Individualized, Innovative

International Students And F-1 Visas

Wilson Law Group was founded in 2003 in Minneapolis to provide innovative and creative strategies for those who need counsel and advice regarding U.S. immigration laws and regulations. Our immigration attorneys help international students obtain visas to study.

Requirements For An F-1 Visa

For international students F-1 obtaining an F-1 visa is relatively straightforward compared to other visas. However, there are many restrictions with strong consequences that every student must avoid. The first general requirement is that the student must be coming into the United States to study full-time at a recognized academic institution. Second, the student must establish that he or she is not intending to reside in the United States permanently. The student must substantiate that he or she has the financial resources to study without resorting to unauthorized employment in the United States. Is everyone eligible for an F-1 visa?

The immigration laws changed in 1996 to limit who can study in the United States. For example, the law prohibits foreign nationals from obtaining an F-1 visa to attend kindergarten through eighth grade at public schools and from publicly funded adult education programs. Furthermore, foreign nationals attending grades 9 through 12 at a public school must reimburse the local government for the cost of attendance. Plus, foreign students may not attend a public high school for more than twelve months. May a student attend any school he or she chooses with an F-1 visa?

No. USCIS must first authorize the school to admit foreign national students. The school attains this authorization by filing the appropriate petition with USCIS and evidence that it is a legitimate institution and that there is a designated school official to administer the school’s foreign student program. You may search for approved schools here. Currently, USCIS manages and controls F-1 status through the Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The school issues a SEVIS Form I-20 to the foreign student who then applies for a visa at the U.S. consulate in his or her country. How does a foreign student receive an I-20?

The student must submit a formal, written application to the school with documents, such as academic records and evidence that the student has the financial ability to pay for schooling and living expenses. Furthermore, the student must meet the school’s minimum acceptance standards. This includes speaking English proficiently. Finally, the school must offer to accept the student into its program. What does the student submit to the US Consulate?

Requirements can vary amongst consulates, although generally foreign nations are required to present the I-20, passport, visa fee, application form for a nonimmigrant visa, and proof of ability to financially support him or herself in the United States. Here are some important tips for someone with F-1 status:

  • Maintain a valid passport
  • Do not switch academic institutions or programs without proper authorization
  • Participate in a full course of study, part-time status is generally not permitted
  • Do not work off campus without USCIS authorization
  • Any approved work on campus cannot exceed 20 hours per week while school is in session
  • Report all changes in residence to USCIS by filing Form AR-11, which can be found on USCIS’s website

In some situations, a foreign student may maintain their F-1 status even though they are not enrolled in a full course of study, such as school vacations, failure to attend classes because of medical reasons, postdoctoral students and fellows who are not enrolled in standard academic courses, students who are carrying a reduced course load because of participation in a fellowship or assistantship, graduate students who have completed course work but are preparing for exams or researching dissertations, and students who have been authorized for optional practical training.

May A Student Transfer Schools?

Yes. When a foreign student transfers, the law requires the student to notify both schools. Specifically, the student must obtain a new I-20 from the new school and inform the first school of his or her transfer.

What If A Student Becomes Out Of Status?

If a student becomes out of status, he or she may request the USCIS to reinstate his or her F-1 status if there is a legal ground. An application for reinstatement requires that the student outline his or her failure to maintain status and how the situation was beyond his or her control. The student must also demonstrate that the decision not to reinstate the student’s status could cause him or her extreme hardship. The student must also reinforce that he or she is able to resume a full-time course of study and that he or she did not work illegally.

Work Authorization for those in F-1 status: As a general rule, foreign students are not authorized to work while in the U.S. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule, like on-campus employment.

On Campus Employment

On-campus employment requires no USCIS approval. An F-1 student who is otherwise maintaining status may work on the school’s grounds for no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, on a full-time basis during school breaks, and during the student’s annual vacation. A student may begin working on-campus before the school session begins as well. Employers who are providing services on-campus that are part of the school’s operations can also hire a student for on-campus employment. Graduate students working off the school’s premises may do so if the employer affiliates with the school and the work is part of the school’s required curriculum.

Employment-Based On Unforeseen Economic Hardship

The law allows a student to work off-campus when he or she suffers an unforeseen economic hardship. The student must meet certain requirements in this situation.

Curriculum-based employment: Curricular practical training (CPT), otherwise known as authorized academic employment, is employment that is an integral or important part of the F-1 student’s academic program. Some recognized CPT includes internships, cooperative education, and practicum that an employer offers pursuant to an agreement with the school. Because the training is tied to the academic program, the law does not require USCIS approval. Instead, the school’s designated school officer (DSO) notes the approval on the student’s I-20 form. There are some important restrictions, however, regarding CPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training permits students to work for an employer before and after graduation. It is available on a part-time or full-time basis; however, a student cannot work for more than one aggregate year with OPT. The OPT must relate to the student’s area of study.  OPT is available while school is in session on a part-time basis. Studying can be an extremely rewarding experience, although it is very important to know the requirements and restrictions.

Consult With An Immigration Attorney

At Wilson Law Group, we offer free initial consultations. To learn more about how we can help you with your student visa, call us at 612-430-8022 or send us an email through our online form.