U.S. Immigration Laws contain three (3) different visa classifications that provide foreign students with eligibility to pursue different forms of educational courses of study:

  • F-1 students covering academic courses of study;
  • M-1 for students engaged in vocational courses of study;
  • J-1 covering a broad range of academic activity that is disproportionately utilized for 1) graduate courses of academic study; and 2) programs of Graduate Medical Education.

Top 10 Facts for International Students

For background on student visas, the following links may be helpful:

F-1 Students

An F-1 Student is a nonimmigrant pursuing a full course of study to achieve a specific educational or professional objective at an established U.S. college or university (as well as seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or language training program) that has been designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to offer courses to such students and has been enrolled in SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Upon completion of their educational or professional objectives, the U.S. government expects the F-1 student (and their dependents) to return to his or her residence abroad.

Eligibility for F-1 Student Status (from Abroad)

Upon admission into an approved U.S. institution and their issuance of a SEVIS Form I-20, the student must appear at a U.S. Consulate having jurisdiction over their place of residence to apply for an F-1 visa. A student can apply for an F-1 visa earlier than 120 days before the start date on their Form I-20;, however, the visa cannot be issued more than 120 days before this date. According to the U.S. Department of State, all applicants for an F-1 Student visa must provide:

  1. Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students or Form I-20M-N.
  2. A completed Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant, Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form application."
  3. A passport valid for at least six months after the proposed date of entry into the United States.
  4. One (1) 2x2 photograph to USCIS specifications.
  5. A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee, if applicable, & a separate SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.

Applicants should also be ready to present:

  1. Transcripts and diplomas from previous U.S. institutions attended, if applicable.
  2. Scores from standardized tests required by the school (i.e. TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.)
  3. Financial evidence that shows whomever is sponsoring the student has sufficient funds to cover their tuition and living expenses during their period of intended study.
  4. Evidence of intent to depart the U.S. after completion of studies.

Please note: this is only a summary of requirements. For a comprehensive list of documents, appointment procedures, etc, please contact your school and the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at which you will appear for your visa. Links to U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide are accessible on the U.S. Department of State website at http://usembassy.state.gov/.

An F-1 student with valid F-1 visa may apply for admission into the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the indicated report date or program start date listed on their Form I-20. When applying for admission, the student must present the following to immigration officials at their port of entry: passport valid for at least six months and containing valid F-1 visa; evidence of financial support; properly executed Form I-20; and poof of having paid the SEVIS fee.

Most F-1 students are admitted for duration of status. Duration of Status is defined as the time during which an F-1 student is pursuing a full course of study at an educational institution approved by the Service or engaging in authorized practical training following their completion of studies. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (5) (i).

F-1 students may remain in the U.S. for up to 60 days beyond the completion date on their Form I-20 or the completion date of any authorized optional practical training following completion of studies. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(5) (iv). This 60 day grace period may be used by the student to “prepare for departure” from the U.S. or to “prepare for transfer” to another school, a new program or academic level, or change of nonimmigrant status.

J visas

This category provides foreign students the opportunity to study at a degree-granting post-secondary accredited educational institution. Students may participate in degree and non-degree programs. Foreign students are eligible to participate in this category if at any time during their college studies in the United States they or their program are financed directly or indirectly by the United States Government, the government of their home country, or an international organization of which the United States is a member by treaty or statute, or if they are supported substantially by funding from any source other than personal or family funds. Students are also eligible if their program is carried out pursuant to an agreement between the United States Government and a foreign government, or pursuant to written agreement between American and foreign educational institutions, an American educational institution and a foreign government, or a state or local government in the United States and a foreign government. The requirements and process for obtaining a J-1 visa are the same as the F-1 requirements with the exception of the requirement for Form DS-2019 rather than Form I-20.

The most significant difference between the J visa and other student visas is the 2-year foreign residency requirement. J-1 students are subject to this requirement if the following conditions exist: 1) The program in which they are participating was financed in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the United States government or the government of the exchange visitor's nationality or last residence, 2) They are a national or resident of a country designated as requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skills in which you were engaged for the duration of your program
(http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/usia/GC/gc_docs/j_exchange/skills.pdf), or 3) They entered the United States to receive graduate medical education or training.

M visas

M student visas are utilized less frequently than F student visas because they are available only for students pursuing vocational or nonacademic studies. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m). The F and M student visa categories are quite similar, with the exception of a few minor differences. The procedure for obtaining M visas and M dependent visas for family members is almost identical to the F visa process. Thus, the rigid SEVIS procedures generally apply to M visas. One major difference between the F and M student visa is that non-SEVIS schools are permitted to sponsor students by following the reporting instructions required by immigration law. Additionally, immigration law bars “changes of status” from M to H-1B classification. 8 C.F.R. 248.2 (d), a status commonly utilized by international students to engage in the profession in which they received their post-secondary degrees.

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