A student wishing to attend a university or other academic institution in the United States requires a student (F-1) visa; those wishing to attend a vocational or non-academic institution require an M-1 visa. Holders of visitor (B-2) visas and those who have entered the United States visa free under the Visa Waiver Program are prohibited from entering into full-time study.
Academic (F-1) Visa
A student wishing to attend a university or other academic institution in the United States, including primary and secondary schools, or a language training program requires an F-1 visa. Section 214(l) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), prohibits the issuance of F-1 visas to students who are going to the United States to attend public elementary schools (grades K through 8, approximately ages 5 to 14) and publicly funded adult education programs such as foreign language classes. Students applying for F-1 visas to attend public secondary schools (grades 9 through 12, approximately ages 14 to 18) are limited to a maximum of 12 months of public high school in F-1 status and must show proof that payment has been made for the full, unsubsidized cost of the education before a visa can be processed. Students attending private elementary and secondary schools are not affected by this ruling.
Nonacademic (M-1) Visa
A student wishing to pursue a course of study which is not principally academic in nature at an established vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution such as a post secondary vocational or business school requires an M-1 visa.
It is possible in certain limited circumstances for the holder of an F-1 visa to obtain permission to work in the United States. Holders of M-1 visas may only engage in employment if it is a required part of their practical training and the employment has been approved in advance by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Entry & Length of Stay
The holder of a student F-1 or M-1 visa may enter the United States up to 30 days before the designated registration date on the I-20A-B or I-20M. The 30 day limitation does not apply to students returning to resume studies; they may enter the U.S. at any time. The holder of an F-1 visa may remain in the United States for up to 60 days following the completion of the course or practical training. Note: The duration of status of an F-1 student in a publicly funded secondary school cannot exceed an aggregate of 12 months schooling.
The holder of an M-1 visa may remain in the United States for the period of time it will take to complete the course of study as indicated on the I-20M plus 30 days, or for one year, whichever is less.
If you wish to remain longer, you will be required to apply for an adjustment of status or extension of stay from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services having jurisdiction over your place of residence in the United States.
Spouses, Children & Partners
Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require derivative F-2 or M-2 visas. Spouses and/or children who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas, or if qualified, travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program..
F-2/M-2 verses F-1
There is no requirement that the spouse and/or children of an F-1 or M-1 visa holder apply for an F-1 visa if they wish to study in the U.S.; they may study on an F-2 or M-2 visa. However, if they are qualified, they may apply for the F-1 visa. If you have school age children, you should refer to the regulations governing the issuance of F-1 visas.
Working on an F-2/M-2 visa
The holder of a derivative F-2 or M-2 visa may not work. If he or she is seeking employment, the appropriate work visa is required.
I believe I qualify for an F or M visa, what do I do next?
All student applicants must have a SEVIS generated Form I-20A-B Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - For Academic or Language Students or I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status Form issued by an educational institution approved by DHS, which they submit when they are applying for their student visa. Please ensure that the name and date of birth on the I-20 must match exactly the name and date of birth in your passport.
The consular officer will need to verify your I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application. Unless otherwise exempt, participants must pay a SEVIS I-901 Fee to the Department of Homeland Security for each individual program. The fee may be paid either through a special website, via Western Union, or by mail. Follow link to SEVIS-901 Fee for further information on how to pay the fee. The I-20A-B or I-20M-N is not valid for travel unless accompanied by a valid visa. Once you have this form, you are required to apply for the visa.
Applying for the Visa
Information about scheduling an appointment and the visa application process may be obtained by viewing the How to Apply for a Visa page of this site. Please follow this link if you have an urgent need to travel.
Please Note: No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore final travel plans or the purchase of nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
For more information about Student Visas visit the travel.state.gov web site.
Links to USG Federal Agencies:
- The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
- Bureau of Consular Affairs
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
PAYING THE SEVIS FEE
• The SEVIS fee must be paid before you attend the Embassy for an interview. For further information including the method of payment, please visit the Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.
• Fact Sheet: I-901 SEVIS Fee for F, M, and J Nonimmigrant Students and Exchange Visitors