F-1 Visa

F-1 Student Visa

Businesses frequently seek to employ students while they are either pursuing their studies or after they have graduated from a U.S. college or university. In order for a student to work on or off campus, s/he must have maintained valid student status (i.e. be enrolled full-time), and must have completed at least one (1) full academic year.

The F-1 regulations provide for three (3) main types of employment authorization: 1) curricular practical training (“CPT”) or 2) optional practical training (“OPT”) and 3) severe economic hardship.

CPT is authorized by the school’s Designated School Official (“DSO”) on the student’s Form I-20, and the position offered must be relative to the student’s degree program. CPT refers to programs that are “an integral part of an established curriculum.” Students enrolled in a college, university, conservatory or seminary are eligible to apply to the DSO for authorization to participate in a CPT program.

The training must be either alternate work-study, an internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by a sponsoring employer through a cooperative agreement with the school. A student may engage in part-time (twenty hours or less) or full-time (more than twenty hours) employment. A student may only work full-time during the summer and official school holidays. Students are not limited in the amount of CPT in which they participate, however, a student who has engaged in one (1) year of full-time curricular practical training is ineligible to participate in post-completion OPT.

OPT may be authorized only in an occupation that is directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students in English language, elementary, or secondary programs are ineligible for all types of practical training. The total period of OPT cannot exceed twelve (12) months (except for students eligible for STEM extensions).

To obtain authorized post-completion OPT, the F-1 student must apply to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Since the F-1 student must apply to the USCIS, there may be a significant delay before the student receives authorization to begin employment. Students contemplating such employment authorization prior to graduation should be encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Any period of pre-completion practical training will count toward the total twelve (12) months of practical training that are allowed. Part-time practical training, i.e., training that does not exceed twenty hours per week, will be deducted from the available practical training at one-half the full-time rate. Transfer to another school automatically terminates authorization of practical training employment.

The USCIS allows off-campus employment authorization based on an F-1 student’s urgent financial need. The regulation authorizes the student to seek approval for part-time off-campus employment after s/he has been in good academic standing for at least one (1) academic year. In addition, the student must be carrying a full course of study. The student cannot work more than twenty (20) hours a week when school is in session, but can work full time during holidays or school vacations. The request for such employment must be based on severe economic hardship caused by “unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control.”

Suggested circumstances that might create severe economic hardship include:

• loss of financial aid;
• loss of on-campus employment (through no fault of the student);
• substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate;
• inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs;
• unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support;
• medical bills; or
• other unexpected and substantial expenses.

As a prerequisite to an economic hardship application, the student must first make a good-faith effort to obtain employment on-campus. If on-campus work is insufficient or unavailable, the DSO must complete certification electronically through the U.S. Immigration & Custom Enforcement program, SEVIS. Students then submit a SEVIS Form I-20 with the employment page that reflects the DSO’s comments and certification with Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and the required fee ($380) to the USCIS office with jurisdiction over his/her place of residence.

The student should also submit any supporting materials, such as affidavits, giving further details as to why employment authorization is needed, and the unavailability of on-campus work. If the application is granted, the USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The student may not begin working until s/he has obtained the EAD.

STEM Extension Pursuant to OPT

On April 8, 2008, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) published a rule that affords foreign students greater flexibility with respect to their Optional Practical Training (“OPT”). OPT is a period of temporary employment authorization granted to F-1 foreign students who have completed a full program of study and who seek a position related to their major area of study.

The rule allows certain foreign students to request a seventeen (17) month extension of OPT beyond the twelve (12) months previously available. In order to qualify for such an extension, the foreign student must meet the following criteria:

  1. Be currently participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion OPT;
  2. Be working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study;
  3. Be working for, or have accepted employment with, an employer enrolled in USCIS’ E-Verify program;
  4. Have properly maintained student status; and
  5. Have successfully completed one of the degree programs cited on the DHS STEM Designated Degrees list (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/cip2000/) as follows:

Actuarial Science: NCES CIP Code 52.1304
Computer Science: NCES CIP Codes 1 1 .xxxx (except Data Entry/Microcomputer Applications, NCES CIP Codes 11.0 6)
Engineering: NCES CIP Codes 14.xxxx
Engineering Technologies: NCES CIP Codes 15.xxxx
Biological and Biomedical Sciences: NCES CIP Codes 26.xxxx
Mathematics and Statistics: NCES CIP Codes 27.xxxx
Military Technologies: NCES CIP Codes 29.xxxx
Physical Sciences: NCES CIP Codes 40.xxxx
Science Technologies: NCES CIP Codes 41.xxxx
Medical Scientist (MS, PhD): NCES CIP Code 51.1401

Students wishing to obtain an extension of post-completion OPT under this new rule, must seek permission from their Designated School Official (“DSO”). In turn, the DSO will confirm the student’s eligibility so s/he can file Form I-765 with the USCIS requesting an extension of OPT. Employers will be required to notify the Designated School Official (“DSO”) within forty-eight (48) hours if the student’s employment is terminated prior to the OPT expiration date.

The interim rule also allows students with properly filed and pending H-1B petitions to extend their stay and employment eligibility past their Optional Practical Training expiration date until October 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.

For example, a student whose H-1B petition is selected in the FY2009 H-1B lottery but whose OPT expires prior to October 1, 2009, may remain in the US and continue employment based on the pending H-1B petition until October 1, 2009. This rule provides for an automatic extension of OPT while an H-1B petition is pending.