Students and Employment

If you would like to study as a full-time student in the United States, you will need a student visa. There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. These visas are commonly known as the F and M visas.

You may enter in the F-1 or M-1 visa category provided you meet the following criteria:

  • You must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program
  • Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
  • You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution
  • You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
  • You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study
  • You must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up.

Generally, the U.S. Consular Office has total discretion to grant or deny the visa.  Foreign students who wish to obtain an F-1 visa must plan to pursue a full course of study in an approved college, university, seminary, conservatory, academia high school, private elementary school, other academic institution, and/or language training program in the United States.

F-1 status is a nonimmigrant status issued by the USCIS  to the alien student who is pursuing studies in the U.S. To obtain the F-1 status, an alien who is outside the US needs to first apply for an F-1 visa at their local US Consulate abroad. On the day that the alien is admitted into the U.S. on an approved F-1 visa, he/she becomes an F-1 status holder. For those who are already in the United States on another non-immigrant status, such as B-1/B-2, H-1, etc., they may apply to change to F-1 status in the U.S. or outside the U.S. through Third Country Visa processing. (For aliens who are subject to the J-1 two-year foreign residency requirement, the only option for change of status is via Third Country Visa processing.)

The spouse and/or unmarried, minor children of F-1 holders are eligible to come to the United States on an F-2 Visa, if they are able to demonstrate that the F-1 student has been admitted and is, or will be within 30 days, enrolled in a full course of study, or engaged in approved practical training following completion of studies. F-2 Visa holders are considered the dependents of F-1 students; furthermore, F-2 holders must be issued an individual SEVIS Form I-20 and may remain in the U.S. as long as the principal F-1 student maintains valid status.

Canadian and Mexican Commuter Students

In addition to the F-1 and F-2 visas, there is also a visa subcategory that applies to commuter students who wish to study in the U.S. The F-3 visa is designated to Canadian and Mexican citizens who wish to come to the United States to study at a community/junior college, vocational, or other non-academic institution that is located within 75 miles of a U.S. land border, as long as they do not reside in the U.S. The student must maintain an actual residence and place of abode in his/her country of nationality, and seek admission into the United States at a land border port-of-entry. (Special note: these rules do not apply to a national of Canada or Mexico who is: (1) residing in the United States as an F-1 student who is attending an approved school, or (B) enrolled in a full course of study.

M-1 Student Visa

The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.


F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. There are various programs available for F-1 students to seek off-campus employment, after the first academic year. F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment after they have been studying for one academic year. These three types of employment are:

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

M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.

For both F-1 and M-1 students, any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.