An F-1 student visa becomes a work visa through “Curricular Practical Training”
Losing the H-1B lottery and going back to school
For Indian students in tech fields, these programs have a lot to offer: The flexibility to earn a salary while getting an advanced degree at a comparatively low cost, and for many, an option to stay in the US after losing the lottery for an H-1B work visa or the expiration of another type of work authorization.
“Part of why we are seeing a lot of people enrolling in programs that offer immediate CPT is because we have this ridiculously low cap on H-1Bs,” said Jennifer Minear, a Virginia-based immigration lawyer.
For the past five years, Swamy—the student at the Cumberlands—failed to get an H-1B visa through the US government’s lottery. More than 190,000 applicants competed for the 85,000 H-1B visas available in 2018. Getting one is a game of chance. Those who aren’t selected in the lottery may have to leave the country, unless they find another way to stay.More than 190,000 applicants competed for the 85,000 H-1B visas available in 2018.
Losing the lottery is “very upsetting for both the employer and the students,” Minear said. Both “are counting on the employment relationship continuing.” But when that path is closed off, “It’s not surprising that students in that situation might gravitate to work in a graduate program that offers immediate CPT.”
Is it legal?
US Department of Homeland Security has shut down several institutions that created sham programs to attract foreigners looking for a way to work in the US. These so-called visa mills helped students obtain work authorization without offering a real course load.
The fact that the programs in the two Kentucky universities attract similar students as the sham schools doesn’t mean they’re conducting visa fraud. Students in both programs who spoke to Quartz raved about them, praising their affordability, flexibility and the quality of the training they provide.
At the core of the legal issue is whether or not any given school is a bona fide educational institution.
“There’s nothing inherently wrong or sketchy with having a program that’s in any way tailored to the international student population. Every school wants to have more international students on campus. In trying to attract them, they have to make sure their programs are something that F-1 students can attend,” said Meghan Barger, a senior paralegal at McCandlish Holton, a law firm based in Richmond, Virginia. She previously oversaw the international student programs at Virginia Commonwealth University.“There’s nothing inherently wrong or sketchy with having a program that’s in any way tailored to the international student population.”
“It is legally permissible for institutions to offer CPT to students, if that training is critical and essential to the program,” Minear said, “What’s not permissible is to create an educational program solely for the purpose of facilitating employment. If the job is part of the program, that’s ok. If that’s not part of the curriculum and the school is just basically creating a mill to allow people to work while they are waiting to play the lottery again next year, that would not be permissible.”
More than 8,700 schools in the US are certified through the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to issue visas to foreign students. Schools can lose their certification if they fail to comply with federal regulations. Each school is re-evaluated every two years.
Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for ICE, says that SEVP’s staff determine which schools require investigation or review using various criteria. The indicators include the proportion of the student body made up of international students, the school’s operational history, and the capacity of the school’s facilities compared to the number of students it enrolls.Whether or not a school is violating the regulations is often a very fine line.
Whether or not a school is violating the regulations is often a very fine line. Cutrell says that even schools that are doing everything right—”Every student could be doing what they were supposed to do”—can still look suspect to ICE.
“It’s a very easy thing for a school to fall into a situation that could be borderline or questionable. But again, it’s legally permissible. It just depends on the specific facts of the situation,” said Minear.
Recruiting students who want to work
The graduate program at Campbellsville University works with about 30 recruiters, Spears says, but they do not promote the program as a way for foreign nationals to lengthen their stay in the US. “That’s a student’s decision,” he added.
“There are lot of people who hear from their colleagues, roommates and friends about our program. I think our recruiters found about 20% of them or so. The rest of them are students coming themselves,” said Spears.