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Comprehensive Immigration Solutions
Students and Cultural Exchange Visitors
Several categories of student visas are available for foreign nationals who wish to pursue academic or cultural studies in approved programs throughout the U.S. Programs are available for secondary students as well as college or university students.
Agarwal Law Group provides assistance in determining the most appropriate visa category for prospective students and advises on requirements for maintenance, change, and extension of student status.
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An F-1 visa allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. to engage in academic study. Academic programs can include elementary school, middle school, high school, college, university, seminary, and conservatory programs.
Qualifying for F-1 Status
To qualify for F-1 status, the applicant must demonstrate that:
- he or she is enrolled in an academic education program;
- the institution is approved by DHS for attendance by foreign students;
- he or she is enrolled in a full course of study at the school (part-time study is permitted for F-3 border commuter students from Mexico and Canada);
- he or she is proficient in English or is enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
- he or she has sufficient funds available to cover expenses; and
- he or she intends to stay in the U.S. temporarily.
F-1 Student Employment
Upon completion of their first academic year, F-1 students may engage in 3 types of off-campus employment.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CPT allows students to accept paid employment while gaining real world experience relevant to their field of study. To qualify as CPT, the work performed must be an integral part of the curriculum of the student’s academic program.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT): OPT allows students to accept paid employment while gaining real world experience relevant to their field of study. OPT is not an integral part of the curriculum of the student’s academic program. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) may authorize an F-1 academic student to have up to 12 months of OPT following completion of their degree program.
- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) Extension: The STEM OPT Extension allows eligible F-1 academic students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to apply for a one-time 24-month extension of OPT. Students with a STEM OPT Extension may only work for employers enrolled in E-Verify. Students and their prospective employers must also complete and comply with the terms of the Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, which includes not only a detailed training curriculum for the student, but also certain attestations by the employer as well as assessment and reporting requirements.
The Cap-Gap: Change of Status for F-1 Students to H-1B
If an F-1 student is graduating and seeking to change to H-1B status, they will likely be eligible for an extension of their work authorization through September 30 of the fiscal year for which H-1B status is being requested. This extension will allow F-1 students whose OPT will expire before the start date of a petition filed under the H-1B cap to remain in the U.S.
The spouse of an F-1 applicant and children under age 21 may enter the U.S. in F-2 dependent status.
The J-1 visa allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. as participants in an exchange visitor program in order to increase cultural awareness between the U.S. and people of other countries.
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) oversees and approves programs to administer the J-1 exchange visas. The J-1 visa is used for students, short-term scholars, trainees, interns, student interns, teachers, research scholars, specialists, international visitors, and camp counselors. 3 other types of programs recognized by DOS include an exchange program for foreign doctors undertaking U.S. internships or residencies, summer work/travel programs for students, and au pair exchange programs for persons seeking entry to provide limited child care services to host families while attending post-secondary courses.
Applicants must demonstrate that they intend to return to their home country upon completion of the J-1 program. The applicant must also prove that he or she has sufficient funds to cover expenses or has made other arrangements to provide for expenses, and that he or she has English proficiency unless the sponsoring organization accepts the lack of English proficiency.
The duration of the J-1 program varies from a few weeks to several years, depending on the program for which the visa is issued. Upon completion of the program, J-1 visa holders may be subject to a requirement that they return to their home country, unless they qualify for a waiver.
The spouse and minor children under age 21 of a J-1 applicant may enter the U.S. in J-2 dependent status. J-2 spouses may apply to the USCIS for an open-market work permit upon arrival to the U.S.
The M-1 visa allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to participate in vocational study or in nonacademic programs at an educational institution approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
M-1 students are admitted to the U.S. for the full length of their vocational course of study, plus 30 days or for a period of 1 year (whichever is less). The M-1 student can apply for an extension of stay if his or her course of study lasts for more than one year.
The spouse and children under age 21 may accompany the M-1 applicant in M-2 dependent status. M-2 dependents are not authorized to work during their stay.
The Q visa allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for business training as part of an international cultural exchange program. The designated program must provide practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the country of the individual’s nationality. The foreign national must also receive the same wages and working conditions as U.S. workers.
Q-1 applicants must be at least 18 years old and must demonstrate an intent to return to their home country. The Q-1 applicant must also be qualified to perform the service or labor or receive the type of training stated in the petition, and be able to communicate effectively about the cultural attributes of his or her country of nationality to the American public.
The Q-1 applicant is admitted to the U.S. for the duration of the approved international cultural exchange program or 15 months, whichever is shorter.
No provision has been made for the admission of the spouse or children of a Q-1 applicant. Immediate family members of Q-1 applicants may seek admission in the B-2 (Tourist) category.
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