So, let's say you have decided that you want to study in the U.S., and you have been accepted into a school/program that suits all of your educational needs. First of all, congratulations! Your hard work has paid off, and people have recognized that. Now, the next step is to obtain your student visa.
U.S. visas as a whole can be very complicated. Even for students, there is not only one visa that can apply to everyone. Because there are so many different educational programs in the U.S., that results in various kinds of student visas that depend on each person’s situation. Overall, there are three different types of student visas: F visas, J visas, and M visas (1). Here we will break down each type so that you can decide which one would be the most appropriate for you.
F Visas (2)
F visas are most common for students. These permits are for international students who intend to pursue an academic degree at an accredited American college or university, whether it is an undergraduate or graduate program. This visa also applies to those who want to come to the U.S. to study English at a university or a language institute. Within the F visas, there are three different types:
- F-1 Visas: Visas for full-time students at an accredited American college/university or a language institution
- F-2 Visas: Visas for dependents (spouses and/or children) of F-1 visa holders
- F-3 Visas: Visas for 'border commuters' – students from Mexico and Canada residing in their country of origin but attending school in the U.S.
Several rules come along with an F-1 visa. Regarding employment, F-1 visa holders are allowed to work part-time, on-campus jobs for 20 hours per week or less. Students who wish to work more than the allotted time must gain authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Following the students' completion of their first academic year, F-1 students may choose from three types of off-campus employment:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
Concerning academics, F-1 visa holders must maintain the minimum course load of a full-time student. Students are also required to complete their program by the expiration date listed on their Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status).
To qualify for an F-1 student visa, the applicant must show proof of acceptance from an accredited U.S. school as a full-time student. They must also show that they have ample financial support throughout their stay in the United States. Suppose the visa obtainer violates any of these rules. In that case, their visa will be revoked, and the student will no longer be permitted entry or re-entry into the U.S. To apply, visa seekers must present a completed Form I-20 to a U.S. embassy or consulate.
J Visas (3)
J visas are for international students partaking in programs in the U.S. that promote cultural exchange. There are two types of J visas:
- J-1 Visas: Visas for the exchange student that is participating in the relevant exchange program
- J-2 Visas: Dependents (spouses or children) of J-1 visa holders
Similar to F-1 visa employment regulations, J-1 visa holders may work part-time, on-campus jobs for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session.
However, unlike F-1 visa holders, students under the J-1 visa usually stay in the U.S. for a short time. Often, they only stay for one to two semesters. Some are also required to return to their home country for at least two years following their program's completion.
To qualify for a J-1 visa, the applicant must already be proficient in the English language and have medical insurance. Like the F-1 visa, they must also show adequate financial assistance to cover their personal costs while residing in the U.S. Their application must also specify the specific period they plan to stay in the U.S. as well as their return period to their home country. Failure to do so may result in getting the visa revoked. To apply, visa seekers must first complete the DS-2019 form from their sponsoring institution or a U.S. government agency.
M Visas (4)
M visas are for international students who want to participate in a non-academic or vocational study/training at a U.S. institution. It is important to note that these visas do not apply to language training. There are three types of M visas:
- M-1 Visas: Visas for international students looking to participate in a non-academic or vocational study
- M-2 Visas: Visas for dependents (spouses or children) of M-1 visa holders
- M-3: Visas for 'border commuters' – students from Mexico and Canada residing in their country of origin but attending participating in a non-academic or vocational training in the U.S.
Unlike F-1 and J-1 visas, M-1 visa holders are not allowed to seek employment during their studies. This is regardless of whether the job is on or off-campus.
In addition, these students may stay in the U.S. for one year and will not be permitted to overstay their visas. However, they are given a 30-day grace period following their training before they have to leave.
To qualify for an M-1 visa, applicants must show proof of acceptance from an accredited vocational institution and prove that they can immediately pay all tuition fees and living costs for the entire period of their intended stay. They must also already be proficient in the English language and have permanent residency in their home country. To apply, visa seekers must first provide a completed Form I-20 at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of residence. The applicants' sponsoring institution should provide all of the necessary forms.
- Haidar, Hasna. “Types of US Student Visa.” Top Universities, July 29, 2020. https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/studying-abroad/types-us-student-visa.
- “F1 Student Visa - The Application Process and Interview Tips.” International Student. Accessed August 25, 2020. https://www.internationalstudent.com/immigration/f1-student-visa/.
- “J1 Student Visa - J1 Visa Immigration.” International Student. Accessed August 25, 2020. https://www.internationalstudent.com/immigration/j1-student-visa/.
- “M1 Student Visa - M1 Visa Immigration.” International Student. Accessed August 25, 2020. https://www.internationalstudent.com/immigration/m1-student-visa/.