Students studying in the United States in F or M visa status must have a foreign residence that they have no intention of abandoning. A new USCIS policy manual update has clarified that being the beneficiary of a PERM application or an immigrant visa petition does not mean the student cannot demonstrate their intention to depart after their temporary stay in the United States.

This was a particularly thorny issue before this clarification. For instance, students might be working in OPT or STEM OPT status for an employer that offers to sponsor them for a green card. Students would like to start a sponsorship soon in order to obtain a priority date, even if they might not be able to adjust status to permanent resident status for many years. The problem has been that being sponsored could mean they could not travel abroad and renew their F visas because they would be considered to have nonimmigrant intent. Indeed, they might be “trapped” in the United States until they manage to obtain H or L status (which allows dual intent).

USCIS acknowledges in the new guidance:

“The foreign residence requirement should be adjudicated differently for students than for other nonimmigrants. Typically, students lack the strong economic and social ties of more established applicants, and they plan longer stays in the United States. INA 101(a)(15)(F)(i) assumes that the natural circumstances of being a student do not disqualify the student from qualifying for nonimmigrant status. Considerations should include the student’s present intent, not what they might do after a lengthy stay in the United States.”

The new policy recognizes that students “are young” and may not be able to explain fully their plans or their post-graduation long-range plans. It should suffice that they have a present intent to leave the United States at the completion of their studies. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and an officer adjudicating an F or M visa would have to look at all of the circumstances to determine the student’s present intent.

The new policy guidance also clarifies that students with STEM degrees may qualify for STEM OPT even if they will be working for a start-up company. Before this clarification, there were questions on whether a start-up with limited resources could provide the necessary training. What the guidance makes clear is that there is no presumption a start-up cannot sponsor STEM OPT. The company will need to show (among other things) that it has the ability to:

  • Adhere to the training program;
  • Remain in good standing with E-Verify; and
  • Provide compensation to the STEM student that is basically equivalent to the pay provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.

Finally, the new policy guidance gathers all the numerous existing policies regarding students (including, among others, eligibility, transfers, on-and-off campus employment, practical training, and transfers) making finding information about these topics easier. (USCIS added 6 chapters and an appendix.)

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist with questions regarding foreign national students, their employment, and strategies for retention.

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Photo of Forrest G. Read IV Forrest G. Read IV

Forrest Read is a Principal in the Raleigh, North Carolina, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has extensive experience in both business immigration law and employment law and has particular focus in legal issues in graduate medical education (GME).

Mr. Read’s immigration practice…

Forrest Read is a Principal in the Raleigh, North Carolina, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has extensive experience in both business immigration law and employment law and has particular focus in legal issues in graduate medical education (GME).

Mr. Read’s immigration practice focuses on assisting employers in obtaining employment-based nonimmigrant visas (e.g., H-1B, L, O, TN) for foreign national employees and work-related immigrant (green card) visas, including PERM Labor Certifications, and advising employers on compliance with U.S. immigration laws and regulations. He has broad experience in advising large, mid-size and small employers on their various immigration needs and developing strategies to help them navigate through complex immigration issues. He also has particular experience in counseling employers in the health care industry and addressing immigration-related issues that arise for their broad range of health care professional employees (including advising on and obtaining employment authorization for medical residents and fellows and obtaining J-1 visa waivers for foreign national physicians completing their medical training in the United States). His immigration practice also includes defending employers in connection with Department of Labor H-1B and H-2B investigations.

Mr. Read’s employment law experience includes representing management, particularly academic medical centers in the GME context, in a wide array of workplace disputes and litigation before federal and state courts and administrative agencies, including matters related to discrimination, retaliation, harassment, disability, family and medical leave, various wage and hour issues, contracts, and intentional torts. He advises academic medical centers on the interplay between applicable academic law and employment law and the ramifications of what are divergent legal requirements and standards. Mr. Read also provides counsel with respect to the legal impact of competency standards for residents and trainees in GME, including situations involving discipline, remediation, and dismissal. He provides advice and guidance in the peer review process, including provision of verification and assessment of training in response to third party inquiries.

As a member of the Firm’s Corporate Diversity Counseling group, Mr. Read also has experience in providing assessments and making recommendations to corporate and institutional clients with respect to diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives, conducting related internal investigations, and shaping, developing and enforcing effective policies and initiatives to ensure consistency with client values and in furtherance of business goals and objectives.