If you would like to study as a full-time student in the United States, you will need a student visa. There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. These visas are commonly known as the F and M visas.
You may enter in the F-1 or M-1 visa category provided you meet the following criteria:
- You must be enrolled in an "academic" educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program
- Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
- You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution
- You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
- You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study
- You must maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up
F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
M-1 Student Visa
The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.
F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. There are various programs available for F-1 students to seek off-campus employment, after the first academic year. F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment, after they have been studying for one academic year. These three types of employment are:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.
For both F-1 and M-1 students any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.
The steps to acquiring a student visa are not complicated, but the US student visa process can be lengthy. This is why it is best to start planning for applying for a student visa as early as possible.
This step-by-step breakdown of the student visa process provides a general outline of the steps to acquiring a student visa for USA.
Step 1: Identify Student Visa Type
There are three different types of student visas, and the student visa application process varies for each type.
Determine which student visa you need for your desired academic program.
Step 2: Take the required Academic Tests
Most academic programs require academic test scores, so you must determine which tests you need to take before applying to universities or academic programs.
- Determine which Academic Tests you need to take
- Register for the test
- Take the test in your home country
Step 3: Register at an accredited U.S. College or University
- Find a University you would like to attend in the United States.
- Apply to the College/University.
- Fulfill all formalities of registration.
- Obtain an I-20.
(After all your registration formalities has been completed the College/University will send you an I-20 which you will need while applying for the visa).
Step 4: Apply for the Student Visa
- You will apply for a student visa and go through a visa interview at a US consulate in your home country. If your immediate family is coming to USA with you on a dependent visa, then apply for their visa at the same time as yours.
- Visa will be issued for the duration mentioned on your form I-20. (In practice most students get five-year visas irrespective of the duration mentioned on the I-20).
- If you are refused a visa, you can apply again and again. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for a visa.
- Having relatives or family in the US does not disqualify you for a US visa.
Step 5: Get your Student Visa Stamped
Visit US Student Visa Stamping for more information.
Step 6: Communicate with your College or University
Communicate with your College/University for important information and key dates.