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If an individual wants to pursue full-time academic or vocational studies in the United States, you may be eligible for one of two nonimmigrant student categories.  


The “F” category is for academic students and the “M” is for vocational students. 


F-1 - Students for academic studies


The F-1 status allows an individual to come to the U.S. in order to attend an academic program as a full-time student.  A student is issued Form I-20 by the sponsoring school, and applies for the F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. It is also possible to change to F-1 status from another nonimmigrant status by filing a change of status application with USCIS. F-1 students are allowed to remain in the U.S. for the time period required to finish their educational program, as indicated by the school in Form I-20. 


Although primary purpose of the F-1 visa is to study in the U.S., F-1 students may be entitled to work authorization in the form of 'practical training'.


Enrolled F-1 students, as well as recently graduated foreign students, may be eligible to engage in "practical training" in their field of study. 


There are two types of Practical Training:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) -  Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is issued to students who are currently enrolled on a full-time basis at an approved educational institution to obtain work experience in their field of study as part of their course program. This is defined as an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. The student usually receives academic credit for this training.   

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) - Post completion Employment auuthorization Optional Practical Training (OPT) is granted to students who wish to gain practical work experience in their field of study. OPT is granted for a maximum of 12 months throughout the student's academic career and may be undertaken during school vacations, during the school year (up to 20 hours per week), or after completion of the course of study. 

  • STEM OPT - USCIS also permits an additional 17 month extension of OPT for students with a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field. (Effective May 10, 2016 the additional extension is being raised to 24 months but will be available only to students of accredited educational instituitions).


Cap Gap - An F-1 student, who is the beneficiary of a pending or approved  H-1B change of status petition is also accorded an additional period of employment authorization to cover the period of time when the EAD expires and when the H-1B petition will become effective. A student relying on “cap gap” employment authorization should not depart the U.S., even for a brief vacation, during the cap gap period. 


Spouse amd unmarried children under the age of 21 years of F-1 students may obtain F-2 status, which allows the dependents to accompany the F-1 student to the U.S. F-2 dependents however, are not allowed to work authorization for the dependent.



M-1 Student Visa


The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.


Vocational students in M-1 nonimmigrant status may only accept employment if it is part of a practical training program after completion of their course of study. 


Spouse amd unmarried children under the age of 21 years of M-1 students may obtain M-2 status, which allows the dependents to accompany the M-1 student to the U.S. M-2 dependents however, are not allowed to work authorization for the dependent.


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