The F-1 student visa is used primarily for full-time study at a school or college in the U.S. Students are admitted for "duration of status," which is the period of time needed to complete the degree program. All student applicants must have a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Vistior Information System) generated I-20 issued by the educational institution approved by the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), which they submit when they are applying for their student visa. The International Student Advisor (also known as the DSO, or Designated School Official) at the school prepares Form I-20 on behalf of the student when the student applies for a change of status within the U.S. or for a visa from a U.S. Consulate abroad. The school is responsible for entering information for the I-20 student visa form into SEVIS. The consular officer will verify the I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to complete processing of a student visa application.
The student must show that he or she has enough money or financial support to study in the U.S. without working. The student must also provide evidence that he or she does not intend to immigrate to the U.S. The spouse and dependent children up to 21 years of age receive F-2 status.
The F-1 student status does not entitle the student to work in the U.S. without prior authorization. F-1 students are not allowed to work during their first academic year, except for on-campus part-time work not exceeding 20 hours per week. A student may also work in the U.S. under the "practical training" option (OPT). Practical Training is generally used after completion of the academic program. When authorized, OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to the eligible F-1 student's area of study. Students who are authorized for OPT must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT by the DSO at their school, and provide a USCIS issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The maximum period for OPT is normally 12 months. OPT after completion of the academic program provides a student with the opportunity to find an employer willing to sponsor the student for another visa, such as the H-1B. To learn more about OPT, please contact the DSO at your school.
In April, 2008 the USCIS implemented new regulations that affects F-1 students’ OPT in two significant ways: it addresses the “cap-gap” problem where an F-1 student’s status and employment authorization expire before he or she can obtain H-1B authorization (i.e., on October 1.) The new regulation addresses this issue by automatically extending the period of stay and employment authorization of F-1 students with pending H-1B petitions; and it allows certain students with a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree with majors in Science, Technology, Mathematics or Science (STEM) to extend their one year OPT by an additional 17 to 24 months. The affected students may apply for the extension at any time prior to the expiration date of their current OPT period, and their employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Students should note that U.S. embassies and consulates are able to issue a student visa no more than 120 days in advance of the course registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time for application processing. Students are advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the U.S. no more than 30 days in advance of the course of study start/report date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans.
Continuing students may apply for a new visa at any time, as long as they have been maintaining student status and their SEVIS records are current. Continuing students may also enter the U.S. anytime before the start of their classes. When you enter the U.S. on a student visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status, reflected on your I-94 issued at the port-of-entry with the designation "D/S." 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 in F-1 status who has completed the course of studies noted on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, if applicable, the student is allowed an additional 60 days to prepare for departure from the U.S. or to transfer to another school.
Please contact our law firm for additional discussion of this category and alternative options.
[Note: Please consult with an attorney specializing in Immigration & Nationality law for professional advice in specific situations.]