The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently updated guidance in its policy manual regarding international students within F and M student classifications. This new guidance consolidates and provides greater clarity on existing policy for international students. The updated guidance covers topics such as "eligibility requirements, school transfers, practical training, and on- and off-campus employment," while also clarifying the agency's role in adjudicating applications for employment authorization, change of status, extension of stay, and reinstatement of status for these students and their dependents in the United States.

One important example of this additional clarification is with regards to F and M students involved in the permanent labor certification application process (PERM) and other similar immigrant petitions. In order for such students to maintain their visa classifications, they must be able to show their intent to leave the United States following their temporary periods of stay—typically following the end of their degree program along with any period of practical training. The guidance now makes clear that so long as F and M students maintain a foreign residence they do not intend to abandon, then they may still be able to demonstrate their intention to leave the United States after a temporary period of stay despite being the beneficiary of such immigrant petitions. USCIS notes it will consider all facts and circumstances when determining if a student has successfully demonstrated their continued intent to depart.

Additionally, the updated guidance offers further details on startup companies seeking to employ F students in the process of extending their optical practical training (OPT) based on their degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. Per the updated policy manual, so long as the employer adheres to the training plan requirements submitted on behalf of the F student, remains in good standing with E-Verify, and provides compensation "commensurate to that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers," among other regulatory requirements, then an F-1 student may be employed by a start-up business.

These policy guidance updates are a great benefit to international students and U.S. educational institutions, allowing for easier interpretation and insight into the considerations made by USCIS officers when determining eligibility for F and M student classifications and when assessing options for employment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.