Given the lack of regulatory rights for F-1 workers, it is not surprising that there is not much of an enforcement scheme.  While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security closely monitors the status and movements of F-1 students, the primary enforcement focus is to investigate student violators and prosecute visa fraud.  Because there is no specific role for the U.S. Department of Labor in the application process, its enforcement authority with regard to F-1 is almost nonexistent. If there is any sort of discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may be able to pursue the case.  State agencies customarily will have the authority to enforce any state laws that apply.  To the extent that there is an employment contract or applicable federal or state statute allowing a private lawsuit, F-1 workers may enforce their rights in court, just like any other U.S. worker.   


A. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Because DHS’s overwhelmingly proportions its time and resources on investigating F-1 students in violation of their visa requirements, little effort is made to ensure that F-1 students who work are not being exploited on the job.  While DHS regularly publishes its successes in deporting student status violators, there is simply not much information out there regarding F-1 student worker abuse. Several DHS enforcement actions have surrounded sham schools that charge foreign individuals money to enroll in school, help them get F-1 visas, approve work, and then never require attendance at classes.  While each enforcement action has been slightly different, in many of these cases, school officials are indicted, sentenced to jail time, and forced to pay penalties to the U.S. government, but the student victims just get deported.


B. Private Litigation

F-1 student workers themselves do not have the authority to enforce the scant F-1 regulations in court.  However, to the extent that there is an enforceable employment contract, applicable federal or state statute, or common law claim, an F-1 student worker may file a lawsuit to enforce their rights and have their day in court in just like any other U.S. worker.

1. Access to Counsel

F-1 students have similar access to counsel issues as other groups of nonimmigrant workers in that lawyers may not be as willing to take their cases.  However, because F-1 students are permitted to stay in the U.S. for the duration of their studies, their access to counsel issues are not as serious as their more temporary, transient counterparts in other visa programs such as H-2A, H-2B, and J-1.

a) Legal Services lawyers

Federally funded lawyers may represent individuals with an income below a certain financial level (usually 125% of the federal poverty guideline) and only certain classes of immigrants.106 In most cases individuals with F-1 visas will not be eligible for representation by an LSC grantee because of these financial and immigration restrictions.  However, there may be an exception if the student is a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking or another crime.107

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