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F-1 and M-1 Students

F-1 students are those enrolled full-time in an accredited academic school with appropriate USCIS authorization. You may employ them off campus during the validity period of their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or in accordance with the terms of the endorsement on the back of a currently valid Form I-20 for part- or full-time curricular practical training (CPT). Determining whether students are authorized to work and, if so, for how long, can be a headache. A good source of information about the student's ability to work is the school's Designated School Official (DSO), the individual authorized by USCIS to handle student-related immigration matters on campus. No EAD will last for more than a year in this context (though it might be renewed). There is also an option called Optional Practical Training (OPT) which has its own sets of stipulations. There is some basic information about CPT and OPT here, but schools will typically have their own more detailed information and application process.

M-1 students are those enrolled full-time in an accredited non-academic school with appropriate USCIS authorization. M-1 students must have an EAD to work and the EAD will last for no longer than six months.

It is crucial these days that F-1 and M-1 students obtain and maintain valid, currently endorsed I-20s or I-20Ms. These are the documents issued by the school that enable the student to qualify for the F-1 or M-1 visa, and that provide evidence of their continued valid status. Further, the endorsements respecting work authorization on these forms will let a potential employer know whether the student is employable without an employment authorization document or only with one.

It can be a challenge for students to change directly to O-1B status, because it is hard to show that they meet the O-1B standards. However, exceptionally gifted students, those who were already performing at a high level and those who win prestigious non-academic competitions, for instance, stand a good chance.  The process for filing a change of status from F-1 or M-1 to O-1B status is no different than filing a change of status from any other non-immigrant classification.

A May 2018 USCIS Policy Memorandum states that, effective August 9, 2018, if any student in F, M, or J status who was admitted to the U.S. for "Duration of Status" ("D/S") and files a petition for a different visa (such as an O or P), USCIS adjudicators are to investigate thoroughly whether or not the student is or ever was a “status violator” or has  an “overstay” on record. This new policy means students should expect far more attention to be paid to possible infringements. Be absolutely certain not to engage in any work (paid or unpaid) that is not expressly permitted by current visa status, and to take care not to remain in the U.S. past the period of authorized study or activity. If filing for a change of status, petitioners should do so far enough in advance so that in event of a denial, the student will not risk overstaying.