F-1 Visa

Smooth student immigration process for international students who require visa to study in the United States.

Qualifications Timeline

Must meet the following criteria

  • Has a foreign residence that s/he does not intend to abandon;
  • Must truly be a student who is qualified to pursue the course of study;
  • Must intend to depart the U.S. when the course of study ends or when post-study Optional Practical Training (OPT) is completed;
  • May only study at institution approved by SEVP.
  • May not attend a public elementary school. Can only attend secondary school if period of study is less than 12 months and the student has reimbursed local authorities for the cost of the education.

Student may attend a private K-12 school.

Applicant must apply for F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Applicant can apply for change of status in the U.S. to F-1, but processing is several months through USCIS and premium processing is not available.

F-1 CPT

Opportunity for international students to engage in training that relates directly to the student’s major area of study.

Qualifications Timeline

  • Training is carried out during the course of the academic program and can be either part-time or full-time depending on what is permitted by the school.
  • Area of training must be directly related to the student’s field of study, and it must also be an integral component of the curriculum.
  • To be eligible for CPT, must be enrolled full-time at an SEVP-approved school for one academic year or enrolled in a graduate program that requires immediate participation in CPT.
  • Requires a signed cooperative agreement with an employer.

Time spent part-time in CPT does not impact post-graduation Optional Practical Training (OPT), but one who engages in 12 months or more of full-time CPT is not eligible for OPT.

Must request authorization for CPT from the school, which authorizes CPT in SEVIS and issues a new Form I-20. Following the school’s submission, authorization for CPT is often quite fast.

F-1 OPT

Opportunity for international students to work for any employer, if the training relates to the student’s major course of study

Qualifications Timeline

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) follows completion of all degree course requirements or course of study.
  • Twelve (12) months of OPT are allowed for each higher educational level. Cannot get OPT for each subsequent degree at the same level.
  • Student must request OPT and apply for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS within the 90-day period prior to the degree completion or within 60 days following program end date. Student cannot begin working until they have the EAD in hand.
  • OPT must be completed within 14 months of graduation.

If student’s OPT is due to expire before an approved change of status to H-1B, OPT and employment authorization will automatically be extended to September 30th of the calendar year.

The student must request OPT and apply for the EAD from USCIS as early as possible within the 90-day period prior to degree completion or within 60 days of the program ending. USCIS can take up to 2-3 months to approve and issue the EAD, and the student cannot work until they have the EAD in hand. Premium Processing is not available.

OPT- STEM Extension

A 24-month student immigration visa extension of OPT for students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees.

Qualifications Timeline

Following completion of OPT, those who have studied in certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) are eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT.

  • Can only apply within 90 days prior to end date of OPT. Cannot apply within the 60-day post OPT grace period.
  • Must include an application for new EAD from USCIS. Can continue working for up to 180 days past OPT end date while waiting for new STEM OPT EAD to be issued.
  • Must submit Form I-983 Training Plan completed by prospective employer.
  • Employer’s requirements:
    • Must be enrolled in USCIS’s E-Verify program;
    • Must have sufficient resources to train the student;
    • Must not replace a U.S. worker with the student;
    • Must offer commensurate working conditions and pay as other U.S. workers in similar roles;
    • of Homeland Security can conduct unannounced site visits.

Student must report to the school’s Designated Student Officer (DSO) every six months, along with a self-evaluation within the first 12 months of STEM OPT and a final evaluation at the end of STEM OPT.

The student must request STEM OPT extension and apply for the EAD from USCIS as early as possible within the 90-day period prior to OPT expiration. USCIS can take up to 2-3 months to approve and issue the EAD, and the student cannot work until they have the EAD in hand. Premium Processing is not available.

International Student Pathway

Freshman Year

Carefully choose your major and courses

For students who want to stay in the U.S. after graduation, it is important to strategically select a major that is required to do the jobs you will apply for after graduation. The courses on a student’s transcript must demonstrate  expertise within a specialty field. It is important to consider that STEM degrees are eligible for a two year extension of OPT post-graduation.

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Sophomore – Junior Year

APPLY for cpt for work experience during school

International students are eligible for F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to get an internship that is directly related to and required within your field of study. Note: One year of full-time CPT eliminates a student’s eligibility for OPT, so this is best for a semester-long opportunity.

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Senior Year

Find an employer to sponsor your opt/ STEM OPT

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity for international students to work for any employer, as long as the training relates to the student’s major course of study. Following graduation, students are eligible for 1-year of OPT. Students with a STEM degree should check eligibility for a 2-year OPT extention.

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Senior Year – Post Grad

Find an Employer to Sponsor your work Visa

To continue to work in the United States after their OPT expires, most students search for a job with an employer that is willing to sponsor their work visa. Work visas are temporary work authorization that permits a foreign national to stay and work in the United States from 3-6 years, depending on the visa.

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Post Graduation

Think about Green Card options

There are employment-based green card options that result in a longer-term immigration solution to work in the United States. Depending on the country a foreign national is from, this process can vary in years. In many cases, it is smart to begin as soon as possible if an employer is willing to do so. Some Green Card options enable self-sponsorship.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I am an F-1 student. Am I able to work?

Q:  I am an F-1 student, can I start my own company?

Q: What is the best strategy to be able to obtain Curricular Practical Training (CPT) while I am an F-1 student?

A: F-1 students may work on campus for up to 20 hours per week without approval from USCIS. F-1 students may work:

  • On the school’s premises, including on-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria; and
  • At an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school.
  • Guidelines for on-campus employment are available at ice.gov/sevis/employment.

A: Students in F-1 status may start their own company, but may work for the company only if they have work authorization to do so, such as CPT or OPT.  It is not a violation of F-1 status to be named as an Incorporator, Founder or Officer of a company, or to attend Board of Director Meetings or networking events on behalf of the company.  It is a violation to do productive work that benefits the company—which a U.S. worker would be doing if the F-1 student were not—unless the F-1 student has work authorization.

A: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows students to accept paid alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that sponsoring employers offer through cooperative

agreements with the school. The CPT program must be an integral part of the student’s degree program curriculum. The DSO must authorize CPT on the student’s Form I-20.  Foreign students on

F-1 status may want to discuss CPT opportunities with their DSO prior to declaring a major and/or registering for classes.

Q: What kind of documentation do I need in order to work?

Q: Can I use my OPT for an internship while I am still in school, or do I have to wait until I graduate?

Q: What happens if I am unemployed during my OPT and I do not notify my DSO about new employment for more than 90 days?

A: On-campus work for 20 hours or less requires only an unexpired passport and an I-94 card showing the student is in the U.S. in F-1 status. CPT requires the same, plus a Form I-20 from the DSO authorizing the specific CPT employer. OPT, STEM OPT, and any off-campus employment based on severe economic hardship requires USCIS to issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the student.

A: OPT provides practical training experience that directly relates to an F-1 student’s major area of study stated on their Form I-20. An F-1 who has completed at least one academic year of studies may be authorized for pre-completion OPT to work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time (20 or more hours per week) when school is not in session. After completing the course of study, USCIS may authorize an F-1 student up to 12 months of post-completion OPT, however previous time spent using pre-completion OPT during the years of the academic program will be deducted from the 12 months of post-completion OPT. All OPT must be granted by the DSO and stated on the Form I-20, and an EAD must be obtained from USCIS prior in order to work (although STEM OPT students may work prior to the granting of the EAD as long as it was applied for timely).

A: An F-1 student who exceeds 90-days of unemployment, or a total of 120 days of unemployment if on STEM OPT, will be have his/her SEVIS record automatically terminated, USCIS will initiate revocation of the EAD, and it is possible that removal proceedings may be commenced.