The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently updated its guidelines, which significantly impact nonimmigrant students under the F and M visa categories. This update clarifies USCIS’s role in processing employment authorization applications and status changes or reinstatements for these students.

Understanding F and M Visa Categories

The F-1 visa is designed for non-citizen students looking to pursue academic studies in a range of U.S. educational institutions, including colleges, universities, and high schools, as well as language training programs. Conversely, the M-1 visa caters to those intending to enroll in vocational or other nonacademic programs, except for language training.

To qualify for either F-1 or M-1 status, students must demonstrate the intent to return home after their studies or authorized training concludes. They must also maintain a residence abroad, which they have no intention of abandoning.

Single Intent Visas and Potential Pathways to Permanent Residency

F-1 and M-1 visas are categorized as “single intent” visas, which implies that the students should not initially intend to seek permanent residence in the U.S. However, should a student decide to pursue permanent residency, USCIS provides a grace period: if they apply for an immigrant visa after 90 days of entering the U.S., it is presumed that the student’s original intent was temporary; hence did not violate the terms of the visa upon entry and can now seek immigrant visa and even in some cases, adjustment of status without leaving the U.S.

An international student may start the process to transition to an EB-5 visa — a visa for investors and entrepreneurs interested in establishing a business in the U.S. — without jeopardizing their F-1 or M-1 status. Importantly, maintaining a residence in their home country and showing plans to return after their studies can further demonstrate their non-immigrant intent.

Maintaining Status During Immigrant Visa Applications

The act of applying for an immigrant visa while in the U.S. does not automatically affect a student’s nonimmigrant status. However, if a student leaves the U.S. while an immigrant petition is pending, immigration authorities might view this as a potential violation of their visa’s single-intent requirement, potentially impacting their ability to re-enter under F or M status. Always consult with immigration attorney if you need to leave the U.S. while your immigrant petition is pending.

Strategic Considerations for Students

In light of this new guidance, many students, particularly those from China and India with long EB-2/EB-3 visa number wait lists, are now reconsidering their options. Instead of navigating the competitive and uncertain H-1B visa route and/or long wait of EB-1/EB-2/EB-3 immigrant categories, they are exploring the EB-5 visa for rural projects as a faster more direct path to U.S. permanent residency. The updated guidelines help mitigate concerns about potential conflicts arising from ongoing immigrant petitions during their studies in the U.S.


This clarity from USCIS ensures that nonimmigrant students can plan their educational and post-educational paths with a better understanding of their options and the implications of their choices. It opens a viable pathway for those looking to transition from student status directly to permanent residency, aligning their educational endeavors with long-term residency goals in the United States.  With the help of an experienced business and investor visa immigration law firm, International Students now have additional clarification on how to proceed with their long-term U.S. immigration status goals.