The F-1 visa classification is allocated to academic students entering the United States temporarily for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study at an accredited school or university that is approved by the Attorney General.


  • Ability to demonstrate status as a bona fide student with nonimmigrant intent and strong ties to the home country
  • Ability and credentials to qualify for the intended full course of study in a SEVP certified institution
  • Acceptance to study at an established college, university, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the United States approved by the Attorney General
  • Proficiency in the English language and evidence of sufficient funds to attend the university or college to which s/he has been admitted to study and live in the United States for the duration of the program


How We Can Help You

  • We provide assistance in devising a strategy and course of action to increase one’s chance of obtaining the F-1/F-2 visa at the consular post abroad, especially after a previous visa denial.
  • We provide advice on:
    • F-1 status maintenance,
    • Employment issues such as CPT, OPT, STEM extensions,
    • Automatic F-1 status and employment extension based on the cap gap rule, and
    • Other matters related to the F-1.
  • We provide assistance with regard to changing between F-1 primary and F-2 dependent statuses.


Students: Types of Employment Authorization

If you are an F-1 student, you are probably aware that there are restrictions on working. When you initially obtained your SEVIS I-20 form and F-1 visa, you had to show that you could afford to go to school without working, since F-1 students generally are not authorized to engage in regular employment. However, there are some circumstances under which an F-1 student may be employed. Information on all these options can be obtained from the Designated School Official (DSO) at the university or school. In most cases, the DSO must also authorize or recommend the employment of a foreign student. It is advisable to speak to the DSO prior to beginning any employment while in F-1 status.

On-Campus Employment

F-1 students are not allowed to work during their first academic year, with the exception of on-campus work. This can include jobs on campus such as in the library or at certain businesses located on campus that have an educational or business affiliation with the school. When school is in session, work is limited to 20 hours per week. The student can work on campus full time while school is not in session, such as during scheduled summer and winter breaks.

Work Authorization Based on Unanticipated Economic Hardship

As mentioned above, in order to obtain a student visa or student status, most applicants need to establish that they have a source of financial support to pay tuition and other fees and living expenses. However, sometimes unexpected things happen. Events such as currency devaluation, the death or serious illness of a person who was supporting the student, or other unanticipated disasters beyond one’s control, can leave a student without the anticipated support. If the student is able to present documentation of hardship to the satisfaction of the USCIS, then it can be possible to obtain work authorization from USCIS, with the assistance of the DSO.

Internship with an International Organization

Certain international organizations sponsor internship programs and, if the work is within the scope of that sponsorship arrangement, the DSO can place the appropriate work authorization on the student’s Form I-20. The student then applies to USCIS for a work authorization card within 30 days after the DSO endorses the SEVIS I-20. The DSO at your school should be able to provide information as to what organizations would qualify for this program.

Practical Training: “Curricular” or “Optional”

Employment for the purpose of practical training must be related to the course of study and cannot be for English language training. As with all student employment (with the exception of on-campus work), it cannot be undertaken during the first academic year (9 months). However, there are some exceptions to this restriction for certain special graduate programs. There are two types of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). For either type, it is necessary to have the DSO provide a recommendation or authorization for employment.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

CPT is an internship, cooperative education program, or other employment that is an integral part of an established curriculum in the student’s program of study. The duration of CPT can vary depending upon the program. CPT can be authorized by the DSO fro full-time or part-time employment. However, if a student obtains one year or more of full-time CPT, it is not possible to engage in OPT after completion of the school program.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is for employment directly related to the major area of study. OPT must be authorized by the USCIS (Form I-765) upon a recommendation by the student’s DSO. There are two types of OPT – pre-completion and post-completion OPT.

The maximum period for OPT is 12 months. OPT during the study program and after graduation are added together to reach that maximum. For example, if a student had 3 months of OPT while in school, the student can have a maximum of 9 months of OPT after the completion of studies. All post-completion OPT must be finished within 14 months of graduation. In addition, students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs are eligible for a 17-month extension of the regular 12-months of OPT. While the standard 12-months of OPT may be authorized again for a higher educational level, there is a lifetime limitation of the 17-month STEM extension.


December 8, 2014

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued policy guidance specifying the definition of the term “academic year.” as used for SEVP purposes. This is important because many immigration benefits available under the F-1 program are closely tied to how this term is defined.

SEVP Establishes a Uniform Standard

There are numerous references to the academic year within the SEVP regulations, which govern F-1 students. Eligibility for various benefits enjoyed by these students is often tied to the concept of the academic year. Not all colleges and universities that are authorized to participate in the F-1 student program, however, operate under the identical academic calendar structure. To avoid confusion in this area, SEVP has set forth a specific definition in order to create a uniform standard.

Requirements for Academic Year

Under the interim final guidance, effective October 10, 2014, SEVP defines an academic year for an F-1 program of study as a minimum of:

  • Thirty weeks of instructional time for programs offered in credit hours
  • Twenty-six weeks of instructional time for programs offered in clock hours
  • Thirty weeks of instructional time for programs offered that combine credit and clock hours

F-1 Undergraduate Program Requirements

For an F-1 undergraduate program, this corresponds to the amount of instructional time during which a full-time student would complete a minimum of either:

  • Twenty-four semester or trimester credit hours or thirty-six quarter credit hours (for a program measured in credit hours); or
  • Nine hundred clock hours (for programs measured in clock hours)

Standard Systems for an Academic Year

The requirements set forth above generally equate to: two semesters for schools on a semester system, two trimesters for schools on a trimester system, or three quarters for schools on a quarterly system. Other systems are also permitted. Students and advisers at these institutions can determine the needed duration of studies for completion of an academic year under the particular system by carefully reviewing the guidance requirements.


The SEVP guidance is helpful, given the variety of academic calendars that exist within U.S. institutions of higher education. This will help students and school officials to understand when an F-1 student is eligible for benefits such as off-campus employment, and curricular or optional practical training.


Copyright © 2015, The Law Office of Anand K. Verma, Immigration Attorney, Houston TX 77044

Disclaimer : The information provided on this website is of a general nature and may not apply to any particular set of facts or under all circumstances. It should not be construed as legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.