If you’d like to become a full-time student in the United States, the two primary nonimmigrant visa options that are available to you are the F-1 visa (for Academic Students) and the M-1 visa (for Vocational Students). This is the primary visa option for students in private elementary schools, high schools, higher education institutions, seminaries, conservatories, language-training and vocational schools. Once granted, the visa will last for the entire duration of the program of study.
For non-credit, recreational study, a visitor visa would be appropriate.
In order to enter the United States with either an F-1 or M-1 visa, you must meet the following criteria:
Before you can apply for an F-1 or an M-1 visa, you must be accepted to a program of study at an SEVP-approved institution. Admission standards will be different for each institution. After you are accepted and enrolled in the program, the SEVP-approved institution will register you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and send you a Form I-20 to be used in your visa application.
There are several documents that you are required to bring to your visa interview. In general, you will need to bring the following documents:
Additional application documents may be required depending on the specific consulate or embassy. Documents that may be required include demonstrated academic transcripts and demonstrated ability to support oneself financially.
After you have your F-1/M-1 Visa, you may enter the United States on the earliest date of admission, which can be found on your I-20 document under “Earliest Admission Date.” Your earliest admission date will generally be 30 days before your program start date.
After you have been approved for an F/M Visa, it is important that you maintain your student status once you are in the United States. There are three main issues that can affect a student’s status in the United States: the need to reduce course load, the need to change academic programs or institutions, and the need for employment.
A Note on I-20 Travel Signatures: Students will need to renew the travel signature on their I-20 accompanying document every year in order to be able to travel in and out of the United States. While in the United States, be sure to make an appointment with your Designated School Official (DSO) in order to renew your travel signature and make sure that you can freely cross borders.
Except for on-campus employment, all other forms of employment will require one of the following employment authorizations. These forms of employment authorization become available to international students on the F/M after one full year of maintaining legal student status in the United States. If you are looking to pursue off-campus employment, different options for work authorization on the F/M visa are available.
This type of employment is defined as employment which is an integral part of a curriculum. It allows students the option to accept off-campus employment as part of the curriculum of their program of study. CPT can be required, if a program of study necessitates that a student has some practical work experience as part of the graduation requirement. CPT may also be optional, if the work experience is not a requirement for graduation. It is important to note that CPT is only available to students prior to graduation and that engaging in CPT subtracts from the student’s 12-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) allowance. If a student engages in 12 months of full-time CPT, they will be forfeiting their OPT.
This type of employment is defined as temporary employment that is directly related to the student’s field of study. The difference between OPT and CPT is that OPT is completely optional and is not a part of the established curriculum of the student’s program of study. OPT is available both before and after the student completes their program of study (Pre-Completion/Post-Completion OPT). Applying for OPT is a lengthy process which could take several months. Within the OPT allowance, students remain on their student visas and maintain student status in the United States.
The United States has a lot of opportunities for international students. The F/M Student Visa is an integral part of full-time study in the United States. Scott D. Pollock & Associates P.C. is a team of attorneys and legal experts specializing in immigration law. If you have any questions or are needing assistance with any issue related to the F/M student visa, don’t hesitate to give our team a call, and we will be able to advise you in your immigration process. Contact a member of our team today at 312.444.1940.