The USA is renowned for its diverse educational landscape, attracting students from around the globe. If you’re considering pursuing a non-academic or vocational program, the M-1 visa might be the pathway for you. Designed for individuals seeking practical training, the M-1 visa covers several fields, from aviation to cosmetology. In this article, we will be showing you all you need to know about the M-1 student visa with a focus on the requirements and how to apply among other relevant information.
But before we proceed, it is expedient to point out some benefits of studying in the USA
Studying in the USA
The following are some of the reasons international students choose the USA as their study destination:
- Global Respect
U.S. degrees are widely respected globally because top American universities consistently rank among the best in the world. This is due not only to their funding but also to their high academic standards and challenging requirements. These universities attract students worldwide, promoting advanced education to equip international students for promising career opportunities.
- Cultural Diversity
American universities value cultural diversity. In fact, efforts have historically been made to increase educational opportunities and emphasize cultural diversity in enrolling students. Students often find their classes and dorms filled with peers from various nationalities, religions, and ethnicities, contributing to an exciting and enriching experience.
- Support for International Students
U.S. universities offer robust support services to ease the transition for international students. Workshops, English-language courses, orientations, and training are provided to prepare foreign students for their academic journey. There’s also an effort to enable international graduates, especially in STEM fields, to stay in the U.S. for extended periods, fostering career opportunities with major companies.
- Modern Facilities
American universities invest in modernizing classroom experiences by integrating technology. Access to web-based classes, computer-based tests, and cutting-edge labs ensures a contemporary education. Institutions like the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and UCLA showcase the latest in education technology.
- Flexible Education
U.S. universities offer a flexible academic environment, tailoring classroom structures and instruction methods to students’ strengths, interests, and goals. Studying in the U.S.A. provides an adaptable learning environment, promoting engagement and relevance across various fields of study.
About the M-1 Student Visa
The M-1 visa specifically caters to nonimmigrant students, allowing them to partake in vocational, technical, or nonacademic programs within the U.S. Hence, with an M-1 student visa, international students can engage in full-time technical, vocational, or nonacademic programs in the United States. This visa shares similarities in both the application process and eligibility criteria with the F-1 visa, designed for non-U.S. citizens pursuing full-time education at language schools or academic institutions like universities, seminaries, conservatories, or high schools. While holding the M-1 student visa, you are not permitted to work during your course of study except in certain cases. Additionally, you must show evidence of sufficient funds available to cover all living expenses and tuition throughout your intended stay in the U.S. Noteworthy, part-time study is also allowed with the M-1 visa, although employment is strictly prohibited. Usually, M-1 visa holders are granted a one-year duration, but those wishing to stay an additional three years can apply for an extension.
M-1 Student Visa Requirements
To be eligible for an M-1 visa, you need to meet the following requirements:
- Acceptance at an SEVP Institution
Apply and gain admission to a vocational or non-degree institution listed by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Ensure the institution qualifies you for the M-1 visa. Once accepted, the school will register you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and provide Form I-20, certifying your eligibility.
- High English Proficiency
Show a good mastery of the English language, meeting the requirements of educational institutions. Proficiency in English can be proven through standardized tests like TOEFL or IELTS, ensuring you can understand lectures and actively participate in class discussions.
- Show Strong Ties to Your Home Country
You need to prove your intention to return to your home country after completing your education. Provide evidence such as property deeds, apartment leases, a foreign address, and family ties. Failure to submit sufficient proof may result in visa rejection due to suspicions of intending permanent residence in the United States.
- Financial Capability
You need to show the ability to finance your education and stay in the U.S. Your I-20 form estimates expenses for one year; submit financial documents confirming the availability of that amount. If any dependents would accompany you to the United States, then you must show even better financial stability to cover their stay in the country.
Noteworthy, when applying for an M-1 visa, gather the following documents:
- Valid passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond visa expiration).
- DS-160 confirmation page.
- Visa appointment letter.
- One U.S. visa photograph.
- Fee payment receipts.
- Original I-20 form and a copy.
- Educational qualification proofs (degrees, diplomas, transcripts, standardized test scores).
- Financial stability proofs (bank statements, tax information for the last 3 years, loans, scholarships).
- If supported by a U.S. resident, submit Form I-134 (Affidavit of Support) and the supporter’s bank and tax return information for the last 3 years.
M-1 Student Visa Application Guide
The following steps would assist you in applying for an M-1 student visa:
- Get your I-20 Form
Upon acceptance to your chosen institution, obtain the Form I-20 from a USCIS-approved school. It’s important to note that admission doesn’t guarantee visa approval and you must complete the application process to be considered in the first place.
- Submit the DS-160 Form Online
After receiving approval from the U.S. institution, submit the DS-160 form online. Make sure to print the confirmation page, as you’ll need it for the visa interview. Also, bear in mind that the form must be filled correctly and honestly to avoid visa rejection in the long run.
- Pay the Visa Application Fee
Pay the $160 visa application fee, and if applicable, additional visa issuance fees. Additionally, pay the $200 SEVIS I-901 fee. Keep all payment receipts for future reference as you may be asked to provide them later on.
- Schedule Your Interview
Schedule your visa interview promptly, considering potential delays due to high embassy workloads. Attach the interview appointment letter to your document file. You must keep this letter safe as you may be asked to provide it before your interview begins.
- Compile Your Document File
To apply for this visa, some documents are required and some have been highlighted earlier in this article. You must include all required forms in your document file for the visa appointment. Bear in mind that some other documents may be requested so you must get in touch with the immigration authorities so as not to miss specific information.
- Attend Your Interview
You must physically attend your visa interview and answer questions to show your eligibility for the M-1 visa. Expect inquiries about your ties to your home country, financial support, and intentions for travelling to the U.S. If bringing dependents, be prepared to prove your relationship to them.
Note that once you’ve successfully enrolled in an SEVP-approved program, your information will be entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), at whoich point you’ll need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. After you must have registered with the SEVIS, you can then expect to obtain the Form I-20 (officially called “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”), which you’ll need to bring to your visa interview.
M-1 Visa Processing Time
The processing time for an M-1 visa application is generally fast, often concluding right after your visa interview. Some applicants receive an immediate response after the interview. On average, the M-1 visa processing time is a minimum of 4 weeks. Hence, it is pertinent to bear in mind the start date of your vocational course when starting your application. However, if challenges arise, especially due to errors or missing important supporting documents, the visa application processing may be greatly extended beyond the usual timeframe.
M-1 Student Visa Validity
The M-1 visa is granted for one year and this is in line with the duration of education or training specified on the I-20 form. If the training extends beyond the initial period, students can request an extension of up to 12 months from their educational institution. Furthermore, M-1 visa holders can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the training starts and stay for a maximum of 30 days after its completion. This flexibility allows for adequate preparation before and after the designated training period.
M-1 Student Visa Extension
Staying in the U.S. beyond your study duration requires an extension of your M-1 visa. You must contact your Designated School Official (DSO) to assist you in requesting this extension through SEVIS. However, when seeking an extension, keep in mind the following details:
- Your M-1 visa can only be extended during a specific period.
- Extensions can be requested in one-year increments, with a maximum of one year each time.
- Cumulative extensions are limited to a maximum of 3 years from the start date of your original enrollment, plus an additional 30 days.
- This 3-year maximum includes extensions due to changes in schools or returning to legal status.
- Provide evidence of sufficient funds to cover expenses for the proposed extension.
- If your DSO confirms a valid medical or educational justification for the extension and ensures you have ample funds, they will update your request in the SEVIS student’s record.
- Once granted, your DSO will sign a new Form I-20 for you. With the updated form, proceed to apply for an extension of stay with the USCIS.
Restrictions on M-1 Visa Activities in the USA
Upon arrival in the United States as an M-1 visa holder, certain activities are prohibited, including:
- Registering in a degree-bearing education program.
- Enrolling in language courses.
- Enrolling in technical courses.
- Engaging in full-time off-campus work.
- Participating in your vocational program on a part-time basis.
Working with an M-1 Visa
The M-1 visa permits limited employment with specific restrictions. If you desire to work with your M-1 visa, you must apply for the M-1 Visa Work Permit or the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Keep in mind that these permissions only allow part-time on-campus work when the school is open or full-time when there are no classes, and all work must be related to your study at the school. The maximum work duration allowed is 6 months.
To secure your EAD, follow these steps:
- File Form I-538, Certification by Designated School, with USCIS. The form must be signed by your Designated School Official (DSO).
- Additionally, file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
- Ensure that all work conducted under the approved EAD is directly related to your field of study.
Bringing Dependents with an M-1 Student Visa
If an M-1 visa holder has a spouse or unmarried children under 21, they can accompany them to the U.S. with an M-2 visa. The M-2 visa permits dependents to stay in the U.S. for the duration of the M-1 visa holder’s studies. Each M-2 dependent receives an individual I-20 form. However, once the M-1 visa expires, M-2 dependents are required to return to their home country. It’s important to note that M-2 dependents are not allowed to work or pursue degree programs. They can enrol in recreational courses, and children are limited to completing their elementary and middle school education (up to 12th grade).
Transferring Schools with an M-1 Visa
If you start a program at one U.S. school and later need to transfer to another U.S. program, it is possible, but certain conditions apply. M students can only transfer during the initial 6 months of their program. After the first 6 months, a transfer is permissible only if you can show the following:
- You have maintained your nonimmigrant status for the preceding 6 months.
- Inability to continue at your current school due to circumstances beyond your control.
- Capability to financially support yourself.
- Intent to be a full-time student at the new school you are transferring to.
The M-1 visa provides a pathway for international students to pursue vocational or non-academic programs in the United States. Whether exploring educational opportunities, seeking extensions, or considering transfers, this article has shown you all you need to know about the M-1 visa for a smooth immigration.