Student and Exchange Visas
The United States makes visas are available to students (F-1 and M visas) and participants in exchange programs (J-1 visas). Varying rights and obligations attach to the different types of visas. For instance, recipients of certain types of student visas are allowed to work for a certain period of time while recipients of certain exchange visas are required to return to their country of origin for two years after their visa expires. For this reason, it is important that each visa applicant carefully consider his / her visa options.
How We Can Help
We help our clients select the type of visa that is appropriate to their circumstances and guide them through the petition process. Upon expiration of student or exchange program visas, we can counsel our clients regarding changes in their visa status. We can also provide services with respect to the CPT and OPT process and waivers of the two-year home stay requirement for J-1 visa holders. In addition to our legal expertise, our language skills in Spanish and Portuguese make us particularly helpful to our Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese clients.
CPT and OPT
F-1 visa recipients may apply to work in the United States in forms of employment which provide practical training. There are two forms of practical training available to F-visa recipients: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).
Employment pursuant to CPT authorization must relate to a student’s major field of study and be an integral part of the student’s study program curriculum. Internships and cooperative education programs are examples of CPT-eligible forms of employment. There is no limit on the amount of CPT part-time work a student may engage in. However, a student who performs full-time CPT work for 12 months or longer loses eligibility to perform OPT work (see below).
Employment pursuant to OPT authorization is broader and need only relate to a student’s major field of study. A student may apply for 12 months of OPT at each educational level (e.g. 12 months after bachelor’s degree and 12 months after master’s degree). In addition, under certain circumstances, students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields may qualify for an additional 24 months of OPT.
Click on the following link for a bulletin on the new OPT rules for STEM students.
Family-based Immigration (Permanent Residency)
The type of visa available to students depends on each student’s intended course of study and the type of school the student plans to attend. Students may avail themselves of one of the following visa categories:
F-1: Academic Students - Available to students who intend to attend university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another academic institution, including a language training program;
M: Vocational Students – Vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program.
Applicants for a student visa must first apply to, and be accepted by, a school approved by the U.S. government for participation in the F-1 and M student visa programs. Only after acceptance may students apply for an F-1 or M visa.
Exchange visas (J-1 visas) are available for those foreign nationals approved to participate in certain exchange visitor programs in the U.S. Exchange visitor categories include:
College and university exchange students;
High school (secondary school) students;
Physicians who come to the United States to participate in graduate medical education programs or training at accredited U.S. medical schools;
Professors and research scholars;
Short-term scholars (e.g. professors who travel to the United States on a short-term visit to lecture, consult or train at research institutions, museums or libraries);
Specialists in a field of specialized knowledge or skills;
Trainees who come to the U.S. to receive training in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field.
Under certain conditions, persons granted a J-1 visa are required to return to their home country for two years at the end of their exchange visitor program. This requirement is stringent and must be met by exchange visitors to whom it applies before they can change or adjust their immigration status. The two-year home country stay requirement may be waived by the U.S. government under the following limited circumstances: (i) the exchange visitor’s home country issues a “No Objection Statement” indicating that it has no objection to the waiver of the requirement; (ii) an interested U.S. federal government agency requests a waiver; (iii) the exchange visitor indicates a fear of persecution in his/her home country based on race, religion or political opinion; (iv) the exchange visitor can demonstrate extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child; or (v) certain circumstances in which a state public health department requests a waiver for foreign medical graduates.