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Student Visas & Employment
There are two non-immigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. These visas are commonly known as the F and M visas.
You may enter in the F-1 or M-1 visa category provided you meet the following criteria:
- You must be enrolled in an "academic" educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program. Tennessee Wesleyan College is one such academic educational program.
- You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency.
- You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study here at Tennessee Wesleyan College.
- You must maintain a residence abroad in your home country which you have no intention of giving up.
F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate, and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
M-1 Student Visa
The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other non-academic programs, other than language training.
International Students and Employment
F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. After the first academic year, there are various programs available for F-1 students to seek off-campus employment if they are qualified. F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment after they have been studying for one academic year. These three types of employment are:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.
For both F-1 and M-1 students, any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by Dr. Jerry Jackson, Vice President of Enrollment and Communications, who is the Designated School Official at Tennessee Wesleyan College and the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and USCIS.
For more information on the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, click here.
The F-2 visa status is intended for the spouse and/or children (under age 21) of an F-1 student. It may be obtained by presenting to a U.S. embassy or consulate the Form I-20 issued to each family member along with proof of adequate funding for the support of the accompanying family members. Proof of marriage for spouses and birth certificates for children are also required. No paid employment is permitted for F-2 visa holders under any circumstances.
The F-2 spouse may not engage in full-time study. The F-2 child may only engage in full-time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school. The F-2 spouse and child may engage in part-time study that is recreational in nature.
Benefits for the International Students
As an F-1 or M-1 student, you may be eligible for benefits when you are in the United States. Some of these benefits are working, getting a Social Security number, training after your program is completed (OPT – optional practical training), and getting a driver's license.
If you are an F-1 student, you have the option of working in the United States by engaging in practical training during your program or after it ends. Practical training can provide valuable work experience by sharpening and adding to the skills you are learning in school. There are two types of practical training available for F-1 students: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- CPT must relate to your major, and the experience must be part of your program of study.
- When you enroll at the graduate level, your designated school official (DSO) may authorize CPT during your first semester if your program requires this type of experience. Ask the Coordinator of International Student Services for details.
- Your DSO will provide you a new Form I-20, the “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status,” that shows that the DSO has approved you for this employment.
- You can work on CPT either full-time or part-time.
- CPT requires a signed cooperative agreement or a letter from your employer.
- If you have 12 months or more of full-time CPT, you are ineligible for OPT, but part-time CPT is fine and will not stop you from doing OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students to work off-campus in a field directly related to their major areas of study. An offer of employment is not required to apply for OPT.
Eligibility for this category requires that students be in F-1 student status for one academic year. A job offer is not required in order to apply for OPT; however, the eventual employment must be directly related to the student's field of study. Students are allowed a total of twelve months of full-time OPT per degree level. They may apply for periods of OPT during school terms and/or during summer vacation time before completion of studies, or they may save the total twelve-month period to be used after completion of studies, or use a combination. Such employment may be full-time or part-time, and it may take place at any location in the United States.
Any periods of OPT used before completion of studies will be deducted from the total twelve-month period available. For example, full-time employment for two months during a summer vacation would leave a student with only ten months of OPT available after graduation. Students may become eligible for another twelve months of OPT when they change to a higher educational level. However, simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this eligibility.
Students may use OPT before completion of studies during any of the following periods:
- full-time during annual summer vacation periods.
- part-time (up to 20 hours per week) while school is in session.
- full-time after completion of all courses, but prior to the thesis or the equivalent for graduate students.
To be eligible to apply for F-1 OPT after completion of studies, students must have been in legal full-time student status for one academic year and apply for OPT no later than 60 days after the date of completion of studies.
When to Apply
Students may apply for pre-completion OPT as early as 90 days before the proposed start date of the employment. Students in their first year of F-1 student immigration status should work closely with the International Student Services Coordinator to confirm their eligibility and to determine the employment start date.
Students completing a program of study can apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before the date of completion and/or graduation. For most degree programs, the date of the graduation ceremony is the program completion date. For students completing their programs at other points in the academic year, the Coordinator of the International Student Services can assist in determining the program completion date for OPT purposes. For post-completion OPT, students must submit their OPT applications so that they are received at USCIS by the 60th day after graduation/program completion. Students who have had a break in their F-1 student status (such as a leave of absence outside of the United States) should work closely with the Coordinator of the International Student Services to confirm their eligibility to apply for OPT.
How to Apply for OPT
OPT must relate to your major or course of study.
- You can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, i.e., you may have 12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months of OPT at the master’s level.
- Your DSO (in this case Dr. Jerry Jackson or Ms. Julie McCaslin) will provide you with a new Form I-20 that shows the DSO recommendation for this employment.
- You must apply for work authorization by electronically filing a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and paying a filing fee. USCIS will send you a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD), upon approving your Form I-765.
- You must wait to start work until after you receive your EAD.
- While school is in session, you may only work 20 hours per week.
Note: Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to graduate on the date indicated in their applications risk violating their student visa status and possibly forfeiting their OPT.
Maintaining Your Status
While you are studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your F-1 or M-1 student status. Your visa says that you are coming to the United States to study. You should not consider any action that detracts from that purpose.
- Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins.
- Immediately contact the Office of Admissions when you enter the United States. When you arrive at Tennessee Wesleyan College, you need to contact the Admissions or the Registrar’s Office again, no later than the program start date listed on your Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Status”
- Attend and pass all your classes. If you find that school is too difficult, speak with the Office of the Coordinator of the International Student Services immediately.
- If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with the Coordinator of International Student Services about requesting a possible program extension.
- You must take a full course of study each term (at least 12 credit hours); if you cannot study full-time, contact the Office of the International Student Services immediately.
- Do not drop a class without speaking first with the Office of International Student Services.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at either the undergraduate or the graduate level is only available if this employment is an integral part of an established curriculum and if the position directly relates to your major area of study. The Office of International Student Services can assist you in finding if your program is qualified for this benefit.
Do not work without authorization. An F-1 or M-1 student may work only when authorized.
If you want to work in the United States, talk with the Office of International Student Services about your options. Your DSO may authorize certain work; other employment may require your DSO’s recommendation and authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For more information, click here.
If you choose to work without authorization, you will be forced to leave the United States immediately. You may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date.
Upon Program Completion
Take action to maintain legal status after completing your program of study.
Once you complete your program of study and any authorized period of practical training, you may wish to learn about doing one of the following:
- Change your education level (e.g. bachelor’s to master’s)
- Apply to change status to another visa status (e.g. H-1B-temporary worker; O-extraordinary ability in science, art or business; P-athlete)
You have 60 days after completion of your program (the program end date on your Form I-20) to leave the United States.
Talk with your DSO first
The Coordinator of International Student Services should be the first person you talk with if you have any questions regarding the legal requirements of your stay in the United States.
The Office of International Students can assist in answering your questions or help you find someone who can help.
Talk with the Office of the International Student Services if you are planning to do any of the following:
- Change your major, program, or degree level.
- Change your education level.
- Transfer to a new school or take a leave of absence.
- Take a break from school.
- Travel outside the United States.
- Move to a new address.
- Request a program extension.
You may contact SEVP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would prefer to discuss your plans with someone else. In your email, please describe your situation and include any questions you have. SEVP provides responses on a first-come, first-served basis. Answer times may vary depending on the current number of inquiries.