Individuals wishing to travel to the United States to attend University can enter the U.S. under a student visa. These visas are commonly granted to individuals looking to further their education at a prestigious university or a university that offers a unique subject matter, although there are types of visas for other educational programs. Student visas are valid for the duration of the individual’s study program. Select student visas allow the individual to also work while they are enrolled in school. Although student visas are only temporary, they can be used as a stepping stone to getting a green card if so desired.
Common Types of Student Visas
- M-1 Visa: For student travelers interested in trade or vocational schools, the M-1 visa is their best option. Those on an M-1 visa, however, are not allowed to work while in the States.
- J-1 Visa: This visa is given to individuals looking to study while working in their field of career interest. This visa is commonly obtained by interns, trainees, medical researchers, au pairs, or those in a similar field. J-1 visa cannot become permanent residents in the U.S., change their status in the U.S., or petition for a visa for others until they return to their home country (or country of last permanent residence) for at least two years.
- F-1 Visa: This visa is granted to those wishing to further their academic studies or attend language training programs. F-1 visa holders must have been accepted into a college, university, or vocational school and be enrolled as a full-time student. Although these are not work visas, F-1 visa students may be eligible for restricted work authorization during and/or after completion of their education through CPT, OPT, or STEM OPT.
Curricular Practical Training, or CPT, is offered to F-1 Visa students after they complete their first year of study. This allows the student to take part in work-study at their university. CPT can be part- or full-time work. If a student works full-time for the authorized period under CPT, then they will be ineligible for working under OPT.
Optional Practical Training, or OPT, allows F-1 Visa students to work in a field related to their study off-campus while still working towards their degree. They can work full time for a predetermined number of months. In the past, it has looked like this, however, these authorized periods of employment are adjusted from time to time.
- Full-time employment for 12 months as an undergraduate,
- Full-time employment for 12 months as a graduate, and
- Full-time employment for 12 months as a post-graduate.
This work option is for students who have graduated with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics. STEM OPT allows an extension of working for an additional 24 months, you should check for the most current period of authorization. In general, between the 12 months of post-graduate work and the additional 24 months of STEM OPT, F-1 visa students with qualifying degrees can work a total of 36 months.