Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence.
In order to enter the United States as a student to study you must have a student visa. Your course of study and the type of school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa.
To enter the United States to attend:
|You will need the following visa category:|
|University or college||
|Private elementary school|
|Another academic institution, including a language training program
Vocational or other recognized non-academic institution other than a language training program
The F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa specifically for foreign nationals undertaking full-time, academic studies at a University, College, Language School, Conservatory, or any other accredited institution. Students studying at vocational schools do not qualify for an F-1 visa, and must instead apply for an M-1 visa.
F-1 students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date on their I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) which is provided by the US college or university that the student has been accepted to and will attend.
F1 Visa Requirements
In order to qualify, applicants need to satisfy and prove several strict criteria during an F-1 visa interview, including the following:
- Foreign Residence
F-1 applicants must have a foreign residence and must intend to return there upon the completion of their studies.
- Sponsoring Institution
While on your F-1 visa, you may only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted.
- Financial Support
Applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial support — the Study USA Financing Guide can help you prepare for this aspect of your time abroad.
- Ties to Home Country
All applicants must demonstrate that they have strong ties to their home country. Strong ties consist of, but are not limited to, the following:
- A job offer letter upon completion of studies;
- Assets (i.e., house, land, vehicle, etc.);
- Bank accounts; and
Period of Stay
Individuals on an F-1 visa are allowed to live and study in the U.S., but employment is usually restricted to work which is connected to their area of study.
Students who complete their academic requirements are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows for work authorization in a field connected to the area of study for a maximum of one (1) year. Students receiving a degree in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) are eligible for a 17-month OPT extension, as long as their study was part of the USCIS’s STEM Designated Degree Program List. For more information on qualifying STEM degrees, click here.
Family of F-1 Visa Holders
The F-2 visa is available for the spouse and unmarried children, under the age of 21, to accompany an F-1 student to the U.S. Children in F-2 status are able to attend public school in the United States. Spouses in F-2 status are not permitted to work.
The "M" visa is for nonacademic or vocational educational studies such as preparing people to work in a trade, in a craft, as a technician or in support roles in professions such as engineering, accountancy and nursing.
M1 Visa Requirements
To qualify for an M-1 visa, you must:
- Prove your intention to enter into the U.S. temporarily;
- Attend an approved vocational study program;
- Engage in a full course of study; and
- Have evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of intended stay.
What privileges do I enjoy on M-1 visa?
On an M-1 visa, you may:
- Enter the U.S. as a fulltime vocational or non-academic student;
- Transfer from one school to another;
- Work legally on-campus on a part-time basis;
- Work legally off-campus on an assignment that's related to your field of study; and
- Travel in and out of the U.S.
What are the limitations of M-1 student visa?
On an M-1 student visa, you may:
- Transfer from one school to another only with the permission of the USCIS;
- Never be permitted to change your course of study;
- Work legally off-campus only with the permission of the USCIS; and
- Take dependents to stay with you in the U.S. but they may not work.
Period of Stay on M1 visa
You may stay in the U.S. on M1 visa for one year, or for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student in a vocational program plus thirty days to prepare to leave the country, whichever is shorter. You can however apply for an extension of say on the M-1 visa after the completion of your studies to pursue practical training. If approved, you will be allowed to have one month of practical training for every four months of study you have completed. This is limited to six months total practical training.
Are there any travel restrictions on M-1 visa?
No, there are no travel restrictions on M-1 visa. M-1 students may leave the U.S. and be readmitted after temporary absences. When making your travel plans, please remember that you must be a full-time student to keep your M-1 student status.
Family of M-1 visa Holders
The spouse and unmarried children, under the age of 21, may accompany or visit the M-1 visa holder to the U.S. on a temporary basis however the spouse of the M-1 visa holder is not permitted to accept employment and children may only engage in full-time study if the study is in elementary or secondary school.
Students who complete their academic requirements are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows for work authorization in a field connected to the area of study for a maximum of one (1) year. Students receiving a degree in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) are eligible for a 17-month OPT extension, as long as their study was part of the USCIS’s STEM Designated Degree Program List.
For more information on qualifying STEM degrees, click here.