What Is The F-1 Visa?

Last Updated on March 15, 2024

What Is The F-1 Visa?

International students with the F-1 (Academic Student) visa can enter the U.S. as full-time students. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), these students must enroll in a program or course of study that results in a diploma, degree or certificate. Additionally, the school must receive authorization from the U.S. government to accept international students.

F-1 Visa Requirements

USCIS says individuals must meet the following criteria to enter the F-1 category:

  • Must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program or a vocational program.
  • Must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution.
  • Must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency.
  • Must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study.
  • Must maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up.

Additionally, the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement must approve the school.

Can I Work on an F-1 Visa?

F-1 students cannot work off-campus during their first academic year. After this first year, however, F-1 students have two types of off-campus employment options while currently enrolled at school. Meanwhile, STEM OPT is an additional post-graduate work authorization option for certain students. The types of off-campus employment are:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) (pre-completion)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) OPT (post-completion)

What Is Curricular Practical Training (CPT)?

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is work authorization for temporary practical training for students enrolled in higher education studies and currently pursuing their degrees. The temporary practical training can take place during the academic year while a student enrolls full-time at a higher education institution and during annual vacations.

CPT can be part- or full-time, and it includes employment like unpaid and paid internships. However, the CPT must be related to the student’s field of study as indicated on the original Form I-20.

What Is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows students to gain real-life experience for a minimum period of one year as they train and work in a field related to their area of study.

OPT is available for all international F-1 student visa holders either while pursuing their studies or after graduating from a higher education institution in the U.S.


Certain F-1 visa holders graduating with a degree in a STEM field are eligible to apply for the STEM OPT extension. This extension is good for 24 months and permits graduates to train and work in the U.S. in their field of study for up to an additional two years.

For additional information on the F-1, including future plans and future requirements, we recommend you speak to your immigration attorney.

F-1 Visa Additional Information

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. We created a list of frequently asked questions about the F-1 student visa, prepared in collaboration with Frank Fogelbach at Corporate Immigration Partners.

Envoy Global can help you navigate F-1 student visa requirements and other immigration matters by combining top immigration law firms and a robust technology platform. If you’re seeking to simplify your company’s immigration program, contact us to learn more.

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Envoy is pleased to provide you with this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Corporate Immigration Partners, P.C., a U.S. law firm who provides services through the Envoy Platform (the “U.S. Law Firm”).  

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. Envoy is not a law firm, and does not provide legal advice. If you would like guidance on how this information may impact your particular situation and you are a client of the U.S. Law Firm, consult your attorney. If you are not a client of the U.S. Law Firm working with Envoy, consult another qualified professional. This website does not create an attorney-client relationship with the U.S. Law Firm.