F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa intended for international students pursuing a full-time academic education at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or attending a language training program.

Basic Requirements:
  • The student must have a foreign residence that s/he has no intention of abandoning.
  • The schools must be authorized by the U.S government to receive international students.
  • Students must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate.
  • The student must be enrolled as a full-time student.
  • The student must document that s/he has sufficient funds or have made other arrangements to cover all of their expenses for the entire course of study.
  • The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency.
Period of Stay:
  • An F-1 student is generally admitted as nonimmigrant for the duration of the program of study.
  • An F-1 student must depart within 60 days from the end date of the program or any authorized practical training.
Dependent Family Members:
  • Dependents, including legal spouses and children under 21 years of age, are eligible for F-2 visas.
  • Spouse’s are not permitted to work.
  • Student’s minor children are allowed to attend school.

To receive the F-1 visa, the FN must first apply to and be accepted by a school authorized to admit international students. Following acceptance, the student will receive a Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility, which is used to apply directly to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy to obtain the F-1 visa stamp.

Maintaining F-1 Student Visa Status:
  • The purpose of an F-1 visa is to study in the U.S. F-1 students should fulfill this purpose.
  • F-1 students should arrive in the U.S no more than 30 days before the program of study begins.
  • Students must attend and pass all their classes.
  • Students must take a full course of study each term. If students cannot study full-time, they should contact the school’s DSO.
  • If students cannot complete their program by the date listed in their I-20 form, they should contact the DSO to request a program extension.
  • A student who works without authorization will be forced to leave the U.S. may be unable to re-enter the U.S.

F-1 Student Visa Employment Options

Post-secondary F-1 students may qualify for employment and practical training opportunities during and after their academic program. Employment may be on- or off-campus depending on certain conditions.

1. On-campus employment

Basic requirements:

  • On-campus employment must be performed on the sponsoring school’s premises, or at an off-campus location as long as it is educationally affiliated with the school.
  • The employment must be an integral part of the student’s educational program.
  • The student’s working hours must not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session, except:
    • The student can work more than 20 hours a week only if s/he satisfies the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that more hours of work are necessary to avoid economic hardship caused by emergent circumstances.
    • The student can work full time when the school is not in session or during the annual vacation.
  • The student’s on-campus employment must not displace a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • The student must apply for a social security number.


  • On-campus employment is limited to the student’s school or a company that contracts with the school to serve students.
  • Students must not work without authorization, and must not work more hours than authorized. Otherwise, the student becomes removable.
  • Students cannot work during the 60-day period following the end of their program.
    • Students can only work during these 60 days if starting a new program of study.
  • F-1 border commuter students are not eligible for on-campus employment.
2. Off-campus employment

Severe economic hardship

A student may request off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances that are not within the student’s control. These circumstances may include, for example, loss of financial aid or on-campus employment not the student’s fault, increase in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support, medical bills, and others. If approved, the employment authorization is issued in one-year intervals up to the expected date of completion of the student’s current course of study.

Basic requirements:

  • The student is in F-1 status for at least one full academic year.
  • The student experiences severe economic hardship after enrollment in an academic program.
  • Off-campus employment must be related to the student’s area of study and is limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session (full time on holidays or school vacation).
3. Practical Training Opportunities:

There are two types of practical training available for F-1 students: OPT and CPT.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a form of training, often paid, that directly relates to a student’s program of study. Students can apply for OPT during or after their program of study. An OPT issued during a student’s program of study is known as pre-completion OPT, whereas an OPT issued after a student finishes his/her program of study is known as post-completion OPT. In both types of OPT, students receive up to 12 months of OPT.

Pre-completion OPT:

  • The student is enrolled as a full-time student for one full academic year.
    • However, students do not need to have held F-1 status; students can satisfy this requirement if they held another nonimmigrant status.
  • OPT must relate to the student’s major area of study.
  • OPT does not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session.
    • Student can work full time when school is not in session.

Post-Completion OPT:

  • The student can apply for post-completion OPT after completing his/her studies.
  • OPT must relate to the student’s major area of study.
  • If a student participates in pre-completion OPT, USCIS deducts that amount of time from the student’s post-completion OPT period.
  • If the student earns a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), s/he may apply for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT.
  • OPT employment terminates automatically upon transfer to another school or start of another educational level.

Curricular practical training (CPT)

CPT is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or other type of required internship or practicum offered by sponsoring employers through agreements with the student’s school.

  • CPT is an integral part of the student’s program of study.
  • CPT can be full time and is not restricted to 20 hours a week.
  • A student may begin CPT only after receiving his or her Form I-20 with the DSO endorsement.
  • If the student has 12 months or more of full-time CPT, the student is ineligible for post-completion OPT. However, the student with part-time CPT is eligible for OPT.


F-1 students pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) are eligible for a 24-month extension after completion of their Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Basic Requirements:
  • The student has obtained Optional Practical Training (OPT), and it is still valid.
  • The student holds a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from an accredited school, also certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
  • Students currently pursuing OPT based on a non-STEM degree are nevertheless eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension if they earned a previous STEM degree from a U.S institution of higher education.
    • Students must have obtained both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP certified-institutions.
    • Students cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree.
    • The OPT must be directly related to the STEM degree.
  • Students who, in the future, enroll in a new academic program and get another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, are eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
  • Students must work for a qualified employer, which means that the employer needs to:
    • be enrolled in e-Verify.
    • guarantee the student will work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
    • provide the student with formal training and learning objectives.
    • show that the training opportunity is in direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree.
  • During OPT, a student may be unemployed for a limited number of days.
    • During the initial post-completion OPT period, the student may be unemployed for no more than 90 days.
    • During the STEM OPT extension period, the student may be unemployed for no more than 150 days.
Maintaining STEM OPT Extension Status:
  • The student and employer have specific responsibilities:
    • The student must report the following changes within ten days: legal name; residential and mailing address; email address; employer’s name; and employer’s address. Even if no changes occur, the student must confirm such information every six months.
    • The employer must:
      • Be enrolled in e-Verify, and remain as a good standing participant.
      • Have a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes.
      • File a modified training plan when the student’s STEM OPT employment materially changes.
      • Report the student’s termination or departure within five business days.
      • Implement formal training to enhance the student’s academic training through practical experience.
      • Ensure the student’s work duties, hours, and compensation are similar to U.S workers in similar situations.