International Students and Employment in the United States

Foreigners who seek to study as full-time students in the U.S. need to get student visas. U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues two types of non-immigrant visas to international students – the F visas and M visas.

Foreign students need to meet a variety of requirements to enter in the F-1 student visa or M-1 student visa category. To qualify, they must be enrolled in academic educational programs, vocational programs or in language training programs. The Student and Exchange Visitors Program must have approved the schools in which they have enrolled.

These visas are available only to the internationals students who seek to study in the U.S. as full-time students and so they must be enrolled as full-time students at approved institutions. These students must be proficient in English and must be capable of financially supporting themselves. Moreover, they must have family ties abroad and they need to maintain a residence abroad.

F-1 Student Visa

F-1 student visas are for academic students. With F-1 visas, international students can enter into the U.S. as full-time students. These visas allow them to enroll in accredited colleges, seminaries, elementary schools, universities and in other academic institutions. They can also enroll in language training programs. The institutions in which they enroll must be accredited by the U.S. government.

M-1 Student Visa

These visas allow the international students to enroll in vocational or in non-academic programs. Those who hold these visas cannot enroll in language training programs.

Employment for International Students

Though off-campus employment is not available to students who hold F-1 non-immigrant visas during the first year of their studies, they may be permitted to work on-campus, in certain circumstances. However, they can work off-campus after the first academic year. They can engage in the following types of off-campus employment after one year of study.

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

This does not apply to the M-1 students. M visa holders cannot engage in practical training unless they complete their studies. F-1 and M-1 students who engage in off-campus employment need to remember that their employment must be related to the courses they pursue.