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Studying in the United States

The higher education system of the United States is world-renowned and each year approximately 1 million foreigner students from all over the world come to attend various types of US educational institutions, including two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and vocational schools among others. This is an overview of the most common student visa, the F-1 academic student visa, and the rights and benefits that come with an F-1 status.

F-1 – Academic Student Visa

F-1 is the most common and most utilized type of student visa. It is a temporary non-immigrant visa that is usually granted for the duration of the studies. If you wish to pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree in the United States, or you wish to attend high school, two-year college, or a language-training program, then you would need an F-1 visa. In order to obtain an academic student visa, you need to apply to and be accepted in a school that is certified by SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program).

After you are accepted in an approved school, the school will issue you an I-20. Once you receive your I-20 and register in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), you can apply for and schedule an interview for a student visa at a US Embassy or Consulate. At the interview, you will have to demonstrate your ability to pay for your education, living, and travel expenses, as well as, and more importantly, your intent to return to your home country upon completion of your studies.

With an F-1 visa, you are allowed to come to the United States as early as 30 days before the date that your studies begin. Once in the United States, in order to maintain an F-1 status, you will need to attend school full-time, except in special circumstance, and only with the approval of the designated school official (DSO). Generally, with an F-1 visa, you get admitted for the duration of status, which includes completion of the academic program, practical training, plus 60 days after that.

Furthermore, as long as you maintain your status, you are allowed to travel outside the United States, to change your major, to transfer to a different school, to obtain a driver’s license, and if certain requirements are met, you are entitled to work and obtain a social security number. Moreover, as an F-1 student, you have the ability to bring your family (spouse and/or children) with you on an F-2 visa. However, family members cannot accept employment and cannot attend school full-time, except children in grades K-12. If they want to attend school, then they would need their own F-1 visa. Finally, as an F-1 visa holder, you can change your status to another non-immigrant visa, such as H1-B or an O-1 visa, or adjust status, if you have a qualifying family petition.

Employment as a F-1 Student

During the first year of studying, you are not allowed to work off-campus under any circumstances. However, with the approval of the school’s DSO, you are allowed to work part-time (up to 20 hours a week) on campus, for example, at the school bookstore, admissions office, or cafeteria.

After completion of one full academic year, international students can potentially engage in Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT), or in certain cases other off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is any internship or practicum that relates directly to the major being pursued and is an integral part of the curriculum for the degree being pursued. Any CPT has to be approved by the DSO and it has to occur before the end date of studying. CPT can be either part-time or full-time. However, a year of full-time CPT makes you ineligible for OPT. You have to secure the training opportunity before requesting CPT authorization.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a training that relates to your major at school. Contrary to CPT, you don’t have to secure training before you can ask for OPT approval, and by contrast to CPT, OPT can occur before or after the completion of studies. However, if OPT is requested before completion of studying, you are allowed to work only part-time during the school year.

In general, F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT, with any OPT done before graduation counting towards those 12 months. So, if you do 3 months of OPT while still studying to complete your degree, upon graduation, you will have 9 months left for OPT. A regular OPT is available for each level of higher degree, which means that you get 12 months eligibility for a bachelor’s degree, and 12 more months, for a master’s degree.

In addition to the regular OPT, there is STEM OPT. STEM OPT is reserved for international students, who major or double major in designated degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. By contrast to regular OPT, a STEM OPT can be extended for 24 months beyond the initial 12-month period.

For information on obtaining student visas or questions regarding your status, or change of status to or from a student status, please contact The Justice Firm locally at 310-914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at 866-695-6714, or visit us on our website.

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