Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. | Chicago Immigration Law | Students (F and M visas)
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Students (F and M visas)
F-1 and M-1 Student Visas | Scott Pollock & Associates Chicago Immigration LawIf you are planning to come to the United States to study you can apply for either an F-1 or an M-1 visa. F-1 visas are for students pursuing an academic course of study. M-1 visas are for students pursuing vocational studies.  

Eligibility Requirements for a Student Visa

You must be accepted to a specific school before obtaining an F-1 or M-1 visa, be intending to study full-time, maintain a full course load, be able to support yourself financially during your time in the United States, and be proficient in English unless you will be enrolling in an English language program.

How to Apply for an F-1 or M-1 Visa

The school you plan to attend must be approved by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through its SEVIS program. Before applying for a visa, you must receive a Form I-20 from your school to show that you have been accepted and that the school is in the SEVIS system. You may only study at the designated school unless you follow the SEVIS process for transferring to another ICE-approved institution. Once you have received a Form I-20, you may apply for your student visa at a United States consulate. You are not required to file a visa petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the consular officer decides that you qualify for a student visa and are admissible to the United States, he or she will then issue the F-1 or M-1 visa, allowing you to travel to the United States to begin your studies.

Duration of Stay 

F-1 visa students are admitted for “duration of status,” which is the time necessary for you to complete your course of study plus a 60-day grace period to depart after your course of study ends. If you receive an M-1 visa, you will be admitted for the time necessary to complete your course of study plus a 30-day grace period or for one year, whichever is shorter. You may obtain an extension as needed to complete your course of study, but you cannot spend more than three years and 30 days total in the United States in M-1 visa status.

Employment in the United States 

If you come to the United States on a student visa, your employment options will be very limited. If you have an F-1 visa, you may work at on-campus jobs or you may seek permission to work in case of unanticipated financial needs.

F-1 visa students who have completed one academic year of study may also apply for curricular or optional practical training.

Curricular practical training allows you to work off-campus during the school year or during school vacations to meet a work-study or practicum course requirement. Before participating in curricular practical training, you must get approval from your school and this approval must be noted on your Form I-20.

Optional practical training allows you to work off-campus in a position related to your field of study. Unlike curricular practical training, optional practical training need not be part of your formal course work. Therefore, besides being able to take part in optional practical training during the school year and during school vacations, you may also take part in optional practical training for up to one year (or 29 months in the case of students in certain science and technology fields) after graduating. As with curricular practical training, you must receive approval from your school to participate. In addition, you must apply for and be granted employment authorization from USCIS. Time spent participating in optional practical training prior to graduation will be deducted from the maximum amount of post-graduation practical training you may receive. In addition, post-graduation optional practical training will not be granted to students who have participated in curricular practical training full-time for a year or more or part-time for two years or more.

If you have an M-1 visa, you may only accept employment if you are granted post-graduation optional practical training and then can only work one month for every four months that you pursued a full course load, up to a maximum of six months.

Accompanying Family Members 

If you receive an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa, you spouse and unmarried children who are under the age of 21 may accompany you on F-2 or M-2 visas, however, they may not work in the United States. In addition, your spouse may not take part in full-time study (although part-time, recreational study is allowed). Your children may attend elementary or secondary school, but otherwise may follow the same restrictions on full-time study that apply to your spouse.

Contact our Immigration Lawyers 

For questions and/or to arrange a consultation with one of our attorneys, please call (312) 444-1940 or send us an e-mail at You may also visit our Contact Us page for more detailed contact information.