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F-1 STUDENT VISA

The alien must have a valid educational purpose for coming to the United States to study on F-1 Student Visa. The student can stay in the United States for as long as he or she is enrolled in school.

An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by a United States Consulate abroad to an alien who plans to come to the United States to pursue full-time studies at a U.S. educational school or institution. Generally, the U.S. Consular Office has total discretion to grant or deny the visa.  Foreign students who wish to obtain an F-1 visa must plan to pursue a full course of study in an approved college, university, seminary, conservatory, academia high school, private elementary school, other academic institution, and/or language training program in the United States.

For those who are already in the United States on another non-immigrant status, such as B-1/B-2, H-1, etc., they may apply to change to F-1 status in the U.S. or outside the U.S. through Third Country Visa processing.

The students may be admitted 30 days before the program starts. So, the foreign national must maintain his or her current B-1/B-2, or other, nonimmigrant status up to 30 days before the report date or start date of the course of study listed on Form I-20 or applicant’s requested change of status may not be granted.

The students can stay in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in school. After the education is complete the student has 60 days to prepare for the departure, which includes transfers to different schools or changing status to another non-immigrant status, i.e. H-1B, O-1, etc.

The spouse and/or unmarried, minor children of F-1 holders are eligible to come to the United States on an F-2 Visa, if they are able to demonstrate that the F-1 student has been admitted and is, or will be within 30 days, enrolled in a full-course of study, or engaged in approved practical training following completion of studies. F-2 Visa holders are considered the dependents of F-1 students; furthermore, F-2 holders must be issued an individual SEVIS Form I-20 and may remain in the U.S. as long as the principle F-1 student maintains valid status.

How do I apply for F-1 visa? 

Practical Training

F student has an option of working in the United States by engaging in practical training during his or her program or after it ends. Practical training can provide valuable work experience. There are two types of practical training available for F-1 students: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).

CPT

  • CPT must relate to student’s major and the experience must be part of student’s program of study.
  • When a student enrolls at the graduate level, the designated school official (DSO) may authorize CPT during your first semester of study if the program requires this type of experience.
  • DSO  shall provide a student new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that shows that the DSO has approved a student for this employment.
  • Student can work on CPT either full-time or part-time.
  • CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from the employer.
  • If a student had 12 months or more of full-time CPT, he or she is ineligible for OPT, but part-time CPT  students can still engage in OPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT allows a student  to remain in F-1 status for an additional twelve months after graduation, and gain practical experience in the field of study. During OPT, a student must work at a job which is related to his major, with a minimum of 20 hours per week and no maximum.  It is permissible to work as an intern, volunteer, part-time, full-time,  or seasonal worker, and hold multiple jobs during your OPT, but all jobs  must be directly related to student’s field of study

Student may apply for OPT up to 90 days before his final semester ends, and no later than 60 days after.

  • OPT must relate to student’s major or course of study.
  • Student can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, (i.e.,  12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months of OPT at the master’s level).
  • DSO should provide a student with a new Form I-20 that shows the DSO recommendation for this employment.
  • Student must apply with USCIS for work authorization by electronically filing a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,”and providing the following documents:
    • Copy of passport bio page
    • Copy of student visa
    • Copy of I-94, front & back
    • filing fee

    USCIS will mail Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document,” (EAD) upon approving student’s Form I-765.

  • A student can only start working when he or she receives his or her EAD.
  • While school is in session, a student may only work 20 hours per week.

17-Month OPT STEM Extension

  • Student may qualify for an additional 17 months of OPT under the following circumstances:
    • A student is enrolled in a program for bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) program.
    • The prospective employer uses the E-Verify program.
    • Student has not previously received a 17-month extension of OPT.
  • DSO shall provide a student with a new Form I-20 that shows the DSO recommendation for this employment on page three.
  • Student must apply for work authorization by electronically filing a Form I-765 with USCIS and paying a filing fee. USCIS will mail an EAD upon approving the petition.
  • Student may continue to work on his expired EAD for OPT up to 180 days while his 17-month extension petition is pending if a student meets these conditions:
    • Student is currently in a period of post-completion OPT.
    • Student properly and in a timely manner filed his or her application for the 17-month extension with USCIS.
  • Student must report changes in name, address, employer and loss of employment to his or her DSO within 10 days of any change.

FAQ

I am on OPT and I got arrested for DUI, but the charge was reduced to physical control.  Can I go to my country after that and come back to US without any issues? 

The State Department has been revoking F-1 visas because of DUI arrests even if there is no conviction. It is risky to travel on an F-1 visa after a DUI arrest. Your F-1 status is still valid, so your best strategy is not be travel abroad.

I had an F-1 visa and I did not apply for OPT because I was trying to apply for grad school. Am I in illegal status?
Yes, you are out of lawful status.

Can I stay in the United States if my student visa has expired?
Yes, as long as you are maintaining your status, you may legally remain in the United States with an expired F-1 or M-1 visa.

Can I renew my student visa while in the United States?
No.

 Is it possible to renew a F-2 visa outside of the U.S. while the visa holder is in the U.S. whose status is expired but who is a matriculating student with valid I-20?

Yes, as long as the F-1 student is continuing to maintain lawful status in the U.S. and the spouse seeking to renew F-2 visa and can prove it at the time of his/her immigration interview by presenting the necessary documentation such as a valid I-20 from the student’s school.

What is automatic visa re-validation?

Automatic visa re-validation allows most F-1 students to take a trip of less than 30 days to countries contiguous to the United States and reenter on an expired visa provided you have proper documentation and have not applied for a new visa during the visit. This process re-validates your visa (making it eligible for the single trip), but does not renew it.

What is Cap-Gap.
Current regulations allow certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in F-1 status during the period of time where an F-1 student’s status and work authorization would otherwise expire, and up to the start of their approved H-1B employment period, so it means automatic extension until September 30.

This is referred to as filling the “cap gap”, meaning the regulations provide a way of filling the “gap” between F-1 and H-1B status that might otherwise occur if F-1 status was not extended for qualifying students. An interim final rule published in the Federal Register last year authorized a cap gap extension for eligible students. See 73 FR 18944 (April 8, 2008) “Extending Period of Optional Practical Training by 17 Months for F-1 Non-immigrant Students With STEM Degrees and Expanding Cap-Gap Relief for All F-1 Students With Pending H-1B Petitions.”

If the petition for the H-1 visa is denied the student has the standard 60 days to leave the country unless there was a fraud involved.

How much of a risk is it to travel out of the US when H1B is approved, and the visa status is F-1 OPT?

If you have a valid F-1 visa and OPT status you may travel, EXCEPT if you applied for Cap Gap to cover the period from when the OPT expires until when the H-1b visa starts (October 1st), then you cannot travel during the Cap Gap period.

Do the limits on unemployment time apply to F1 students with a cap gap extension?

Yes. The 90-day limitation on unemployment during the initial post-completion OPT authorization continues during the cap gap extension.

What is a STEM OPT extension ?

F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, are employed by employers enrolled in E-Verify, and who have received an initial grant of post-completion OPT related to such a degree, may apply for a 17-month extension.

Do F-1 Visa holders need an Advanced Parole to re enter U.S. while green card application is being processed?

Yes. If a student does not have advance parole before she leaves the US, and if it is not also valid at the time her return to the U.S. then her I-485 application will be considered abandoned. Please be advised that a person admitted using advanced parole will no longer be in F-1 status but will be a parolee.

I am Canadian citizen and I am planning to marry someone who in the U.S. on F-1. Where should I apply for my visa?

Once the Canadian citizen marries someone on F-1 student visa in the U.S., he or she can come in the US on F-2 on the very next day. He or she can apply apply at the airport or port of entry.

Could one be able to continue education and remain on F1 to complete the coursework instead of abandoning it mid term because of an approved H-1B?

You cannot have both F-1 and H-1B status at same time. However, in choosing one over the other you should consider that H-1B status allows you to continue your studies, as long as you also comply with H1B terms.