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6.4.2 F-1 and M-1 Nonimmigrant Students

Foreign students pursuing academic studies and/or language training programs are classified as F-1 nonimmigrants, while foreign students pursuing nonacademic or vocational studies are classified as M-1 nonimmigrants. Designated school officials (DSO) at certified schools issue Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1)/(M-1) Students.

F-1 students may be eligible to work under certain conditions. There are several types of employment authorization for students, including:

  • On-campus employment;
  • Curricular practical training;
  • Off-campus employment based on severe economic hardship;
  • Employment sponsored by an international organization; and
  • Optional practical training.

F-1 students may work on campus without approval from USCIS until they complete their course of study. The F-1 nonimmigrant admission notation on their Form I-94 usually states “D/S” indicating duration of status. The F-1 student’s Form I-20 provides a Program End Date field, which is the latest date they can complete their studies. The student must enter the program end date in Section 1 as the date employment authorization expires.

To complete Section 2, the combination of the F-1 student’s unexpired foreign passport and Form I-94 indicating F-1 nonimmigrant status is a List A document for on-campus employment. We do not require you to record information from the student’s Form I-20 in Section 2.

F-1 students may work:

  • On the school’s premises, including on-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria; and
  • At an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school.

Employment that does not provide direct services to students is not on-campus employment. For example, an on-campus commercial firm, such as a construction company that builds a school building, does not provide direct student services. Guidelines for on-campus employment are available at ice.gov/sevis/employment.

On-campus employment is limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session. An exception to this limitation applies in cases of emergent circumstances that DHS announces in a Federal Register notice.

Curricular practical training (CPT) allows students to accept paid alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that sponsoring employers offer through cooperative agreements with the school. The CPT program must be an integral part of the student’s degree program curriculum. The DSO must authorize CPT on the student’s Form I-20. The student should enter the CPT employment end date from the employment authorization section of their Form I-20 in Section 1 as the date employment authorization expires.

In Section 2, you may enter:

  • A List A document, including the combination of:
    • An unexpired foreign passport;
    • Form I-20 with the DSO endorsement for employment; and
    • Form I-94 indicating F-1 nonimmigrant status.

Or

  • List B and List C documents:
    • For example, a state driver’s license (List B document) and, under List C #7, a Form I-94 indicating F-1 nonimmigrant status with a properly endorsed Form I-20.  

An acceptable Form I-20 for CPT must have all Employment Authorization fields completed. These fields include employment status, employment type, start and end date of employment, and the employer’s name and location. Use the CPT Employment End Date on Form I-20 as the expiration date in Section 2.

For the other types of employment available to certain foreign students, (such as optional practical training (OPT) employment authorization, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), OPT extension, or off-campus employment based on severe economic hardship) USCIS must grant an EAD to the student.

Border commuter students who enter the United States as an F-1 nonimmigrant may only work as part of their CPT or post-completion OPT.

M-1 foreign students in nonacademic or vocational studies may only accept employment if it is part of a practical training program and may only engage in such training after completion of their course of study. The student must receive an EAD before working and can only work for a maximum of six months of practical training. Enter the M-1 student’s EAD information under List A in Section 2 of Form I-9.

Dependents of F-1 and M-1 students have F-2 or M-2 status and are not eligible for employment authorization.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students – EAD Required

OPT provides practical training experience that directly relates to an F-1 student’s major area of study on their Form I-20. An F-1 student authorized for OPT may work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time (20 or more hours per week) when school is not in session. After completing their course of study, USCIS may authorize an F-1 student up to 12 months of OPT upon completion of their degree program. Certain F-1 students may be eligible to extend their OPT; see F-1 STEM OPT Extension below for more information.

The designated school official must update Form I-20 to indicate OPT recommendation. The student must obtain an EAD from USCIS before they are authorized to work. The student may not begin employment until the date indicated on the EAD. The EAD establishes the student’s identity and employment authorization for Form I-9 purposes.

When completing Section 1, the student must enter the EAD Card Expires date in the Authorized to Work Until field in Section 1. When completing Section 2 for this student, you should enter EAD’s card number and Card Expires date under List A. When the student’s EAD expires, you must reverify the student’s employment authorization in Section 3.

F-1 STEM OPT Extension

An F-1 student who received a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics from an accredited and Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school may apply for a 24-month extension of their OPT. Employment must be directly related to their major area of study, and you must be enrolled in and be in good standing with E-Verify.

Your E-Verify company identification number is required for the student to apply to USCIS for the STEM extension using Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. A STEM student may change employers or work at a different hiring site for the same employer, but any new employer or new hiring site must be enrolled in and be in good standing with E-Verify before the student begins employment. Moreover, new employers or hiring sites must timely report any change in the student’s employment information, as described below.

The EAD issued to the F-1 STEM OPT student states “STU: STEM OPT ONLY.” The following documents establish a student’s identity and employment authorization for Form I-9:

  • An unexpired EAD; or
  • An expired EAD presented with Form I-20 endorsed by the student’s designated school official recommending a STEM extension if the student timely filed their Form I-765 but their application is still pending. If the student has changed employers, this Form I-20 must also contain the new employer’s information.
    • In this case, you should enter the following information under List A in Section 2:
  1. Enter EAD in the Document Title field;
  2. Enter EAD number in the Document Number field;
  3. Enter the date 180 days from the Card Expires date on the EAD in the Expiration Date field; and
  4. Enter “EAD EXT” in the Additional Information field.

To update Section 2 for a current employee with a STEM OPT extension:

  1. Review the employee’s Form I-20 endorsed by the student’s designated school official recommending a STEM extension.
  2. Enter EAD EXT and the date 180 days from the Card Expires date on the EAD in the Additional Information field. For example, EAD EXT mm/dd/yyyy.

You must reverify this student’s employment authorization on the date you entered in Section 2.

The student’s Form I-20 for STEM OPT must have all Employment Authorization fields completed. These fields include employment status, employment type, start and end date of employment, and your name and location.

You have specific responsibilities when providing practical training opportunities to STEM OPT students, including:

  • Enrolling in E-Verify and remaining in good standing before employing an F-1 STEM OPT student.
  • Implementing a formal training plan to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience.
  • Completing the employer’s portion and certifying Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.
  • Reporting to the DSO and updating Form I-983 if there are any changes to or material deviations from the student’s formal training plan.
  • Reporting a student’s termination of employment or departure to the DSO within five business days.

Additional requirements and information on your responsibilities are available at studyinthestates.dhs.gov.

Cap-Gap

The term “cap-gap” refers to the period between the time a nonimmigrant’s F-1 student status would ordinarily end and their H-1B status begins. F-1 students who seek to change to H-1B status may be eligible for a cap-gap extension of status and employment authorization through Sept. 30 of the calendar year you filed Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (H-1B petition) but only if the student’s H-1B status begins on Oct. 1.

If you employ an F-1 nonimmigrant student in OPT and you timely filed an H-1B petition for that student, they may be able to continue working beyond the expiration date on their OPT EAD while waiting for the start date of an approved or pending H-1B petition.

There are two types of cap-gap extensions:

  • Extensions of F-1 status only (without OPT): If a student is in F-1 status when you file an H-1B petition with an Oct. 1 start date, but the student is not currently participating in OPT, they will receive a cap-gap extension of their F-1 status but will not be authorized to work until we approve the petition and their H-1B status begins on Oct. 1.
  • Extensions of F-1 status and OPT: If a student is in F-1 status when you file an H-1B petition with an Oct. 1 start date and is currently participating in post-completion OPT, they will receive an automatic cap-gap extension of both their F-1 student status and their authorized period of post-completion OPT. If we select their petition and it remains pending or we approve it, the student will remain authorized to work as an F-1 student with OPT through Sept. 30.

Cap-Gap Automatic Extension Based on Timely Requests to Change Status

For an eligible F-1 student to receive an automatic EAD extension, you must:

  • Timely file a petition to change the student’s status to H-1B; and
  • State the student’s employment start date is Oct. 1 of the year filed the H-1B petition.

The employee’s expired EAD in combination with your Form I-797C, Notice of Action, showing the above requirements is an unexpired EAD under List A. This automatic extension ends if the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, revoked, or withdrawn.

Timely filed means you submitted the H-1B petition (indicating change of status rather than consular processing) during the acceptance period while the student’s authorized F-1 duration of status admission was still in effect. This includes any period of time during the academic course of study, any authorized periods of post-completion OPT, and the 60-day departure preparation period.

How to Complete Form I-9

In Section 1, a new employee should:

  • Select “An alien authorized to work until;” and
  • Enter Sept. 30 and the year the H-1B change of status petition was filed as the expiration date.

In Section 2, you should:

  • Enter EAD as the document title;
  • Enter the Form I-797C receipt number in the Document Number field;
  • Enter Sept. 30 and the year you filed the petition in the Expiration Date field; and
  • Enter CAP-GAP in the Additional Information field.

To update Section 2 for a current employee eligible for a cap-gap extension once you receive Form I-797C, enter CAP-GAP and Sept. 30 and the year you filed the petition in the Additional Information field. For example, CAP-GAP 09/30/yyyy.

Cap-Gap Reverification

If an employee’s EAD automatic extension expires on Oct. 1, you must reverify their employment authorization in Section 3 by Sept. 30 of the year you filed the petition. When we approve the H-1B petition you will receive a Form I-797 with your employee’s new Form I-94. Enter the Form I-94 document title, number, and expiration date in Section 3 to complete reverification. The employee may also present any document from List A or C, or an acceptable List A or C receipt described in Section 4.3, Acceptable Receipts, to reverify their employment authorization.

For E-Verify Employers

You may create a case in E-Verify for a new employee with a cap-gap extension using the information provided on their Form I-9.