F-1 and M-1 Student Visas
Citizens of foreign countries (with some exceptions, noted below) are required to obtain a student visa to study in the United States. A student visa can be an F-1 visa or M-1 visa, depending on the type of study and the school a foreign national is going to attend. To attend a university, college, high school, private school, seminary, conservatory or any type of academic institution where students obtain a degree, one is required to have an F-1 visa. To attend a nonacademic class such as a foreign language training program, a foreign national must obtain an M-1 visa.
Study on a B Visitor Visa
A citizen of a foreign country traveling to the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa cannot study in the U.S. and must obtain either an F-1 or M-1 student visa. A national of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program is not allowed to study on a B visitor visa, either. Students attending distance-learning classes leading to an academic degree which require physical presence in the U.S. for some period must also obtain an F-1 visa. Nevertheless, a visitor visa allows enrollment in short recreational classes.
Application Process for a Student Visa
Before applying for an M or F student visa, you must be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SERV) approved school. Once you are accepted by a SERV school, you are required to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) I-901 fee. Then your school will issue a Form I-20 for you to present at the visa interview in the U.S. consulate abroad. Your family members can also travel with you, but each of them is required to obtain a separate Form I-20.
After you obtain a Form I-20, you must fill out the online nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-160. After you complete the form, you will need to print out the confirmation page to present it to the consular officer during the interview, which you should schedule beforehand. Only those applicants who are between the ages of 14-79 are required to attend the interview. Before you start the visa application process, you should carefully read the visa application instructions on the webpage of the specific consulate or Embassy, because each consulate sometimes has additional requirements for the visa application process.
Note that you cannot enter the U.S. earlier than 30 days prior to the start of your studies.
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are not required to apply for a student visa to study in the United States, but they are required to have a Form I-20 when entering the country.
You can also obtain F-1 or M-1 visa status while in the U.S. by filing a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status with the USCIS. Changing a nonimmigrant status from a visitor to a student visa is not usually advisable, because USCIS might reject the application based on the suspicion that the applicant intended to study when applying for the visitor visa and did not disclose his intention at the interview. To avoid such an outcome, you should submit a detailed explanation letter to the USCIS along with your Form I-539 and supporting documents as to why you decided to study only after you arrived in the United States. Yet, such explanation still might not be sufficient to obtain a favorable decision and you might be forced to leave the country and apply for a student visa through the consular services.
Working While on F Visa
Generally, an F visa holder is not authorized to work in the U.S. Employment without authorization is a violation of the student visa terms and will render a person ineligible to continue his staying in the U.S. and entering the country again. If authorized by the visa holder’s school, an F-1 student may work for curricular practical training (CPT) during his study period. Employment under CPT must be an integral part of a curriculum and the student’s position must be directly related to his or her major.
An F visa holder is also allowed to work under Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is a form of temporary employment during or after completion of the visa holder’s studies. M-1 visa holders are not allowed to work under OPT during their studies — only after the completion of their vocational program.
After Completion of Studies
After the program is completed, an F-1 visa holder has 60 days and M visa holder 30 days to stay in the U.S. beyond the authorized period of stay. This date (expiry of authorization) is indicated on Form I-94 and/or Form I-20. If you intend to stay in the country after 60 or 30 days following this date, you must either extend your student visa, change your visa status to another immigrant or nonimmigrant category, or start the Green Card application/adjustment of status process. Otherwise, you will be out of status. For instance, you can change from F -1 or M-1 to a J-1 visa or H-1B employment visa status. The visa extension can be done by transferring to another school or changing the education level.
Should you have any questions or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me by submitting the form or by calling me at (248) 630-3239. I accept clients from across the U.S. and around the world. My law office is conveniently located in Troy, Michigan for in-person meetings. For phone consultation, you can reach me from any part of the United States or abroad.