Every year, hundreds of thousands of international students attend American colleges, universities, and other schools with temporary student visas. According to the Institute of International Education, more than 886,000 international students were enrolled in the U.S. during the 2013-14 academic year. About half that number, 450,000 international students, studied in the U.S. during the 1993-94 school year. As the number of international students applying to and enrolling in American schools continues to climb, however, the student visa system is not keeping up with the demand or the realities of life for these students. It is a critical and under-appreciated area of need in the immigration system.
Types of Student Visas
Several types of nonimmigrant visas are available for people traveling to the U.S. for study. The visa holder typically must return to their home country when their visa expires, which usually occurs soon after they graduate or their program ends.
– The F-1 visa is available to full-time students at American colleges and universities. Spouses and children may accompany them with F-2 visas. “Border commuters,” who live in Canada or Mexico but attend school in the U.S., may enter the country with an F-3 visa. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(F), 1184(l); 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f).
– The J-1 visa is available to participants in “exchange programs” involving professional training, along with spouses and minor children. 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(J), 1182(j); 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(j).
– Students who want to attend a vocational or technical school in the U.S. may do so with an M-1 visa. M-2 and M-3 visas are available for dependents and border commuters, respectively. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(M), 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(m).
– People with B-2 visitor visas may enroll in short courses of study for recreation, provided that they do not provide academic credit towards a degree. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(B), 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(b)(7).
Restrictions on Work
Student visas do not confer any work authorization. F-1 visa holders may work up to 20 hours per week on campus. F-1 and M-1 visa holders may obtain general work authorization if they submit Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization, and pay the $380 filing fee.
Certain F-1 visa holders may qualify for work related to their field of study, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). The usual period of approved OPT is 12 months, but graduates of STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) may be able to extend that to a total of 29 months. 73 Fed. Reg. 18944 (Apr. 8, 2008).
Expiration of Visa After Graduation
Holders of F-1, J-1, and M-1 visas must typically leave the U.S. once they complete their studies, or when their period of approved OPT ends. Some student visas allow a 60-day “grace period” before the visa holder is required to leave. Any student who wants to stay in the U.S. for a job after graduation must apply for an entirely different type of visa, often from outside the country.
Many J-1 visa holders are barred from re-entering the U.S. for two years after they depart. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(e).
Intersection with International Politics
The many complex rules of the student visa system must also contend with U.S. foreign policy. International students who do everything exactly right may still find themselves unable to travel to the U.S. because of international politics, as students from countries like Iran have learned in recent years.
Green card attorney Samuel C. Berger represents immigrants who reside in New Jersey or would like to come to this area, as well as their families and their employers. Contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can best help you.
More Blog Posts:
State Department May Deny Visa Renewals for Many Reasons, Including Mere Allegations of Illegal Conduct, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 10, 2015
Controversy Surrounds the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa “Summer Work Travel” Program, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2012
Immigration Authorities Offer Temporary Protected Status, Employment Authorization to Syrians Due to Military Conflict, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2012