Rules that govern Student Visas
The F-1 Visa allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
Optional Practical Training
F-1 students now become eligible for a new one-year period of post completion optional practical training (“OPT”) when a student changes to a higher educational level. Under the new rules, a student could receive one year of OPT upon completing a Bachelors, then get an additional one year OPT for Masters, and then, if the student newly enrolls in a Doctoral program, the F-1 can get a third year of post completion OPT once the Ph.D. is completed.
Request for Practical Training
The new rule specifies that post completion OPT must be requested prior to the completion of the course requirements or prior to the completion of the course of study. For students requesting summer vacation OPT after the first year of study, the application to the BCIS (after school approval of the student’s request for OPT) may be made up to 90 days prior to the completion of the first academic year.
OPT Procedures under SEVIS
The 2003 rule establishes that, despite the electronic SEVIS records, and the school’s obligation to verify work and home addresses during OPT as well as dates of OPT in the Department of Homeland Security’s SEVIS records, an EAD card still must be requested and obtained before OPT can commence.
A student in OPT remains in F-1 status and therefore the school is required to update in SEVIS any name, address or employment changes during OPT. The term “employment changes” should not be construed to mean that the student must first get permission from the school or INS prior to changing OPT jobs or employers
The new rule states that F-2 dependents may not be enrolled full-time in a degree granting course of post-secondary study. F-2 dependents may be enrolled in elementary and secondary school or any avocational or recreational studies. There is no grandfathering of current F-2s enrolled in college, and all such F-2s must apply for a change of status to F-1 by March 11, 2003.
Name and Address Registration
The address change registration required by INA 265 (8 CFR 265.1) is satisfied by SEVIS notification within 10 days (even though the school is not required to update SEVIS data until 21 days after the change), but address changes for students registered under Special Registration (NSEERS) still must be filed separately on the Special AR-11, in addition to SEVIS.
SEVIS F-1 Obligations
The school must report the following within 21 days: failure to maintain F-1 status or complete educational program, change in address or name, graduation early or prior to program end date on SEVIS I-20, disciplinary action taken by school. Each semester and no later than 30 days after the deadline for class registration, schools must report the following: whether the F-1 student has enrolled, identification of any F-1 student who has dropped below a full course of study without authorization, the current address of the F-1 student.
The new rule implements 641(c)(2) of IIRIRA waiving FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) for purposes of the school information that is required to be collected under 214.3(g).
F-1 students in possession of a valid I-20 Certificate of Eligibility may still utilize such document to be admitted to the U.S. prior to August 1, 2003, as long as the I-20 form was issued prior to January 30, 2003. All F-1 students must be entered into SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and issued SEVIS I-20s no later than August 1, 2003. Students may be admitted under the new rule no more than 30 days prior to the start of classes. Formerly, the student could be admitted 60 days prior to the start date.
Reinstatement of Status
The new rule changes the legal standards for applications for reinstatement of student status. Now, the student must apply for reinstatement not more than 5 months after being out of status. Or, if the application is outside of the 5-month limit, the student must establish that failure to timely file was the result of exceptional circumstances. To have a reinstatement approved, the student must show either that the violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control or that the violation relates to a reduction in the student’s course load that would have been within a Designated School Official’s power to authorize and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.
Students who have completed their course of study and any authorized practical training have a 60-day grace period after expiration of F-1 status. The 60 days run from the end date of the completion of the course of study or the end date of any authorized practical training, whichever is later. F-1 students who obtain authorization from their school to withdraw from school receive a 15-day grace period. Under the new rules, grace periods explicitly do not apply in any other circumstance.
Reduced Course Load
The new rule establishes that a reduced course load is only acceptable to maintain F-1 status if it is subject to prior approval by the school and includes at least six semester or quarter hours, or half the clock hours required for a full course of study. A reduced course load for less than half time is only acceptable for defined medical reasons (214.2(f)(6)(iii)(B)) or for the final term of study if the school determines that fewer courses are needed to complete the course of study (214.2(f)(6)(iii)(C)).
Program Completion Date
The new rule eliminates the ability of schools to allow a grace period of up to one year to the program completion date.
The new rule requires that program extension must be requested by the student prior to the end date on the I-20. Any student who is unable to complete the educational program before the end date on the I-20, and does not request a program extension prior to the end date on the I-20, is out of status.
On Campus Employment
The new rule establishes that F-1 students may not work on-campus more than 30 days prior to the actual start date of classes, for those F-1s making their first F-1 entry to the U.S. Under the new rule, transferring F-1s cannot work on-campus until the receiving school has SEVIS jurisdiction over the student’s SEVIS records.
Wage and Labor Attestation Program
The final rule confirms that the wage and labor attestation pilot program is now defunct by removing references to it in the regulations.