F-1 or M-1 student visas are available to international students who are pursuing education in the United States. The F-1 student visa is for academic studies or language-training programs, while an M-1 student visa is for non-academic or vocational studies.
In order to qualify for either of these visas, an applicant must demonstrate the following:
- Foreign Residence: An applicant must have a foreign residence and be able to show intent to return there upon completion of their studies
- Financial Support: An applicant must demonstrate sufficient financial support to live and study in the U.S.
- Full-time Enrollment at an Approved School: An applicant must be enrolled full-time in an academic educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program at an established school approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). They may only study at the academic institution through which the visa or status is granted. Proof of enrollment at an approved school is provided via a Form I-20 that is issued by the school.
- English Proficiency: An applicant must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
Duration of Stay: A student entering the U.S. on an F-1 or M-1 student visa will be admitted for the duration of their studies, which means they may stay as long as they remain a full-time student.
Dependent Visa: F-2 and M-2 visas are available for dependents (spouse and/ or children) of an F-1 or M-1 student to accompany them to the U.S. A dependent child can attend full-time elementary or secondary school. A dependent spouse is not permitted to work.
International students on F-1 or M-1 student visas are allowed to work, but there are strict guidelines that must be followed.
Foreign Vocational Students: Students in M-1 Nonimmigrant Status
Vocational students in M-1 Status
Students in M-1 nonimmigrant status may only accept employment if it is part of a practical training program after completion of their course of study. The student must receive an EAD before working and may only work for a maximum of six months of practical training. The EAD establishes the student’s identity and employment authorization. The employer should complete and have completed a form I-9 like it would for any employment. If presented with an EAD, the employer should record the Alien Registration Number, card number and expiration date under List A in Section 2 of Form I-9.
Academic Students in F-1 Status
Students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. Working on campus does not require approval from the USCIS, but the following conditions must be adhered to:
- The student must maintain valid F-1 status
- The student may not displace (take the job away from) a U.S. student
- The student may work up to 20 hours a week or full-time during holidays and vacation period.
There are several types of off-campus employment options available to international students. In general, a student must be enrolled for at least one academic year before he or she is eligible to apply for off-campus work authorization. Furthermore, he/she must get authorization from the International School Office, and if all requirements for the specific type of off-campus employment are met, the student must also apply for a work permit from USCIS.
The following are the types of off-campus employment options available:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CTP is an off-campus employment option for international students when a job offers practical training that is an essential part of the student’s academic degree program. To qualify, the work experience must help the student earn academic credit or fulfill graduation requirements. The student must have received a job offer that qualifies before submitting request for work authorization, and the job offer must be related to his major or field of study. Even though there is no specific limit on how long one can work on CPT, if a student works full time on CPT for 12 months or more, he/she would no longer be eligible for OPT.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion): OPT is an off-campus employment option in which the work experience does not need to be a part of the student’s academic program but must still be directly related to the student’s major. The total duration of OPT is 12 months, unless a student is eligible for STEM extension (described more fully below). Each student is eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level (for example, he/she may apply for OPT after completing a bachelor’s program, and then another full time OPT after completing a master’s program). Unlike CPT, a job offer is not necessary before applying for OPT authorization. A student may either apply for OPT authorization during the course of his studies (pre-completion OPT), or after he has already completed his degree (post-completion OPT). Because current students usually have alternate options for work during their studies, such as CPT, it is more common to save OPT for after program completion.
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT): Students who graduate with a degree in STEM and are in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree may apply for an additional 17-month STEM extension of their post-completion OPT.
Off-Campus Employment Due to Severe Economic Hardship
Off-campus employment may be allowed in cases of severe economic hardship or in emergent circumstances as defined by regulation. The student must prove unexpected circumstances have created severe economic hardship. These circumstances may include the following:
- Loss of financial aid due to no fault of the student
- Loss of on-campus employment if it is not the student’s fault and no other on-campus job is available
- Large increase in tuition or living costs
- Substantial decrease in the relative value of the currency that the student depends upon to pay expenses
- Unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s sources of financial support
- Unexpectedly large medical bills
- Other substantial, unexpected expenses
Additionally, the student must be unable to obtain on-campus employment, or the pay available from on-campus employment is insufficient to meet the student’s financial needs.
If you or someone you know is interested in coming to the U.S. to pursue educational studies, contact the Law Office of Alison Yew today for a free case evaluation. Our San Jose Student Visa Attorney can help you!