F-1 and M-1 Visa


General QuestionsQ: I want to study in the U.S. What visas are appropriate for me?

A: There are two student visas that allow study in the U.S.: F-1 and M-1 visa.

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Q: What is F-1 visa for?

A: The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.

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Q: What is M-1 visa for?

A: The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.

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Q: What are the requirements for a student visa?

A:

  • be accepted by an approved academic educational program or language training program (for F-1 visa) or a vocational program (M-1 visa)
  • be enrolled as a full-time student
  • be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
  • have the financial resources to complete the planned course of study without working in the U.S., and
  • maintain residence in your home country which you have no intention of abandoning

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Q: Can I enroll in school while I am in the U.S. as a visitor?

A: No, you cannot take classes while in the U.S. in B-1/B-2 status. You have to first obtain F-1/M-1 status before enrolling in school.

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Q: I am in the U.S. on a B-2 visa. I want to change status to F-1 to study in the U.S. My current I-94 expires before school program start date. Will it be a problem?

A: It may be a problem depending on when the school program is starting. USCIS prohibits F-1 and M-1 students from entering the U.S. more than 30 days prior to school program start date. Based on that, USCIS has taken the position that an applicant for change of status to F or M must not have a gap between the current status and the requested program start date of more than 30 days. Thus, if the B-2 status of applicant for change of status to F-1 ends more than 30 days prior to the start of the F-1 program, USCIS will deny the application.

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Q: What do you have to do while in F-1 status?

A:

  • Maintain a valid I-20, valid passport, and valid I-94 card marked "Duration of Status" or "D/S."
  • Pursue a full course of study (with limited exceptions) at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the U.S. and make normal progress towards completing the course of study.
  • Update address, legal name, or major field of study within 10 days of a change.
  • Remain in the U.S. for no longer than 60 days after completing the full course of study (60-day “grace period”), unless you have applied for practical training, changing educational levels, transferring to another approved school, or change of status.
  • Refrain from engaging in unauthorized employment.

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Q: What do I have to do while in M-1 status?

A:

  • Maintain a valid I-20, valid passport, and valid I-94 card. M-1 students are admitted for one year or for the period necessary to complete the course of study, whichever is less, plus 30 days thereafter to depart (30-day "grace period.").
  • Pursue a full course of study (with certain exceptions) at an established vocational institution or other recognized nonacademic institution and make normal progress towards completing the course of study. Full-time study may differ from school to school.
  • Update address, legal name, or major within 10 days of a change.
  • Refrain from engaging in unauthorized employment.

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Q: I have an expired F-1 visa and I want to travel to Mexico. I have heard that I can do it. How does it work?

A: You may be able to travel abroad and return to the U.S. with an expired visa but you have to make sure you satisfy all the requirements for the so-called “automatic visa revalidation.” The regulation can be found at 22 CFR 41.112(d) and 8 CFR 214.1(b).

Under the regulation, Fs and Ms with expired visas can travel to Canada and Mexico (contiguous territories) for less than 30 days, and re-enter with a valid I-20, and I-94. CBP officer at the port of entry will “revalidate” the visa to allow you entry into the U.S.

For F-1 students, automatic revalidation provisions also apply to travel to islands adjacent to the U.S. (except Cuba).

Two important conditions have to be noted:

  • Automatic visa revalidation is not available if you have applied for a visa during the travel abroad;
  • You have to return in the same status in which you departed. For example, if you left the U.S. as an F-1 student, you have to come in again as F-1 student.

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Q: How long can I stay in the U.S.?

A: While M-1 students are admitted for the specific period of time, as shown on admission stamp at entry, F-1 students are admitted for the duration of status (D/S). This means you can stay in F-1 status for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student in an educational program at an approved school, are making normal progress toward completing your course of study, and are complying with all the terms of your status. Form I-20 serves as a guide to when a program, including practical training or academic training, ends. At the end of your studies or any approved practical training, you will also have 60 days (known as “grace period”) to prepare to leave the U.S., which is not shown on I-20 but is provided for in the regulations.

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Q: My program is about to end? Can I extend my stay in the U.S.?

A: If you have completed your program, you have a number of options:

  • Change program levels – For example, you can apply to a graduate program after you finish your bachelor’s.
  • Transfers – You can transfer to a different program at the same school or another school.
  • OPT – You may participate in optional practical training (OPT) which allows you to work in the United States after your program end date.
  • OPT STEM extension– optional practical training for science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).
  • Change to another visa classification.

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Q: Can my family members join me in the U.S.?

A: Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 can come to the U.S. in F2/M-2 status for the duration of your school program. Your dependents cannot work or study in the U.S., with the exception of elementary or secondary school and recreational or avocational studies. If your spouse or child also wishes to pursue a full course of study or engage in post-secondary education, he/she needs to change status to F-1/M-1.

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Students And EmploymentQ: If I am on a student visa in the U.S., can I accept employment?

A: F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. There are three types of off-campus employment categories available to F-1 students:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies. The student must receive an EAD before working and can only work for a maximum of six months of practical training.

For both F-1 and M-1 students any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.

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Q: What are the requirements for on-campus work?

A: You may work on campus at your school without the approval of a Designated School Official (DSO) or USCIS. You can work either:

  • On the school’s premises, including on-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria
  • At an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school

Employment that does not provide direct services to students (a construction company that is building a new school building) is not on-campus employment.

Generally, on-campus employment is limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session.

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Q: What are the requirements for Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

A:

  • CPT must relate to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study (either as a required part of the school program or has to be taken for school credit)
  • When you enroll at the graduate level, your designated school official (DSO) may authorize CPT during your first semester if your program requires this type of experience.
  • Your school will provide a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” that shows that this employment has been approved.
  • You can work on CPT either full-time or part-time.
  • CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from your employer.
  • If you have 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you are ineligible for OPT, but part-time CPT is fine and will not stop you from doing OPT.

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Q: What are the requirements for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

A:

  • OPT must relate to your major or course of study.
  • You can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, (i.e., you may have 12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months of OPT at the master’s level).
  • You must have employment authorization application approved by USCIS before you can accept employment
  • Wait to start work until after you receive your EAD.
  • For students on post completion OPT, the regulations limit unemployment to 90 days.

You do NOT need to have a job offer in order to apply for OPT. However, once you are approved for OPT, the time is deducted from the 12 months regardless of whether you actually work. In other words, OPT does not get extended for the time periods when you did not work.

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Q: Can I work on OPT while I am in school or do I have to wait until I graduate?

A: You may get OPT and start work while you are pursuing studies (this is called “pre-completion OPT”) However, you have to decide whether you choose to do pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT (after you graduate) or the combination of the two.

If you choose to do pre-completion OPT, you may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, but may work full-time during school breaks.

If you engage in pre-completion OPT, then your term for post-completion OPT will be reduced accordingly. Specifically, your eligible period of post-completion OPT will be reduced by 1 month for every 2 months of part-time work you did on pre-completion OPT.

An F-1 student who has engaged in a total of 12 months of full-time CPT during the program of study becomes ineligible for OPT.

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Q: I have OPT but I cannot find a job. What does it mean? Am I maintaining my F-1 status?

A: You may or may not be maintaining your status depending on how long you have been unemployed. Under OPT, you can have up to 90 days of unemployment (for STEM extension – up to 120 days). See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(E).

If you cannot find a job for longer than 90 days on OPT, then you are not maintaining status.

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Q: I am on OPT but I do not yet have a job. Can I travel abroad and return back to the U.S.?

A: No. If you do not have a job, you should not travel abroad. However, if you have unexpired OPT and a written job offer but you have not yet started your job, then you may be admitted to the U.S. to resume employment. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(13).

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Q: What are the requirements for STEM OPT Extension?

A: You may qualify for a one- time 17-month extension of OPT under the following circumstances:

  • The degree for your current period of post-completion OPT is a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) program.
  • The employer from which you are seeking employment uses the E-Verify program.
  • You must apply for EAD extension from USCIS.
  • You may continue to work on your expired EAD for OPT up to 180 days while your 17-month extension petition is pending if you meet these conditions:
    • You are currently in a period of post-completion OPT.
    • You properly and in a timely manner filed your application for the 17-month extension with USCIS.

Those who have been granted a STEM OPT extension are allowed an additional 30 days (an aggregate total of 120 days) of unemployment.

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Q: Can I work during the grace period after completion of my program?

A: No, you cannot. You are allowed to stay in the U.S. for 60 days (“grace period”) after completion of your school program and any approved practical training to prepare to depart the U.S. During the grace period, you may however apply for a transfer to another school, request a change to a different school program at your current school, apply for post-completion OPT, or change your status to another visa classification.

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Cap-Gap ExtensionQ: My school program will end in the summer. I have applied for H-1B with the start date of October 1. Do I have to leave the U.S. after the expiration of my grace period or can I stay in the U.S. until H-1B start date?

A: It depends. H-1B petitions are filed starting from April 1 of each year with the start of employment date not earlier than October 1. For many students who have school programs ending before October 1, it creates a gap between the expiration of their current F-1 status and the date when H-1B status begins.

DHS has created a rule referred to as the “cap-gap,” meaning the regulations provide a way of filling the “gap” between the end of F-1 status and the beginning of H-1B, which allows certain students with pending H-1B petitions to extend their I-20s and stay in the U.S. while H-1B petitions are adjudicated and up to October 1.

In order for cap-gap extension to take effect, the H-1B employer has to mark “change of status” on H-1B forms as opposed to “consular notification.”

Thus, if your school program ends in the summer and an H-1B petition marked for “change of status” filed on your behalf was accepted for adjudication by USCIS, then you may be eligible to extend your F-1 status through the end of September.

The regulations for "cap gap" can be found at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(vi).

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Q: What do I need to do to qualify for Cap-Gap extension?

A: To qualify for a cap gap extension, you must:

  • Be the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition;
  • Have an H-1B employment start date of October 1st;
  • Request a change of status; and
  • Not have violated the conditions of F-1 status.

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Q: Will I automatically get extended in F-1 status if I have H-1B petition filed on my behalf?

A: USCIS has established a varied extension methodology for cap-gap depending on whether H-1B petition is selected for adjudication or not. In those years when USCIS receives the statutory number of H-1B visas within the first week of filing, it conducts a lottery to randomly select H-1B petitions for adjudication. Thus, often times filing of the H-1B petition by itself does not necessarily mean that the case will be accepted and adjudicated.

For the timely filed H-1Bs, the student may get an extension of F-1 status until June 30 by providing proof of mailing (such as FedEx, UPS, or USPS express/certified mail receipts) of the petition and the copy of H-1B petition. The DSO of the school will then be able to provide a preliminary cap-gap I-20 extended through June 1.

If the student’s H-1B petition is accepted for adjudication by USCIS (the H-1B petition has been receipted), then the student should return to the DSO and provide the H-1B receipt to get an updated I-20 extended through September 30. F-1 status will continue through September unless the H-1B petition is denied, withdrawn, or revoked.

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Q: Will I get work authorization extended through the end of September?

A: Only students participating in post-completion OPT when an H-1B petition is filed receive both an extension of status and employment authorization during the cap-gap period.

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Q: I have unexpired OPT that ends in June. My employer has filed H-1B for me requesting change of status with the start date of October 1, which was accepted for adjudication. Will I be able to work when my EAD expires and until the end of September?

A: In this scenario, OPT is extended through the cap-gap period. If you have not violated the terms of F-1 status, then you are eligible to continue working through the end of September, as long as H-1B petition is not denied, withdrawn or revoked before then.

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Q: My OPT ended in March and I was in my 60-day grace period when H-1B for change of status with October 1 start date was filed on my behalf. Will I be able to work until the end of September?

A: No, if you were not on OPT when the H-1B petition was filed, you cannot work during the cap-gap extension. You will be able however to extend your F-1 status allowing you to stay in the U.S. until the end of September, as long as H-1B petition is not denied, withdrawn or revoked before then.

In this scenario, F-1 status is extended through the cap-gap period but you cannot become eligible for employment authorization. Since you were not employment authorized at the time H-1B petition was filed, there is no employment authorization to be extended.

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Q: What happens if my H-1B petition is denied, rejected or revoked?

A: If USCIS denies, rejects or revokes an H-1B petition filed on your behalf, if you are covered by the cap gap extension, you will have the standard 60-day grace period to depart the U.S. from the date of the denial, rejection or revocation. The grace period will not apply when the denial was based on your status violation, misrepresentation or fraud. In that case, you will be required to leave the U.S. immediately.

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Q: I am on cap-gap extension period. Can I travel outside the U.S. and return in F-1 status?

A:No, travel outside of the U.S. is not authorized during the cap-gap extension. You will need to apply for H-1B visa abroad if it is approved before returning to the U.S.

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Q: Do the limits on unemployment time apply during the cap-gap extension?

A: Yes, the 90-day limitation on unemployment on OPT continues through the cap-gap period.

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Q: Can I apply for STEM extension while I am in the gap-gap extension period?

A: Yes, you can apply. However, you can no longer apply if you have entered the 60-day grace period or if H-1B petition is rejected, withdrawn, denied, or revoked.

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Q: I have an unexpired EAD for OPT and an approved H-1B petition for change of status but was fired by my employer before the effective start date of H-1B. Can I continue using my unexpired EAD?

A:Yes, you can under certain condition. You remain in student status and may continue working under OPT until H-1B change of status goes into effect (normally, October 1). However, you need to make sure that USCIS receives an H-1B withdrawal request from the petitioning employer before the H-1B effective date.

If USCIS does not receive the withdrawal request before the H-1B requested start date, then your status will automatically be converted to H-1B, which will be problematic. In that case, you won’t be able to use OPT and have to stop working. You may be able to regain F-1 status by filing for reinstatement. You must then wait until the reinstatement is approved before resuming work under OPT.

Once the H-1B petition has been revoked, you must provide the DSO with a copy of the USCIS acknowledgement of withdrawal (i.e., the notice of revocation). The DSO may then request a data fix in SEVIS, to prevent you from being terminated in F-1 status.

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Maintaining Student StatusQ: How can I be sure that I am maintaining my status?

A: It is very important for students to be in touch with their DSOs and to raise any questions or concerns they have before it is too late. It is also important for students to ensure that the school they are attending is a reputable institution that complies with F-1 requirements and does not have a history of violations impacting F-1 students. Many schools nowadays offer a variety of benefits to students, such as online courses, evening or weekend classes, continuous employment authorization, and other benefits in order to lure them to the school’s programs. Foreign students need to be aware that many of the benefits offered by those schools are unavailable under F-1 visa.

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Q: Can I engage in online classes?

A: You can to a certain extent. You need to be very careful with online classes because this is a very common area where F-1 students are accused of status violations. Foreign students need to be particular careful because F-1 regulations state that only one online class not exceeding three (3) credit hours can be taken during each academic term.

Virtual classroom experience with the professor appearing via videoconference or any other arrangement without physical presence of both the students and the professor also presents challenges and can be viewed by USCIS as online learning environment.

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Q: What are the examples of student status violations?

A: Examples of how a student may fail to maintain status include:

  • Failure to attend the school whose I-20 you used to enter the United States
  • Failure to report to the school’s DSO for initial registration in SEVIS upon arrival
  • Failure to complete a full course of study during a given semester
  • Failure to complete the I-20 transfer procedure on time when changing schools or degree programs
  • Failure to apply for an extension of program before I-20 expires
  • Failure to obtain a new I-20 if you change your educational program or degree level
  • Failure to report address change to the DSO within 10 days of moving

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Q: What if I violated by student status?

A:

Reinstatement

If you violated the terms of the student status, you may apply for reinstatement with USCIS to regain valid F-1 status. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(16) for F-1 students and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(16) for M-1 students.

You may be eligible under the following conditions:

  • You have not been out of status for more than 5 months
  • You do not have a history of repeated violations
  • You are currently pursuing, or will in the next available term, a full course load
  • You are not engaged in unauthorized employment
  • You are not deportable on any grounds other than the status violation
  • You can establish that:
    • The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control. Such circumstances might include serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, a natural disaster, or inadvertence, oversight, or neglect on the part of the DSO; or
    • The violation relates to a reduction in the student's course load that would have been within a DSO's power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.

An applicant for reinstatement to F-1 status must maintain full-time academic enrollment while the application is pending. No F-1 employment benefits are available until the reinstatement is approved.

Travel Abroad

As an alternative to applying for reinstatement in the U.S., students sometimes can travel abroad and re-enter the U.S. to regain F-1 status using a new “initial attendance” I-20. However, this type of travel will forfeit any time you have accrued toward practical training eligibility. If you travel abroad, you are at risk that you may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. if CBP officer at the port of entry believes that you have grounds of inadmissibility.

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