F - International Student

The F nonimmigrant visa category is for foreign nationals coming to the United States for a temporary period pursuant to an academic program.

F nonimmigrant is defined as an individual: (i) having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning, who is a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study and who seeks to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose pursuing such a course of study at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the United States, particularly designated by him and approved by the Attorney General after consultation with the Secretary of Education, which institution or place of study shall have agreed to report to the Attorney General the termination of attendance of each nonimmigrant student. If any such institution of learning or place of study fails to make reports promptly the approval shall be withdrawn, and (ii) the alien spouse and minor children of any such alien if accompanying him or following to join him. INA Section 101(a)(15)(F), 8 USC Section 1101(a)(15)(F).

According to 8 CFR Section 214.3(a)(2)(i), school that may be approved for attendance by F visa category students include:

  •  A college or university, i.e., an institution of higher learning that awards recognized bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, or other professional degrees; or
  •  A community college or junior college that provides instruction in the liberal arts or in the professions and that awards recognized associate degrees; or
  •  A seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or an institution that provides language training, instruction in the liberal arts or fine arts, instruction in the professions, or instruction or training in more than one of these disciplines.

F visa category (also M and J visa category) is managed world wide by an interagency, integrated computer information system called SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).

SEVIS Form I-20 certifies the admission of the student to an academic program, and institutions with USCIS approval may only issue the SEVIS Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility. In order to establish eligibility for a student visa, an individual has to have the qualifications of the F visa category applicant mentioned above with evidence of financial ties to the country of origin.

Obtaining an I-20 requires a prospective student to apply and be accepted to a school. However, if an individual has not decided which school to attend, an U.S. consul may issue a B-2 visa marked as “prospective student” to permit entrance to the U.S. to find and apply to a school and change status to F-1 later on.

F-1 students admitted to the U.S. are granted a period of authorized stay defined as “duration of status,” noted on the I-94 as “D/S.” “Duration of Status” is defined as the period required to complete the program of study as indicated on the I-20, plus any authorized period of post completion of studies practical training, plus 60 days. 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(5).

The Designated School Official (DSO) indicates the period of time normally required to complete the course of study on the SEVIS I-20 form, but can no longer add a “grace period” of up to one year. Instead, a student who fails to complete the educational objective within the time indicated must seek an extension before the current I-20 expires. 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(7)(iii). Failure of seeking extension within the duration of status will result in the student falling out of status.

In general, F visa category students are not allowed to work in the U.S.. Yet, there are several types of employment authorization permissible which include:

  •  On- campus Employment (requires no USCIS approval);
  • Off-campus Employment Based on Severe Economic Hardship (requires USCIS approval)
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)- employment that is an integral part of the student’s curriculum (requires no USCIS approval);
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Students may apply for the off-campus work if: they are in good academic standing; are carrying a full course of study; can show unforeseen severe economic hardship; can prove that on-campus employment opportunities are unavailable or insufficient; that the need is temporary in nature; and can prove that the proposed off-campus employment will not interfere with continuing in a full course of study. 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(9)(ii)(C).

Students who receive one year or more of full time Curricular Practical Training (CPT), are ineligible for post-completion academic training.

Moreover, to qualify for OPT, students must be enrolled in school for a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree program. Students must presently be in F-1 status and apply up to 90 days prior to completion of the program. To apply for OPT, the student is required to request the DSO for an endorsement on the SEVIS I-20 recommending OPT. Then, the student must request authorization from USCIS for employment authorization.

OPT must be related to the student’s major area of study and is available in four instances during a course of studies: while school is in session (limited to part-time only); during the student’s annual vacation and at other times that the school is not in session; after completion of a thesis or the equivalent; and after completion of the entire course of study. 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(10)(ii).

Please keep in mind that OPT allows only an aggregate of 12 months of full-time working for each academic level. Part-time practice is deducted at one-half the full-time rate. 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(11).

Dependents of the F-1 nonimmigrant including spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 are covered by F-2 nonimmigrant visas. An F-2 dependent may remain in the U.S. for the duration of the F-1 student’s valid status and may engage in any lawful activity other than employment and full-time post-secondary studies. 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(15)(i), 8 CFR Sec. 214.2(f)(15)(ii)(A).