F-1 status/visa (F-1) is a federal visa program that allows international students to study in the United States; it is not an employment visa. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has recently reported several instances of F-1 visa fraud, wherein, a woman pleaded guilty for providing false employment verifications for the OPT students using fake companies and in a recent sting operation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as many as 250 international students were arrested, wherein, the students had enrolled in a fake university without classes or teachers, just to be able to work in the U.S. on CPT.
As stated above, F-1 is a federal visa program which allows international students to study in the United States. To enter the United States to attend university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, and another academic institutions, including a language training program, an international student requires an F-1. Getting accepted at an SEVP Approved School is essential to obtaining an F-1. An F-1 student is admitted to the U.S. for “duration of status” and is permitted to stay in the U.S. as long as the status is maintained by fulfilling the requirements of being an F-1 student. According to the Department of State, an F-1 student is coming to the U.S. to study and should not take any action that detracts from that purpose. The Department of State further points out what is meant by maintaining your status as a student: 1. Fulfilling the purpose for why the Department of State issued the visa, which is study, 2. Following the regulations associate with that purpose.
A student must take following actions to properly maintain the F-1 status:
- Enter the United States no more than 30 days before the program of study begins;
- Immediately contact DSO on entry into the United States and on arrival at the school.
- Maintain a valid unexpired passport at all times. Please contact the embassy or nearest consulate generally six months before the passport expires.
- Share the I-94 number with the designated DSO.
- Attend the school that is listed on your I-20.
- Must take a full course of study each term; if one cannot study full-time, contact the DSO immediately. Please note the number of credit hours that will be counted towards maintaining full course of study varies from institution to institution, but with regards to the online classes, USCIS has set limits on the number of “online” courses a student may take each semester to maintain their visa status. Only 3 “online” credit hours can be counted towards the full-time requirement.
- Attend and pass all your classes, sitting out a semester will result in a status violation and one cannot remain legally in the U.S.
- Any change of address must be reported to the DSO within 10 days.
Additionally, the F-1 program also allows students to stay and work in the U.S. to get practical work experience before or after obtaining their professional degrees, and the following employment possibilities exist for the F-1 students:
- On-campus: On-campus work must be authorized by a DSO; however, it is limited to part-time (20 hours or less per week) during the fall and spring semesters. On-campus employment may be full time during the summer and official school break.
- Off-campus: All “off-campus” work must be authorized by a DSO in some cases, and USCIS in other cases. Working off-campus without permission is a serious violation of the F-1 status. The Off-Campus employment can further be divided into two parts:
A. CPT (Curricular Practical Training): CPT is an employment which is an integral part of an established curriculum. CPT is available only prior to the completion of the degree program, and one must have a job offer at the time of application. CPT employment may not delay the completion of an academic program. Students are required to maintain full-time enrollment during the CPT.
There are two types of CPT: Required and Optional. Required CPT is when the academic program mandates practical work experience for all students in order to graduate. Optional CPT is work experience directly related to the field of study that is not required. One must be enrolled in a CPT course. Part-time CPT employment is for 20 hours or less per week, and employment for more than 20 hours per week is full-time. Please be aware that 12 months or more of full-time CPT will eliminate the eligibility for OPT (Optional Practical Training). To be eligible for CPT, a student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year unless the academic program requires immediate participation for all students (Day 1 CPT), have a job offer, be lawfully on F-1 status and fulfill the other requirements set by the school. The CPT employer must write a detailed training description; it must contain, be written on company’s letterhead, be addressed to the CPT student, including job title, provide detailed job description, specify the address where employment will take place, specify the number of hours per week the CPT student will work, specify start and end date of CPT employment.
F-1 students on Day 1 CPT may be authorized for practical training on day1 as part of their academic program, generally in the second master’s or doctorate degree for a specific program. In addition to the general requirements of CPT, a Day 1 CPT student must attend all of their classes (online or offline) and secure a minimum GPA. There are three types of Day 1 CPT: Cooperative CPT, Course-based CPT and Degree-based CPT. Recently F-1 students who have not been selected on the H-1B lottery are using this option to stay and work in U.S., and at the same time are not following the associated requirements and facing denial when requesting change of status.
B. OPT (Optional Practical Training): It is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic study (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). Please note that all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
As noted above, the OPT can be of two types, Pre-completion OPT, and Post-completion OPT– One may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after one has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a SEVP certified college or university. If the F-1 student is authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, one may work part-time (20 hours or less) while school is in session or may work full time when school is not in session.
An F-1 student may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing the studies, it can be part-time or full-time. Note if the F-1 student participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from the post-completion OPT authorization period. Please note, if the F-1 student has earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, one may apply for a 24-month extension of the post-completion OPT employment authorization if one satisfies certain conditions. An F-1 student may begin OPT only after the Form I-765 is approved and the employment authorization document (EAD) is received. If the F1 student files STEM OPT extension application on time and the OPT period expires while the extension application is pending, the EAD will automatically be extended for 180 days. This 180-day period will cease once USCIS adjudicates the STEM OPT extension application.
Duration of unemployment on OPT: Students on post-completion OPT may have up to 90 days of unemployment. The 90 days start counting from the approved OPT/EAD start date. After the OPT approval start date, the time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90-day limit. However, travel while employed either during a vacation authorized by an employer or as part of your employment will not count as unemployment, but the final determination of 90-day period of unemployment will be made by the CBP officer at the port of entry. Students who are granted STEM OPT extension are given an additional 60 days of unemployment for a total of 150 days over their entire post-completion OPT and STEM periods.
If an F-1 student chooses to work without authorization, he/she will be forced to leave the United States immediately and may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date. Also, remaining in the United States in violation of the lawful nonimmigrant status could lead to an accrual of unlawful presence.
F-1 students must take action to maintain legal status or depart from the United States after completing your program of study. Once the F-1 student completes the program of study and any authorized period of practical training, F-1 student has 60 days after completion of the program (the program end date on the Form I-20) to leave the United States. If one wishes to extend his/her stay in the United States, one should either transfer to another school or change the education level or apply for a change of status to another visa status.
Our advice to the students is that F-1 is a study visa and not an employment visa, and one should not take any action that detracts from that purpose. Violating F-1 status can have a long-lasting irreparable impact and as mentioned earlier “If it is too good to be true, it is not true.”
This article briefly discusses about F-1. This article, under no circumstances, acts as legal advice; therefore, for any further case-specific question, please contact your attorney or Ahluwalia Law Offices, P.C. (Team ALO).