Despite the recent furor over the F-1 student visa category, U.S. immigrations laws have long recognized the importance of admitting foreign students to study in U.S. schools. A foreign student in F-1 status is “an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning, who is a bona fide student…at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution.”
In order to qualify for a F-1 visa, a foreign national must show that:
- (S)he has completed a course of study normally required for enrollment in the U.S. school.
- (S)he is either coming to the U.S. to participate exclusively in an English language training program, is sufficiently proficient in English to pursue the intended course of study, or the school must have made special arrangements for English language courses or teach the course in the student’s native language.
- (S)he has sufficient funds or will funds will be available from an identified and reliable financial source to defray all living and school expenses during the entire period of anticipated study in the United States. Specifically, applicants must prove they have enough readily available funds to meet all expenses for the first year of study, and that adequate funds will be available for each subsequent year of study.
- (S)he has been accepted for a full course of study by an educational institution approved by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”).
Working on a F-1 Student Visa
There are four main types of employment authorization for F-1 students:
1. Optional Practical Training.
There are two forms of optional practical training.
Pre-graduation practical training is permitted during summer vacations and other times when school is not in session or during the school year provided that the employment does not exceed 20 hours per week when school is in session.
Post-completion practical training is permitted when a student has completed all course requirements for the degree. A student is eligible for a total period of twelve months of optional practical training. Any time spent on pre-graduation practical training is subtracted from the overall twelve-month limit of optional practical training. Also, part time pre-graduation employment (20 hours per week) is counted as half the full time rate. In other words, if a student works part time for four months it is counted as only two months of optional practical training. A student may not participate in any optional practical training if he/she has spent twelve months working full time in curricular practical training. Both optional practical training and curricular practical training must relate directly to the student’s major field of study.
2. Curricular Practical Training.
Curricular practical training is a training program which is part of a students curriculum. An employer through a cooperative agreement with the school must in the form of an internship, work-study program, or any other type of practicum offer the training. A student who receives twelve months of curricular practical training is not eligible for optional practical training.
3. On Campus Employment.
A foreign national may work on campus without INS authorization. The hours of employment cannot exceed 20 hours per week during the school semester/quarter or 40 hours during vacations and recesses. On campus employment does not affect the twelve months of practical training.
4. Employment based upon unforeseen economic necessity.
A foreign student may receive employment authorization if there are unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control, which make it impossible for the student to support him/herself at the level indicated on the Form I-20. It is difficult to obtain such authorization. The student must first document that suitable on-campus employment is not available. In addition, the student must be in good academic standing and must have completed at least one full academic year in F-1 status. If the INS approves the employment request, the INS will issue employment in one year intervals up to the completion of the student’s course of study.