Student Visas, F-1 and M-1, Who Is Eligible?
An alien who has a residence in a foreign country which he/she has no intention of abandoning, who wishes to come to the United States to pursue a course of study at an academic institution accredited by the USCIS, may qualify for an F-1 student visa. The alien must have a valid educational purpose for coming to the United States and must be able to support himself or herself while in the United States without working.
The F-1 student visa applicant must have available sufficient funds and outside financial support to ensure he or she will not become a public charge or accept unauthorized employment. He or she must be proficient in English or receive training to make him or her proficient, intend to depart the United States at the conclusion of his or her studies and be qualified to attend the particular institution. All F-1 students are given permission to be in the United States for “duration of status,” that is for the period of time needed to complete the educational program plus 60 days.
At the end of the course of study, a period of work authorization may be requested for the purpose of gaining experience in the field of study, known as “practical training.” If qualified, the student may also change non-immigrant status to a temporary non-immigrant work visa or adjust status to a permanent resident visa.
Main Features of the F-1 Student Visa
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the F-1, academic student, visa:
• Once you’ve been accepted by a U.S. school, the application process is reasonably quick and straightforward.
• You may come to the U.S. as a full-time academic or language student enrolled in a program leading to a degree or certificate.
• You may not obtain an F visa to study at a public elementary school or a publicly funded adult education program. Nor may you obtain an F visa to study at a public secondary school unless you prepay the full cost of such program, for a maximum of one year.
• You can transfer from one school to another or switch academic programs by going through a simple procedure to notify USCIS.
• You may work legally in a part-time job on campus. Also, you may get special
permission to work off campus if it is economically urgent or if the job provides practical training for your field of study.
• You may travel in and out of the U.S. or remain there until the completion of
• Visas are available for accompanying relatives, but relatives may not accept employment in the United States.
Main Features of the M-1 Student Visa
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the M-1, vocational student, visa:
• The application process is reasonably quick and straightforward.
• You may come to the U.S. as a full-time vocational or non-academic student
enrolled in a program leading to a degree or certificate.
• You can transfer from one school to another, but only if you apply for and receive permission from USCIS to do so. Once you are six months into the program of studies, you are prohibited from transferring except under truly exceptional circumstances.
• You are never permitted to change your course of study.
• You may not work during your studies.
• You may get permission to work for up to six months after your studies are done. The job must be considered practical training for your field of study.
• You may travel in and out of the U.S. or remain there until the completion of your studies, up to a maximum of one year. If you have not completed your program in a year or by the time your school projected, whichever is less, you must apply for an extension.
• The maximum extension allowed is three years from the original start date.
• Visas are available for accompanying relatives, although relatives may not accept employment in the United States.
Coming to the U.S. to Look for a School?
As a prospective student, you can come to the U.S. as a tourist for the purpose of locating a school you want to attend. If you do this, however, be sure to tell the consul at your B-2 visa interview that this is your intent so that he or she can make the appropriate annotation in your passport (usually “Prospective Student—school not yet selected”). Otherwise, if you later request a change of status from a visitor visa to a student visa, USCIS will presume that you committed fraud by applying for a visitor visa when you intended to come to the U.S. to study. USCIS will then refuse your application to convert to student status.
Therefore, if you enter the U.S. on a B-2 visa and do not have the annotation indicating that you are a prospective student, you will need to leave the U.S., before your authorized stay expires, so that you can apply for a student visa from your home country.