F-1 VISAS FOR STUDENTS
- General Information
- How long do I stay on my Student Visa?
- Information for recent graduates of US Universities
- Practical Training
- Other employment options
The most common student visa is the F-1 visa. A small number of students travel to the United States on an M-1 visa if they are completing a program of hands-on technical or vocational training, or on a J-1 visa if they are on a sponsored exchange program. Foreign born student will need to apply for student visas at the U.S. embassy or consulate with jurisdiction over his/her place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of your permanent residence.
The Department of Homeland Security no longer allows a person in B-1/B-2 status to begin school until s/he has changed status to F-1 or obtained an F- 1 visa abroad and re-entered. A change of status to F-1 will be denied if B-1/B-2 has enrolled in course of study prior to obtaining the change of status.
When you enter the United States on a student visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. That means you may stay as long as you are a full time student, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in the U.S. For a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed the following additional time in the U.S. before departure:
- F-1 student - An additional 60 days, to prepare for departure from the U.S. or to transfer to another school.
- M-1 student - An additional 30 days to depart the U.S. (Fixed time period, in total not to exceed one year). The 30 days to prepare for departure is permitted as long as the student maintained a full course of study and maintained status. An M student may receive extensions up to three years for the total program .
- New security checks at U.S. Consulates around the world, have caused increased delays in F-1 and M-1 visa issuances, particularly for students pursuing certain academic fields on the Technical Alert List (TAL), and/or who come from certain countries, resulting in visa denials or late admissions at the I-20 issuing institutions. The SEVIS program (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is an interagency, integrated computer information system that tracks F and M students and J exchange visitors worldwide. ICE recently updated the student and exchange visitor page of its website regarding a newly created SEVP Response Center. It began operating on Monday, January 26, 2009. The center is staffed by three highly trained SEVP employees knowledgeable on a variety of issues including, but not limited to: Initial Certification, Recertification, I-17 Updates, Optional Practical Training (OPT), SEVIS and Policy. Staff members are available Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST to answer most of your questions on the spot. Questions or issues requiring research will be answered as expeditiously as possible. The dedicated number for the SRC is 703-603-3400. A toll-free number for the SRC is planned and will be available as soon as possible.
Foreign students may be allowed to work on-campus or off-campus (after the completion of your first year of study) under limited circumstances.
The following is a practical guide for foreign students who are about to graduate or are recent graduates of U.S. Universities.
Practical training may be authorized to an F-1 student who has been lawfully enrolled on a full time basis, for one full academic year. A student may be authorized 12 months of practical training, and becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Students in English language training programs are cannot obtain practical training. The foreign student may request employment authorization for practical training in a position that is directly related to his or her major area of study.
There are two types of practical trainings available:
- Curricular practical training : an F-1 student may be authorized by the Designated School Official (DSO) to participate in a curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum. Curricular practical training is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. A request for authorization for curricular practical training must be made to the DSO using Form I-538. The DSO shall: certify Form I-538 and send the form to the Immigration Service’s data processing center.
- Optional practical training : a foreign student may apply to the Immigration Service for authorization for temporary employment for optional practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study. The foreign student may not begin optional practical training until the date indicated on his or her employment authorization document, Form I-766 or Form 688B. A foreign student may apply for optional practical training prior to the completion of the studies. A request for authorization to accept practical training must be made to the designated school official (DSO) of the school the student is authorized to attend on Form I-538, accompanied by his or her current Form I-20 ID. The total periods of authorization for optional practical training canot exceed a maximum of 12 months.
The exception to the 12 month rule was created on April 4, 2008, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USCIS) released an interim final rule extending the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. The extension will be available to F-1 students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program. E-Verify is a free, internet-based system operated in partnership with the Social Security Administration that helps employers to determine the employment eligibility of newly-hired employees.
Note that this rule extends the training period by an additional 17 months to students who:
a. Are employed by businesses enrolled in E-Verify;
b. Are currently participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion OPT;
c. Have successfully completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) included in the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program from a college or university certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program;
d. Are working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study, and
e. Has properly maintained F-1 status.
The most commonly used nonimmigrant visa for foreign professionals seeking employment in the U.S. is the H-1B specialty occupation worker visa. H-1B visas are used for persons with a baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent. Occupations include a ccountants, architects, attorneys, computer programmers, dentists, engineers, physicians, systems analysts, and others.
Currently, there are some very important considerations that should be addressed before changing status to the H-1B visa, the most important being the reversion of the H-1B annual cap to 65,000 visas on October 1, 2003 .
F-1 students, may want to make sure they have obtained the maximum period of practical training, and schedule the filing of H-1B visa applicationsearly in the fiscal year as possible. For example, applicants may send applications as early as April 1st, 2010, with employment start date on October 1st, 2010. You may check our "Recent News" link to check the most recent USCIS updates on H-1B visa count.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (or Omnibus Bill), signed into law on December 8, 2004 creates an H-1B exemption. Effective March 10th, 2005, up to 20,000 foreign nationals with Masters and higher degrees from US graduate schools are exempted from H-1B cap. This was a welcomed measure for recent foreign graduates of Masters, Post-doctoral or other higher degree programs.
Maintaining lawful student status is critical to a foreign student’s ability change to H-1B visa status or lawful permanent resident status.