If you are a foreign national who desires to study as a full-time student in the United States, you must generally obtain a student visa. There are two nonimmigrant visa categories available for students – the F and M visas.
U.S. schools that qualify include:
- Elementary schools and Junior high schools
- High schools
- Language programs in academic institutions
- Accredited colleges or universities
- Seminary schools
- Seminary schools
You may enter the U.S. under F-1 or M-1 status provided you meet the following criteria:
- You must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program
- Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
- You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution
- You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
- You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study, and
- You must maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up.
F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. Your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that concludes in a degree, diploma, or certificate.
M-1 Student Visa
The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.
F-1 students may accept on-campus employment, subject to certain conditions and restrictions. However, F-1 students cannot work off-campus during the first academic year. If unique circumstances exist, such as severe economic hardship or special student relief, F-1 students may be eligible to work off-campus. In these instances, USCIS will make its decision case-by-case. M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.
After their first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): Temporary employment authorization that must be completed before graduation. CPT can be done part time or full time. However, if CPT is completed full time for more than 12 months, the F-1 visa holder will not be eligible for OPT.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion): Temporary employment authorization that is directly related to the F-1 visa holder’s field of study. F-1 students can apply for an OPT for up to 12 months and it can be completed before (pre-completion) or after graduation (post-completion). OPT can be completed on a part time or full time basis.
All periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the period of post-completion OPT available to the F-1 student.
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT): STEM OPT is designated for degrees within the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields. STEM OPT grants a 24-month extension to stay in the U.S. to work in a related field.
Any off-campus training employment must be related to the F-1 or M-1 student’s area of study. It must also be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and USCIS.
Types of OPT
F-1 students may be eligible to participate in OPT in two separate ways:
- Pre-completion OPT: F-1 students may apply for pre-completion OPT after lawful enrollment on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. F-1 students need not have F-1 status for one full academic year. They can satisfy the “one full academic year” requirement even if they had another nonimmigrant status during that time.
If the F-1 student is authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, he or she may work part time – 20 hours or less per week – during the academic year. The F-1 student may work full time when school is not in session.
- Post-completion OPT: F-1 students may apply for post-completion OPT after completing their academic studies. For F-1 students who are authorized for post-completion OPT, they may work part time or full time
- STEM OPT Extension: If you are an F-1 student who earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorization, provided the following three requirements are satisfied:
- You are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List,
- You are employed by an employer that is enrolled in, and is using, E-Verify, and
- You received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree
F-1 students may begin their pre- or post-completion OPT only after USCIS approves your Form I-765 and you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) document.
Duration of the F-1 Visa
F-1 visa holders have a 60-day grace period before returning to their home country after CPT or OPT concludes.
Special Consideration for F-1 Students with Approved H-1B Petitions
If you are an F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and change of status request, and your F-1 status and employment authorization will expire before the change of status to H-1B occurs, you may be eligible for a cap-gap extension. Our attorneys can evaluate your eligibility for a cap-gap extension.
How We Can Help You
Working in the U.S. without authorization has serious consequences, including removal from the country and reentry bars. Additionally, remaining in the U.S. in violation of your lawful nonimmigrant status could lead to an accrual of unlawful presence.
Our attorneys will advise you about how to timely and properly apply for various forms of OPT available to you. Different rules regarding timing and eligibility apply for F-1 students who apply for Pre-completion OPT, Initial post-completion OPT, STEM OPT extension, and Post-Completion OPT. Our firm will guide you through the complex timelines and eligibility requirements to ensure you receive authorization for U.S. practical training to supplement your U.S. academic studies.
Our attorneys are also available to counsel you about how to transfer to a different school or beginning studies at another educational level.
For more information, please call our office at : (305) 391-2105.