USCIS issues restrictions on F-1 student work visas

After curtailing the work visas, the Trump administration has turned its eyes on the work-based student visas, known as the F1 visa, issued to international students. A new set of directives issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sets restrictions on work that can be done during the critical Optional Practical Training (OPT) period after graduation, which for most students determine whether they can nurture hope of getting an H-1B visa, and subsequently, permanent residency.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Under the prior rules, an F-1 student could be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies.

An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he or she has been enrolled for one full academic year. The pre-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session.

An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon completion of studies. The post-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.

According to new rules by the USCIS, F1 visa students can be approved for an OPT only if they are allowed to work onsite, or the premises of a company who has sponsored them for the work-study period. This totally blocks the ability of tech staffing firms and business consultancies, among others, from hiring students with the purpose to serve clients at different locations.

The argument by the USCIS is that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement lack authority to visit client sites for verification of work done by an F1 student. Realistically, it’s a good move by the Trump Administration to stop abuse of foreign students, who often are at the mercy of employers during OPT period. There are no guidelines for salary to students on an OPT.

The new USCIS rule will undoubtedly hamper legitimate companies from hiring foreign students as temp workers during the OPT. It will also hurt students’ ability to get an H-1B visa. International students need to be wary of the new USCIS rules, as any transgression during the OPT will come back to hurt them when they vie for an H-1B visa.

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