F-1 and M-1 Student Visas

F1 Student Visa

Thousands of international students flock to the United States to pursue a higher education annually. Why wouldn’t they? The U.S. boasts some of the finest colleges and universities in the world. However, international students are not free to enroll in a U.S. school until they receive a student visa. Obtaining a student visa to study in the U.S. is an arduous process. A student must overcome numerous bureaucratic hurdles before receiving permission to study in the U.S.

Every person who travels to the United States from another country to study here must have a student visa issued by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Office. A student visa allows the individual to live in the U.S. while pursuing an education exclusively. Therefore, a student visa is not a work permit. In fact, working in the U.S. while here on a student visa without strict adherence to the employment rules could allow the government to revoke the student visa.

What is a Student Visa?

Student visas confer non-immigration status to the holder. Accordingly, a student visa does not grant automatic entry into the country. Instead, a visa grants the holder permission to travel to a port of entry. An immigration agent will then admit or deny entry to the student visa holder. It is important to note that the U.S. Department of State grants student visas. However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USICS) monitors a student’s stay while in the country.

All applicants must satisfy the following minimum requirements to enter the U.S. on a student visa. They are:

  • Full-time enrollment in an academic, vocational, or language-training program;
  • The Student and Exchange Visitors Program must approve your school for student visa holders;
  • Exhibit proficiency in English or document enrollment in courses designed to teach English;
  • Have access to sufficient funds for the entire stay in the U.S.; and
  • Have a residence in another country with no intent to relinquish an interest in the home.


The student must have a document called Form I-20, which certifies eligibility to obtain non-immigrant status as a student. A Designated School Official (DSO) from the school will issue the I-20 form. The student can then apply for a student visa through their local U.S. Embassy or Consular Office after receiving this form.

Categories of Student Visas

The U.S. Department of State recognizes two categories of student visas. They are “F-1” visas and “M-1” visas. The Department of State will issue F-1 visas for students who enroll full-time in a fully accredited:

  • College or university,
  • High School,
  • Seminary,
  • Private elementary school,
  • Conservatory, or
  • Many other academic institutions including language training programs.


The government issues M-1 visas to students in vocational or other qualifying non-academic programs.

A student’s family members may join the student in the U.S. The Department of State grants family members F-2 or M-2 visas if the family members meet the strict visa requirements.

Can a Student Visa Holder Work?

The answer to that question is not straight forward. A student visa only allows people to attend school in the U.S. Notwithstanding, a student visa holder can work, provided they comply with the strict employment requirements imposed on student visa holders. Anyone interested in working while in the U.S. on a student visa must confirm their work eligibility and obtain the necessary authorization. Failing to adhere to these rules could lead to visa revocation and removal from the U.S.

Student visa holders cannot work during their first academic year in the U.S. except at certain on-campus jobs. Permitted on-campus work — often called “work-study jobs — includes working at the student bookstore or cafeteria. A student may work off-campus as long as the work is integral to the student’s course of study and the obtain the required authorization. However, the student cannot work longer than 20 hours per week.

What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional practical training (OPT) is short-term employment that directly relates to the student visa holder’s studies. An F-1 visa holder may receive up to 12 months of OPT employment before completing their course of study (pre-completion). Additionally, a student visa holder can work after completing their course of study (post-completion). However, the government will deduct the student time in pre-completion work from post-completion work so that the total OPT time is no longer than 12 months. The work can either be part-time or full-time. Notwithstanding, a student visa holder may not participate in an OPT work program until completing one academic year. Additionally, an M-1 visa holder cannot work in an OPT program until completing all training courses.

Students enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) program may be eligible for 24 months of post-completion OPT work authorization. To qualify, the F-1 visa holder must have a degree from a STEM-designated degree list and work for an employer who uses the government’s E-Verify program.

Can an F-1 Visa Holder Participate in an Internship Program Through Their School?

Internships and externships fall under the category of work permitted by the USCIS. The USCIS designates internships and externships as Curricular Practical Training (CPT) The student must complete their first academic year before enrolling for a CPT class. Additionally, the student must have current F-1 status and be in good standing with the school. Good standing means that undergraduate students have at least a 2.0-grade point average or a 3.0-grade point average if enrolled in post-graduate studies.

An F-1 visa holder must work closely with their DSO to ensure compliance with the program. Otherwise, the student may lose their F-1 visa.

What Happens if the Student Experiences a Financial Hardship?

The USCIS allows a student to work at an off-campus job provided that the student demonstrates financial hardship. The student will be ineligible to apply for relief if they caused the financial hardship. Typically, financial hardships entail a loss of funding from a benefactor, uninsured medical expenses, unanticipated and stark increases in tuition and fees, or a loss of financial aid from the school.

The student visa holder must satisfy several other conditions as well. The student has to request authorization to work by filing USCIS Form I-765. The authorization is valid for one year, and the student has to reapply every year. Additionally, the DSO must recommend the student for full-time employment. The student must remain enrolled in a full course load. Moreover, the student cannot work more than 20 hours per week while school unless school is not in session.

Can the Government Revoke Your Student Visa for Violating the Work Rules?

Living in the U.S. with a student visa is a tremendous privilege. Therefore, the student must ensure compliance with all regulations to avoid losing non-immigration status. Even the slightest violation could lead to removal from the U.S., including violating the student visa work rules.

Violating the student visa work rules is not the only reason the government could revoke a student visa. Additional grounds for revocation include:

  • Dropping out of school;
  • Failing to maintain a full course load without sufficient excuse;
  • Expulsion from school;
  • Transferring to another college or university before accumulating the proper permission;
  • Committing a crime that would otherwise warrant removal from the U.S.; and
  • Staying in the U.S. for more than 60 days after course completion.


Students can reapply for an F-1 or M-1 visa after cancellation or revocation.

Tips for Remaining Compliant with Student Visa Rules

Student visa holders bear the responsibility to ensure compliance with the rules. Notwithstanding, the student can ask for help. A foreign student should remain in close communication with their school’s DSO. Open lines of communication with the DSO will help avoid compliance issues that could lead to removal from the country. To the greatest extent possible, the student should confirm that their school complies with federal regulations as well. Referring any questions to a qualified immigration attorney with experience representing student visa holders can also help alleviate the compliance issues.

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