The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows an individual 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. The individual must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and the school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
The M-1 visa (Vocational Student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.
To obtain either an F-1 or M-1 visa, an intending nonimmigrant must demonstrate the following:
- That they are enrolled in an academic educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
- That the school has been approved by ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitors Program;
- That they will be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
- That they are either proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
- That they have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
- That they maintain a residence abroad which they have no intention of giving up.
F-1 students may not work off-campus during their first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. 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); and
- 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 a designated school official and by USCIS.
Another possible avenue to study in the United States is the J-1 visa classification (exchange visitors). J-1 visas are available to individuals who intend to participate in an approved exchange program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.
Some J-1 nonimmigrants enter the United States specifically to work (researcher, etc.) while others do not. Employment is authorized for J-1 nonimmigrants only under the terms of the exchange program. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are entitled to J-2 classification and work authorization.