-19 vaccine, colleges and K-12 schools typically require proof of multiple immunisations such as meningitis, polio, MMR and hepatitis B.
Although the Department of Homeland Security does not require international students to have health insurance, almost all universities and colleges require it for students and all their family members.
Spend some time researching the cost of healthcare insurance for yourself and your dependents, as it can be quite expensive in the US.