The F-1 Student Visa: Frequently Asked Questions

December 7, 2021

Envoy Global and Corporate Immigration Partners break down the elements of the F-1 student visa program

Each year, over 1 million international students enroll in U.S. colleges and universities. They choose to study in the U.S. for expanded career opportunities, a high-quality education and English proficiency, according to new insight from Forbes. Beyond their educational endeavors, they bring diversity and innovation to their new communities in the U.S., wherever they choose to settle.

While they bring distinct advantages to U.S. colleges and universities, foreign students are equally valuable to the nation’s economy following graduation. As research from 2018 shows, international students contributed $45 billion to the nation’s economy that year. While international students have several choices available for entering the U.S., the F-1 student visa program is an appealing option for individuals who want to work and study.

Knowing the basics of the F-1 visa and the application process will help ensure a smooth hiring process for both employers and prospective employees. Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about the F-1 student visa, prepared in collaboration with Frank Fogelbach at Corporate Immigration Partners. 

Frequently asked questions about the F-1 student visa

What Is the F-1 Student Visa Program?

The F-1 Student Visa Program gives foreign nationals the opportunity to live in the U.S. while they are enrolled full-time as students in an academic program at a U.S. college or university.

Students can seek employment while they are in the U.S. on the F-1 visa, but there are certain limitations and timeframes that must be observed.

What Are the Advantages of the F-1 Visa for Employers?

Hiring skilled foreign workers through the F-1 visa program can help employers fill talent gaps in the U.S., especially for roles requiring a STEM background. According to a report from Envoy Global and New American Economy (NAE), demand for computer-related occupations is growing. In fiscal year (FY) 2020, computer-related occupations accounted for nearly 70% of all foreign labor requests. Demand even increased for those occupations from FY 2019 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can Students With F-1 Status Work?

Students with F-1 visas are only permitted to hold on-campus jobs during their first academic year. After that, they may seek off-campus employment opportunities in one of two categories:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)

The CPT program provides jobs for F-1 students through partnerships between the student’s school and external employers. The outside employer may provide internships, cooperative education or other opportunities for students that are directly integrated into the curriculum.

Students may pursue work in the CPT program during the academic year and outside of the spring and fall semesters. Students must be enrolled on a full-time basis to be eligible for work/study arrangements through the CPT program.

The OPT program provides employment for F-1 students that is directly related to their major. This program is designed to give students real-life experience working in their field of interest as they continue pursuing their studies.

OPT employment before degree completion has a limit of 20 hours per week during the school year, but students may work full-time for their employer at other times of the year. Post degree completion OPT is for either part – or full-time employment after graduation. If the student participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from the student’s post-completion OPT authorization period.  Students are limited to a 12-month employment contract under the OPT program.  A STEM OPT extension may be available for a period up to 24 additional months of employment authorization.

What Is the Process for Hiring F-1 Student Employees?

The process for hiring F-1 student employees consists of multiple steps that involves action from both employers and students. To hire students on an F-1 visa, employers must request documentation that proves the individual is legally permitted to work in the U.S.

Employers will have several record-keeping obligations, such as work authorization (I-9 compliance) and federal, state, and local tax disclosures. Employers are strongly encouraged to consult with appropriate legal counsel to ensure compliance with these and other requirements.

For students in the F-1 program, they must obtain proper work authorization by coordinating with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and their school administrator, which may include obtaining endorsed Forms I-20 from the school administrator and/or Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) from USCIS.

What Is the Duration of Employment While on an F-1 Visa?

F-1 Students who are enrolled in the OPT program can work for up to 12 months, some or all of which may take place before or after graduation. Students who earn a degree in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field may also be eligible for an F-1 visa extension of up to 24 months, if they meet certain requirements.

An additional form of work authorization for F-1 Students is Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT grants F-1 students temporary employment authorizations in part- or full-time work and unpaid or paid internships. The CPT work must be related to the student’s field of study and must occur while the individual is enrolled full-time at a higher education institution. The student can complete their CPT during the academic year or during annual vacations.

What Happens When a Student Graduates?

Students can only work with an F-1 visa throughout the time that they are enrolled in an academic program at a U.S. college or university (inclusive of OPT/STEM OPT eligibility). Employment must be terminated when the student is no longer eligible to work through the F-1 program.

However, students will still have options to continue working in the U.S. even if they are no longer eligible to work in the F-1 program. One available option is to switch from a student visa to another type of work visa, such as an H-1B visa. An H-1B visa will allow a student to work in the U.S. for a total of six years. The H-1B visa is granted initially for three years with the option of a second three-year extension.

Talented foreign workers continue to play an important role in stimulating the U.S. economy and creating a stronger, more dynamic workforce. They are also essential for U.S. graduate schools and universities, which as Envoy’s 2021 Immigration Trends Report shows, are two of the most important recruiting sources for employers. In the years ahead, talented foreign students will likely play an increasingly critical role in filling jobs and classrooms across the U.S.

For more information on hiring students through the F-1 visa program, check out Envoy’s Resources Center.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Frank J. Fogelbach, who is a Supervising Attorney at Corporate Immigration Partners (CIP), one of the two independent U.S. law firms Envoy exclusively works with on the Envoy Platform (the "U.S. Law Firms").   

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.  

 

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