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Common Questions About the Validity of Student Visas

A student Visa (F or M Visa) is granted to students wanting to study in the United States and is valid generally for the period of study (including grace period). Almost all Visas will stipulate that you cannot take up a job during the period of your stay. The F visa is for academic studies, and the M visa is for nonacademic or vocational studies. A student with an F-1 visa may not accept off-campus employment at any time during the first year of study; however, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service may grant permission to accept off-campus employment after one year. No permission is required for on-campus employment. Except for temporary employment for practical training, an M-1 student may not accept employment at any time during the course of study.

Breaks in Education lasting longer than 5 months

Often times, a student will take a break from his studies that last longer than 5 months. There are several visa issues to consider when a student decides to do this. A student’s visa will be automatically invalidated under two circumstances where there has been such a lengthy break.

I: Students who are not studying but remain in the United States

Sometimes a student on F-1 or M-1 status finishes one course and wishes to transfer to another course or to another school. To ensure that he or she stay in status they need to resume classes within five months of the date of transferring out of the previous school or within five months of the date of program completion. If the student transfers and resumes classes within the five-month period there is no loss of status.

In the situation that the student could not resume classes within the required time then to restore status, he or she must apply for reinstatement of student status with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

– A student may pursue studies while reinstatement is pending.

What does the USICS do with your re-instatement application?

USCIS may approve or deny the reinstatement of student status.

  • If student status is restored, then the student’s F-1 or M-1 visa remains valid (assuming that the visa has not expired as yet).
  • If the reinstatement is denied, then the student is held to have lost F-1/M-1 status at that point. Any valid student visa that was in the student’s possession would be invalidated. Because the student is considered to be out-of-status from the time that reinstatement is denied, the student must immediately depart the United States.

Can the Student apply for another student visa?

Yes, if a student was denied re-instatement, he or she can apply for another student visa. There is no bar on such applications. The application should detail the reason why the student stopped full-time study and lost status. The consular officers also review whether there was any status violation. Then it is determined whether the applicant is a bona fide student at the time of application. If the student is found to be a bona-fide applicant the visa is granted.

II: Students who depart the United States while in valid student status

Many students studying in the United States take a break and return home for a semester or more. But watch it, when a student has been out of the country for more than five months, the student’s F-1 or M-1 visa would be considered to be invalid.

If a student returns to the United States after a temporary absence of five months or less they only need to present a valid I-20 to be admitted. (For F visa holder, Form I-20A-B (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for Academic and Language Students) For M visa holders, Form I-20M-N, (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for Vocational Students).

If the student is returning after an absence of more than five months, the student is no longer admissible as a continuing student. Officers at the port of entry are authorized to cancel the nonimmigrant visa of the student who appears to be inadmissible due to the long break of more than five months.

On its face the student’s visa (F-1 or M-1) might be valid for a longer duration but because it can be cancelled at the port of entry it should not be used.

What Next ?

A student who wishes to continue studying in the United States must obtain a new visa. In order to apply for the new F-1 or M-1 visa, the student needs to either

 show that his/her previous I-20 remains valid and the SEVIS ( Student and Exchange Visitor Information system) record is in active status


obtain a new I-20 from the school.

What if the student took permission from their school and then went on an extended break ?

The students who have the official permission from the school to take a break MUST have their SEVIS record terminated for Authorized Withdrawal.

When the student wants to come back to school, a new Form I-20 with a new SEVIS number is issued by the school. These students are required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fees.

Leaving the United states for an extended duration but for a school related activity

When the student has left the United States (with the school’s permission) because he or she has to do some research or some other activity, which is related to their course work, then the burden of maintaining an active SEVIS status falls on the school. As in this situation the student status is maintained, the student visa is not considered to be invalid even after an absence of more than five months.

An Important disclaimer:

The information provided is not legal advice. Reading this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers must not act upon any information without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.

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