USCIS Updates Policy Manual on F, M Visa Status International Students’ Present Intent-to-Depart

March 15, 2024 – 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.

Prior to this clarification, there was many misinterpretations of this rule. 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.

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