Here to Help provides information on each of the government agencies that has a role in the international student process.
F and M students who want to work or change their nonimmigrant status interact with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As an agency in the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS authorizes the following for students and exchange visitors:
- Employment: If you want to work while you study in the United States, USCIS may need to authorize the employment, along with your designated school official (DSO). If the employment requires USCIS adjudication, after you speak with your DSO, you will need to submit a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization,” to USCIS. If USCIS approves, you will receive a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document,” which you need to begin work.
- H-1B Status: Nonimmigrants who perform services in specialty occupations may be granted an H-1B visa. Employers petition USCIS for this visa on behalf of the nonimmigrant who will work for them with the Form I-129, “Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.” Petitions can be filed as early as April 1st each year and employment begins October 1st. USCIS also manages the “cap,” or the congressionally-mandated limit on the number of individuals who may be granted H-1B status each fiscal year. The cap gap occurs when an F-1 student’s status expires after April 1st but before their H-1B status goes into effect. It is an extension of status that allows students who have been approved for H-1B status to remain in the United States after program completion until their Oct 1st start date.
- Change of Status: If you ever need to change your status, for example, if you entered the United States on a tourist visa and decide to enroll in school, you need to file a Form I-539, “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status,” with USCIS to acquire the F or M visa needed to study. Officials can either approve or deny this request.