When and How M-1 Vocational Students Can Work in the U.S.

Eligibility and application instructions for M-1 students to do practical training work.

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As an M visa holder, you are not allowed to work on or off campus while you are still completing your study program. Your spouse and children are similarly not allowed to work. After you have successfully completed your studies, however, you can be approved for a period of paid (or unpaid) practical training, up to six months. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) calculates the number of months based on how long you have been studying: You will get one month of work permission for every four months of full-time study.

Here’s how to apply for practical training. First, make sure that you’ll be applying at the right time. You can’t apply earlier than 60 days before the end of your studies; but you can’t apply later than 30 days after the end of your studies. Then pull together or prepare the items described below.

Application Forms for Practical Training Work Permit

The forms you’ll need to apply for USCIS permission to do practical training are:

  • SEVIS Form I-20 ID, endorsed by your designated student officer (DSO)
  • Form I-539, Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status, and
  • Form I-765.

Line-by-Line Instructions for Form I-539

Your application for practical training employment authorization requires you to fill out USCIS Form I-539 (available as a free download from the USCIS website). Include a supplementary sheet if you have a foreign-born spouse or children staying with you in M-2 visas or status.

Part 1.   Information About You: Mostly self-explanatory. You will probably not have a Social Security number unless you formerly had a visa or status that allowed you to work. If you don’t have a number, enter “None.”

You will have an A-number (an eight- or nine-digit number following the letter “A” for Alien) only if you have been in deportation or removal proceedings or submitted certain immigration applications, particularly for permanent residence. If you were in proceedings or had any applications denied, especially for reasons such as fraud, see a lawyer.

Your I-94 number should appear on the small white card that you received at the U.S. airport, border, or other point of entry. Beginning in April 2013, this form has been automated for many nonimmigrants. If you did not receive a paper I-94, this record can be accessed online.

For “Current Nonimmigrant status,” enter “M-1 -Student.” Your “expiration date” will be on Form I-94.

Part 2.   Application Type:

Question 1: Check box 1a.

Question 2: This is where you make sure your family members get included in your application. If you want them to maintain their visa status after your extension, check box 2b, and write in the total number of them plus you.

Part 3.   Processing Information:

Question 1: Enter the program end date for your practical training, which shows up on your new I-20.

Questions 2 to 4: Answer No.

Part 4.   Additional Information:

Questions 1 and 2: Self-explanatory questions based on the information in your passport and calling for your overseas address.

When does your passport expire? If the expiration date in your passport is within the next six months or less, you should have it renewed. You can usually do this at a consulate of your home country in the United States. If there isn’t a consulate in the city where you are living, you can probably locate one Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Chicago; check the State Department’s online list of foreign consulates in the U.S.

Question 3: These questions are designed to see whether you are inadmissible. Think carefully before entering your answers, and make sure you understand all the details. If you aren't sure what the question is asking, or if you have to answer yes to any of the questions and there is no other solution, see an immigration lawyer.

Question 3a: If you (or any members of your family) have submitted an application for an immigrant visa, which shows that you’re seeking a green card, USCIS will probably conclude that you have no intention of returning home after your student stay. Your application may therefore be denied. There isn’t a solution for this, and hiding the other application is impossible.

Question 3b: This is similar to the question above, except that instead of referring to an application that you filed yourself, it asks whether someone else has filed a petition to start the process of you permanently immigrating to the United States. Some petitions will only place you on a waiting list that will last many years before you see an immigrant visa. Nevertheless, USCIS will likely deny your application if your answer to this question is Yes.

Question 3c: See advice for question 3a. Form I-485 is simply the version of a green card application meant for people who will be filing all the paperwork while living in the U.S. (“adjustment of status”).

Question 3d1: If you were simply arrested and not charged (for example, the police picked up the wrong person), you are safe entering “Yes” here and attaching a written explanation and a copy of the police report. But for any more serious arrests, you must consult a lawyer before going any farther. Most criminal convictions will make you inadmissible to the United States.

Questions 3d2-3d4: If you answer yes to any of these questions, see an attorney. These situations are not easily explained and are more likely to result in a finding of inadmissibility.

Question 3e: See Section B, above, for a reminder of what actions would be violations of your student status. If you have violated your status you will have to apply for reinstatement along with applying for an extension. See “Applying to Reinstate Your F-1 or M-1 Student Status” for more information.

Question 3f: If you are now in removal proceedings (formerly known as exclusion or deportation proceedings), see a lawyer. It’s likely that your immigration status is completely in the hands of the court, which would mean the USCIS administrative office will have no power to act on your application.

Question 3g: As an M-1 student, you should not have been employed in the U.S. during your studies, unless you changed your status from one that authorized employment. This question applies to your family members as well. If the answer is yes, you simply need to explain your employment in "Part 4 Additional Information" on page four, and provide documentary proof that you or your family member was authorized to work during that period. If you answer "No", you must explain how you are supporting yourself in "Part 4 Additional Information" on page four.

Question 3h: If you were ever in J-1 or J-2 status, you will need to provide copies of your DS-2019 forms with your application.

Part 5.   Signature and statement that you understand English: Self-explanatory.

Part 6. Interpreter's Statement: If an interpreter helped you fill out this application, that person must complete this section.

Part 7.   Signature of person preparing form if other than above: This is where a lawyer or legal assistant would sign. If you simply had some typing help, the person does not need to sign.

Line-by-Line Instructions for Form I-539 Supplement-1

The Form I-539 Supplement 1 is a one-page form (at the back of the I-539 download), which you’ll need to use only if you have a foreign-born spouse and/or children staying with you with M-2 visas or status. It has repeating blocks for information about your spouse and children. Most of it is self-explanatory.

Under “Date of Arrival,” put the person’s most -recent arrival into the United States (watch out: Many people mistakenly put their first arrival). Their “Current nonimmigrant status” is M-2. “Expires on” refers to the date your status expires, which will be on your I-20. When you enter the expiration date of the family member’s passport, make sure that it is at least six months into the future. If not, get it renewed. However, if waiting for the renewal will cause problems for this application, simply submit this application, write in the existing passport expiration date and then add “renewal pending.”

Line-by-Line Instructions for Form I-765

Form I-765 is the main form used by nonimmigrant applicants for work permits. Most of the pages are instructions, which you don’t need to fill out or return to USCIS.

Under “I am applying for,” check “Permission to Accept Employment,” unless you have had a previous EAD under another visa, in which case you should check the box for renewals.

Questions 1-8: Self-explanatory.

Question 9: You will probably not have a Social Security number unless you are changing from a visa or status that allowed you to work. If you don’t have a number, enter “None.”

Question 10: You will have an Alien registration number (A-number) only if you have been in deportation or removal proceedings or have submitted certain immigration applications, particularly for permanent residence. If you were in proceedings or had any applications denied, especially for reasons such as fraud, see a lawyer. If you don’t have an A-number, enter the number from Form I-94 (write “I-94#” before the actual number).

Question 14: List the type of visa on which you last entered the United States, which is probably an M-1 student visa, unless you entered as a visitor or on another temporary visa and then applied for a Change of Status to become a student.

Question 15: Your current immigration status is “M-1 student.”

Question 16: Your eligibility category depends on the basis for your work permit. As an M-1 visa holder applying for practical training, your category is (c)(6).

Other Items for Practical Training Work Permit Application

In addition to the application forms described above, you’ll need the following in order to complete your application for a practical training work permit:

  • two photos (passport-style). Print your name in pencil on the back of the photos.
  • the fee (as of early 2014, $380 for Form I-765 and $290 for Form I-539, but double-check with your DSO or on the Forms page of the USCIS website). Send a check or money order, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Do not send cash.

Mailing the Application and Receiving Your Work Permit

When you have prepared all your application materials, you will mail them concurrently (preferably by courier or certified mail with a return receipt requested) to the USCIS office or Service Center listed on the instructions that come with the form (found on the USCIS website).

USCIS will send you a receipt notice within two to three weeks. The receipt notice will give you a case number that you can use to check the status of your case online at www.uscis.gov. Processing times will depend on how busy USCIS is.

Once USCIS approves your application, you will receive a plastic work permit card with your photo on it and an expiration date. The card will be good for a maximum of six months. You are not allowed to work until you receive this card.

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