Approximately 1.2 million international students are enrolled in various kinds of study abroad programs in the United States (e.g., K-12, college, university, vocational, etc.), which has many of the world’s best educational institutions. Foreign nationals who want to live in America in order to attend full-time educational programs will need to receive a Student Visa to the USA. There are different sub-types of student visas, depending on what kind of educational program an international student will be attending in the United States. The F-1 Student Visa is for international students who will be enrolled full-time at a university, college, seminary, conservatory, high school, private elementary school, language training program, or other qualifying academic institution in the USA. The F-3 Visa is designed for academic commuter students who are citizens of Canada or Mexico. A foreign student who wants to attend a vocational school or another authorized non-academic institution (with the exception of language training programs) should apply for the M-1 Student Visa to the USA. The M-3 Student Visa is for academic commuter students who are citizens of Canada or Mexico. In 2018, there were 389,579 international students who were issued the F-Visa and 9,683 foreign students who were granted the M-Visa to the USA.
In general, the international student must first receive a Letter of Acceptance to enroll full-time at an educational institution in the United States that is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and then apply for the relevant Student Visa. The spouse and/or unmarried children under 21 years of age who will be living in America with an international student must also register with SEVIS and will need to obtain the relevant F-2 Visa or M-2 Visa for family members of foreign students. An international student who wants to study abroad in the USA must have proficient English language skills or attend an approved language training program to gain proficiency in the English language. Foreign students will also need to have adequate financial resources to pay for their studies and other expenses while living in America. There are, of course, additional requirements and procedures that international students must satisfy.
Foreign students with an F-1 Student Visa are not permitted to work off-campus during the first year of their study abroad program in the USA, but they may be able to work on-campus according to certain conditions. During the second year of their study abroad program in the United States, qualifying international students may be able to work off-campus in order to receive Curricular Practical Training (CPT); Optional Practical Training (OPT); or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT). International students with the M-1 Student Visa may be allowed to work off-campus to receive practical training related to their studies after they complete their vocational program. A Designated School Official must approve in advance any off-campus work in the USA conducted by foreign students possessing F-1 or M-1 student visas and the employment must be related to their field of study in the United States. International students should never work in the USA unless they have legal authorization and need to comply with the terms of their Student Visa so they don’t jeopardize opportunities they might have to live in America in the future.