Student Visas: F-1 Academic and M-1 Vocational

People who are coming to the United States or locally to San Francisco or San Jose, California, to pursue full-time academic or vocational studies are usually admitted in one of two non-immigrant categories: The F-1 category includes academic students in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, other academic institutions, and in language training. The M-1 category includes vocational students. For more information on vocational studies in the United States

Please note: If you wish to attend public high school (grades 9-12) in the United States in student (F-1) status, you must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. Also, attendance at U.S. public high schools cannot exceed a total of 12 months. F-1 students are prohibited from attending public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programs in the United States.


Q: How Do I Apply if I am Outside of the United States?

A: You first must apply to study at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)-approved school in the United States. When you contact a school that you are interested in attending, you should be told immediately if the school accepts foreign national students. If you are accepted, the school should give you USCIS Form I-20 If you require a visa, then you should take the USCIS Form I-20 to the nearest U.S. consulate to obtain a student visa. Only bring the USCIS Form I-20 from the school you plan on attending for visa processing at the U.S. consulate. You must also prove to the consulate that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States.

When you arrive in the United States, you should receive a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) that will include your admission number to the United States. An Immigration inspector will write this admission number on your USCIS Form I-20. This document is your proof that you are allowed to study in the United States as an F-1 student. You should see your designated school official (DSO) if you need a replacement copy of your I-20. You should also keep safe your Form I-94, because it proves that you legally entered the United States.

Q: How Can I Change My Nonimmigrant Status to Become a Student If I Am Already in the United States?

A: You first must apply to study at a USCIS-approved school in the United States*. When you contact a school that you are interested in attending, you should be told immediately if the school accepts foreign national students. If you are accepted, the school should send you USCIS Form I-20. You must submit this form and a USCIS Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) to the USCIS. You must also prove that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States.

*Please be aware that if you have been admitted as a B-1 (Temporary Visitor for Business) or B-2 (Temporary Visitor for Pleasure) visa holder, you may not begin your program studies until your application for these studies is approved.

Q: Can I Bring My Spouse and Children with Me to the United States?

A: Your spouse and children may come with you to the United States in F-2 status. They should go with you to the U.S. embassy or consulate when you apply for your student (F-1) visa. They should be prepared to prove their relationship to you. If your spouse or children are following to join you at a later date, they should provide the U.S. embassy staff with a copy of your USCIS Form I-20 and proof of their relationship to you. The F-2 status of your family will be dependent upon your status as the F-1 academic student. This means that if you change your status, your family must change their status. If you lose your status, your family will also lose their status.

Q: How Long Can I Stay in the United States?

A: You are allowed to stay in the United States for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student in an educational program and making normal progress toward completing your course of study. If approved, you also will be allowed to stay in the country up to twelve additional months beyond the completion of your studies to pursue practical training. At the end of your studies or practical training, you will be given sixty days to prepare to leave the country.

Q: How Can I Extend My Stay as a Student in the United States?

A: You do not need to apply to extend your stay in the United States as long as you are maintaining your student status and making normal progress toward completing your academic course of study. The designated school official (DSO) from your school will write down a completion date on your USCIS Form I-20. Under normal circumstances, you should be able to complete your studies by this date. If you need to extend your stay for compelling academic or medical reasons, then you and the designated school official (DSO) should fill out USCIS Form I-538 (Certification By Designated School Official) and send it to the USCIS student data center at least 30 days before the completion date listed on USCIS Form I-20 A-B.

Q: Will I Get a Work Permit?

A: You may be allowed to work on-campus or off-campus (after the completion of your first year of study) under limited circumstances. You may also wish to discuss employment with the designated school official (DSO) at your school. Your accompanying spouse and child may not accept employment.

Practical Training; SEVIS; Course of Study

Optional Practical Training

An F-1 student may become eligible for a one-year period of post completion optional practical training (“OPT”) when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Under the new rules, a student can qualify for one year of OPT upon completion of a Bachelor’s degree, then qualify for an additional one year of OPT for the Master’s degree. Subsequently, if the F-1 student newly enrolls in a Doctoral program, it is possible to qualify for a third year of post-completion OPT once the Ph.D. is completed.

Request for Practical Training

Post completion OPT must be requested prior to the completion of the course requirements or prior to the completion of the course of study. For students requesting summer vacation OPT after the first year of study, the application to USCIS (after school approval of the student’s request for OPT) may be made up to 90 days prior to the completion of the first academic year.

OPT Procedures under SEVIS

The new rule establishes that despite the electronic SEVIS records, and the school’s obligation to verify work and home addresses during OPT as well as dates of OPT in the Department of Homeland Security’s SEVIS records, an Employment Authorization Document card still must be requested and obtained before OPT can commence.

A student in OPT remains in F-1 status and therefore the school is required to update in SEVIS any name, address or employment changes during OPT. The term “employment changes” should not be construed to mean that the student must first get permission from the school or INS prior to changing OPT jobs or employers

SEVIS F-1 Obligations

The school must report the following within 21 days: failure to maintain F-1 status or complete educational program, change in address or name, graduation early or prior to program end date on SEVIS I-20, disciplinary action taken by school. Each semester and no later than 30 days after the deadline for class registration, schools must report the following: whether the F-1 student has enrolled, identification of any F-1 student who has dropped below a full course of study without authorization, and the current address of the F-1 student.

Admission Procedures

F-1 students in possession of a valid I-20 Certificate of Eligibility may still utilize such document to be admitted to the U.S. prior to August 1, 2003, as long as the I-20 form was issued prior to January 30, 2003. All F-1 students must be entered into SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and issued SEVIS I-20s no later than August 1, 2003. Students may be admitted under the new rule no more than 30 days prior to the start of classes. Formerly, the student could be admitted 60 days prior to the start date.

Reinstatement of Status

The new rule changes the legal standards for applications for reinstatement of student status. Now, the student must apply for reinstatement not more than 5 months after being out of status. Or, if the application is outside of the 5-month limit, the student must establish that failure to timely file was the result of exceptional circumstances. To have a reinstatement approved, the student must show either that the violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control or that the violation relates to a reduction in the student’s course load that would have been within a Designated School Official’s power to authorize and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.

Grace Periods

Students who have completed their course of study and any authorized practical training have a 60-day grace period after expiration of F-1 status. The 60 days run from the end date of the completion of the course of study or the end date of any authorized practical training, whichever comes last. F-1 students who obtain authorization from their school to withdraw from school receive a 15-day grace period. Under the new rules, grace periods explicitly do not apply in any other circumstance.

Reduced Course Load

The new rule establishes that a reduced course load is only acceptable to maintain F-1 status if it is subject to prior approval by the school and includes at least six semester or quarter hours, or half the clock hours required for a full course of study. A reduced course load for less than half time is only acceptable for defined medical reasons or for the final term of study if the school determines that fewer courses are needed to complete the course of study.

Program Completion Date

The new rule eliminates the ability of schools to allow a grace period of up to one year to the program completion date.

Program Extension

The new rule requires that program extension must be requested by the student prior to the end date on the I-20. Any student who is unable to complete the educational program before the end date on the I-20, and does not request a program extension prior to the end date on the I-20, is out of status.

On Campus Employment

The new rule establishes that F-1 students may not work on-campus more than 30 days prior to the actual start date of classes, for those F-1s making their first F-1 entry to the U.S. Under the new rule, transferring F-1s cannot work on-campus until the receiving school has SEVIS jurisdiction over the student’s SEVIS records.