Overview of the F-1 Visa
The F-1 visa allows a foreign national to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, other academic institution or language training program. The individual must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate. The school must also be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
Qualifying for the F-1 Visa
To qualify for a F-1 visa, the following requirements must be met:
- The foreign national must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program
- The school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
- The foreign national must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution
- The foreign national must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
- The foreign national must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study
- The foreign national must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up
F-1 students are not permitted to work off-campus during the first academic year, however they may accept on-campus employment subject to certain restrictions and conditions. After completion of the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT allows F-1 students to engage in an off-campus academic internship (paid or unpaid) that is a required part or integral part of their academic curriculum
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is employment that is directly related to a F-1 student’s major area of study. Students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
- Pre-Completion OPT
A F-1 student may apply for pre-completion OPT after they have been enrolled in school for one full academic year. Students must work part-time while school is in session and may work full time when school is not in session.
- Post Completion OPT
A F-1 student may apply for post-completion OPT after completing their academic studies. Students with post-completion OPT may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week) or full-time.
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
Certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees, and who meet other specific requirements, may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT.
To qualify for the 24-month extension, the foreign national must:
- Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT
- Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited school and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when he/she submits the STEM OPT extension application
- Work for an employer who meets certain specific requirements (for example, be enrolled in E-Verify)
- Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before his/her current OPT expires, and within 60 days of the date the designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into his/her Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.
To learn more about your options contact our San Francisco law firm to speak with one of our immigration attorneys.