Many of the world’s top schools and universities are located in the United States. If you’re a foreign student who wants to attend one of these institutions, you’ll need a student visa.
Fortunately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers several different student visas for people of various ages and educational goals.
In this article, we’ll talk about F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant student visas. These are the visas for academic and vocational training, respectively. Keep in mind that without one of these visas, it will be very difficult to attend a school or program in the United States.
If you are in danger of losing your student visa, it’s important to contact an immigration lawyer immediately.
What Exactly is a Student Visa?
A student visa allows you to enter and remain within the United States for the purpose of academic (class F) or vocational (class M) study. This includes everything from attending high-school to enrolling in a culinary school. Further, any foreign student who enrolls in a U.S. university must apply for and receive one of these visas.
Generally, F-1 visas are for students who want to attend a traditional college full time and earn a degree in a subject such as engineering, science, or the humanities. M-1 visas on the other hand cover all vocational and non-academic courses of study. These can include things like language programs, flight school, or culinary school.
Remember, however, that these visas only allow you to work in the United States under very specific circumstances. M-1 students may not work during their studies at all. F-1 students on the other hand may work in only one of the following two ways:
- On-campus employment.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). (These will not be available during your first year of education.)
As an added bonus, a student visa will also let you apply for a driver’s license in the state of your residence.
Do I Need a Student Visa to Study in the U.S.?
For long-term degree programs, you absolutely need a student visa. While you may be able to enter the United States without one, you will always run the risk of deportation.
On the other hand, some students may want to come to the United States for a short-term, recreational, non-credit study. In that case, a visitor visa may be more appropriate.
Visitor visas are short-term visas intended for tourism or business. It does not allow you to attain an accredited degree or seek employment in the United States.
How Long Does a Student Visa Last?
Student visas are intended for relatively long-term programs. They last as long as the program you are attending, even if that entails several years of study.
After your program ends, you will have 60 days to apply for an extension, provided you plan on attending another program. If you do not, your visa will expire at the end of that 60-day period.
If you receive a professional job offer after attending a university in the states, you may ask your new employer to file and have your student visa changed into a work visa. In this case, you may remain in the United States under the terms of this new visa.
Do I Qualify for a Student Visa?
- Acceptance into a DHS-approved institution. You will need to provide evidence that you have been accepted into the institution.
- You must have a residence in a foreign country and intend to return to that country at the end of your studies. The consulate may require you to demonstrate that you have strong ties to this country, such as family or professional contacts.
- In most cases, you will need to prove that you have the ability to pay for the program, as well as the cost of living in the United State. Fortunately, a wide variety of financial aid programs exist specifically to help foreign students pay for their studies.
- All required documentation, including a valid passport and a complete DS-160 form.
How Do I Apply for a Student Visa?
There are a couple steps in applying for a U.S. student visa.
The first step is, of course, being accepted into a U.S. university or other program. Once you’re accepted, you’ll pay a small fee to register into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and your school will send you an I-20 form. You must also fill out a complete DS-160 form.
Then, schedule and attend a visa interview at your local U.S. consulate. At this interview, you should hand over the I-20 and DS-160 forms. This interview is a short discussion in which a consular officer asks you to explain your reasons for coming to the United States. Applicants under the age of 13 generally do not have to undergo this step.
You will also need to pay a visa application fee. Currently, this fee is $160 for a nonimmigrant visa. It is not refundable if the consulate rejects your application.
Once you’ve completed this process, a consular officer will either accept or reject your application.
What Will They Ask During My Interview?
Each consulate handles interviews slightly differently. However, all have the same goal during interviews: double-checking your eligibility. Thus, you can expect questions about why you chose the institution that you did, how you will be paying for it, and what your future career plans are. The interviewer may also inquire about your academic performance or test scores, as well as your English fluency.
If you are worried about your visa interview, contact an immigration lawyer. An experienced immigration lawyer can understand your specific situation, and the questions you are likely to encounter. By consulting your lawyer beforehand, you’ll lessen the risk of an unexpected question taking you off-guard and ruining your interview.
Can My Family Come with Me?
The F-1 and M-1 student visas do not allow you to bring family members with you by themselves. However, they do allow your dependents to apply for F-2 and M-2 visas of their own.
In order to do so, they will need to obtain and fill out their own individual I-20 forms from the institution you have been accepted to.
Your dependent’s F-2 or M-2 visas will last until your own visa expires. Until that time, they may enter or leave the United States freely. They may also apply for their own student visas should they wish to study in the U.S.
However, unless they do so, they may not work or attend educational programs in the U.S. Doing so would risk deportation.
For many people, obtaining a student visa is the first step in a long, successful career. However, applying for a student visa can be a complicated process. If you are considering doing so, contact an immigration lawyer.
A good immigration lawyer can help you with the complex legal aspects of your application, allowing you to focus on your studies.