Skip to main content

USCIS Guidance Provides Clarity for F and M Student Visa Holders

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently issued comprehensive policy guidance concerning F and M student nonimmigrant classifications, aiming to provide clarity on various aspects of student visas. It covers topics such as employment authorization, change of status, extension of stay, and reinstatement of status for F and M students and their dependents. This policy guidance consolidates existing policies, offering valuable information for international students and educational institutions in the United States. To read the USCIS policy guidance, visit here.

F and M Nonimmigrant Classifications

The nonimmigrant academic student (F-1) classification allows a noncitizen to enter the United States as a full-time student at a college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution, or in a language training program. The nonimmigrant vocational student (M-1) classification includes students in established vocational or other recognized nonacademic programs, other than language training programs.

Key Highlights of the USCIS Guidance

  1. Foreign Residence Requirement: The policy guidance emphasizes that F and M students must maintain a foreign residence that they do not intend to abandon. However, it clarifies that such students may be the beneficiary of a permanent labor certification application or immigrant visa petition and may still be able to demonstrate their intention to depart after a temporary period of stay. This nuanced approach recognizes the potential for temporary stays even in the context of pursuing long-term career goals.
  2. Extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for STEM Degrees: The policy provides clarity on the employment prospects for F students seeking an extension of optional practical training (OPT) based on degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Importantly, the guidance allows these students to be employed by startup companies, provided that the employer adheres to the training plan requirements, remains in good standing with E-Verify, and offers compensation comparable to that of similarly situated U.S. workers, among other requirements.
  3. Employment Authorization, Change of Status, and Reinstatement: The policy guidance addresses a range of scenarios related to employment authorization, change of status, and reinstatement for F and M students. By consolidating and clarifying existing policies, the guidance aims to streamline the application processes and provide a clear framework for students and institutions alike.
  4. Practical Training, School Transfers, and On- and Off-Campus Employment: The policy guidance delves into practical training opportunities, school transfers, and on- and off-campus employment for F and M students. By offering clear guidelines in these areas, the USCIS aims to enhance the overall experience for international students while maintaining compliance with immigration regulations.

The USCIS’s issuance of updated policy guidance for F and M student nonimmigrant classifications is a positive development that addresses the complexities and uncertainties often faced by international students and educational institutions. By consolidating and clarifying existing policies, this guidance aims to foster a more transparent and predictable environment for those navigating the various aspects of student visas.

The emphasis on flexibility for STEM degree holders and recognition of the evolving nature of work, such as employment with startup companies, reflects a pragmatic approach to the changing landscape of education and employment in the United States. As international students contribute significantly to the academic and cultural fabric of the country, these clarifications are expected to create a more welcoming and supportive environment for their educational journeys in the United States. 

If you have any questions about the F and M student nonimmigrant classifications, contact our office today to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys!