Department of State and USCIS Issue Major Updates for F and M Student Visa Holders

March 17, 2023

According to a recent announcement, F and M students can now apply for student visas up to 365 days before their starting date. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) explained that these changes would address long processing times. In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made another announcement affecting F-1 students. This announcement explained that severe economic hardship could lead to employment authorization extensions for affected F-1 students.

The DOS’s new policy will take immediate effect. As such, prospective students with Form I-20s may file for F-1 or M visas up to 365 days before starting. Following this, they may enter the U.S. within 30 days of the start date of their program. This change is a significant increase from the Department’s prior policy. Before this, students could obtain their Form I-20 up to six months before their program’s starting date and their F-1 visa a maximum of up to 120 days before.

These changes would provide more breathing room despite the ongoing struggles with long processing times. In addition, they would allow universities to better plan for how many students they will likely receive. The ability to more realistically plan how many to expect could allow prompt closing or opening of sections based on anticipated demand.

This increase in advance application time applies to F visas permitting attendance at higher and lower-level academic institutions. It also applies to M visas, allowing attendance at non-academic institutions such as vocational programs.

The USCIS also made a significant announcement for F-1 students experiencing “severe economic hardship as a direct result of exigency circumstances.” The agency will allow off-campus SSR employment authorizations for these students. This exception will last for the Federal Register notice validity period. As such, affected students could have 18 months. This extension is an increase of six months over the previous authorization period, which is one year.

This update will also take effect immediately, though the USCIS stressed that the extension period could not exceed the end date of their student program. Interested parties may find further details in Volumes 2 and 10 of the Policy Manual. This update will enable students and their employers to take on more work and extend employment periods.

As always, the details of the employment authorization process can vary for each student, making compliance difficult for employers. The best way to ensure uniform compliance every time is with an electronic I-9 management system. This system can provide employers step-by-step guidance through the verification process, ensuring securely stored forms and documentation for future reference.

Automate your employment eligibility verification today with the ensured compliance of I-9 Compliance.