In December 2023, USCIS issued revisions to its Policy Manual which are important for international students in both the F and M nonimmigrant classifications. The revisions consolidate and restate certain existing policies and provides answer to certain questions impacting international students and U.S. educational institutions in such areas as visa eligibility, school transfers, practical training, and on- and off-campus employment.

In one of the more significant areas, the newly-issued guidance clarifies that F/M students who – by definition – must have a foreign residence abroad to which they intend to return, may also pursue employment- or family-based permanent residence. The issuance of this guidance resolves the challenging friction between “non-immigrant intent” which must be demonstrated to qualify for an F or M visa and the intent to immigrate which is inherent in applying for employer- or family-sponsored permanent residence. In particular, the new guidance instructs adjudicators to differentiate an applicant’s present non-immigrant intent from their longer-term immigrant intent. This means that a person in F or M status may retain that status, despite being the beneficiary of an Application for Permanent Labor Certification or Immigrant Visa Petition, so long as they can demonstrate their intent to depart after a temporary period of stay.

In addition, the guidance specifies how F students seeking an extension of optional practical training (OPT) based on their degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field may be employed by startups, so long as the employer adheres to the training plan requirements, remains in good standing with E-Verify, and provides compensation commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers, among other requirements.

Other updates to the Policy Manual cover such topics as maintenance of student, transferring between schools, exploring employment options while on a student visa, and the procedures for applying for various benefits.

The nonimmigrant academic student (F-1) classification allows a noncitizen to enter the United States as a full-time student at a college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution, or in a language training program. The nonimmigrant vocational student (M-1) classification includes students in established vocational or other recognized nonacademic programs, other than language training programs. For additional information about The USCIS Policy Manual revisions related to international students, click here. To discuss the Policy Manual revisions, contact us.