THE M-1 VISA FOR NON-ACADEMIC OR VOCATIONAL STUDENTS

The M-1 Visa, a type of nonimmigrant visa, is a student visa for non-academic or vocational courses of study.

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The U.S. issued just under 10,000 M-1 visas in 2017. It allows qualified, full-time students to complete a program at a vocational or other recognized non-academic institution (other than a language training program). Full time means twelve credit hours a semester, at a more traditional-style school (community or junior college), or twenty-two clock hours of practical instruction/work. The program has to be pre-approved by the U.S. government (there is an exhaustive list online). You must show that you can support yourself financially, whether that is with your own assets, or with financial help from your parents or a group/organization. You cannot work while on an M-1 visa, so this is important. The visa is valid for up to one year, with extensions for up to three years. You can further extend your status, for up to six months for practical paid experience (you need at least four months in the program, for every month of authorized work). So technically you could stay in the U.S. for three and half years on an M-1 visa.

What are the initial steps?

First, you must apply and be accepted to a school or program. The immigration process cannot start until you have an offer of acceptance, that you have accepted (congrats!). Then, the institution will issue you an I-20. This form will contain all the information the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will need to keep track of your visa, throughout your time in the U.S. This information includes biographical information about you (name, birthdate, citizenship, etc.), program details (start and end dates, program name), and how the student (you!) will pay for tuition and living expenses for either the year; or the end date (whichever comes first).

Next, it depends on where you currently live! If you are already in the U.S. and are transitioning to another status, you will possibly need to fill out an I-539. However, it may even be possible to become a student without filling out any additional forms! You  should click here (for more information on student visas generally), and click here (for more information on changing or extending your status). However most M visas are issued to people who are currently living abroad. If you are outside of the U.S., you apply at your local embassy, interview (within 120 days of your start date), and then enter the United States. You can enter no earlier than thirty days before your program starts, and you can only stay up to thirty days after your program ends  (after your program ends plus any optional training).

Maintaining your status is critical. Once you receive your visa, there are a few conditions in order to keep your visa, but they should be manageable.

  • Have a full course load: At a community or junior college this would mean at least twelve credit hours per semester. At a more hands-on program (where most of your hours are spent in a shop or a lab), you need at least twenty-two clock hours per week. Sometimes you can get permission from your institution for a reduced course load, but only for an illness or a medical condition.
  • Have an accurate SEVIS record: If you realize your graduation date will be later  than listed on your I-20, or if you need a medical extension, then you have to update that in the SEVIS system.

Can your family come? Your spouse and children can! They will get an M-2 visa, which is linked to your visa. If you get an extension, so do they; if you go out of status, so do they. M-2 spouses cannot work or enroll in an academic course load, but they can attend recreational or vocational classes. M-2 minor children can go to school K-12 (either public or vocational).

Optional Practical Training, what is it? It is a way for you to get paid, practical experience (in the subject matter you studied), for a limited amount of time after you graduate. You are eligible for one month of authorization for every four months you were studying in your program, up to six additional months. For example if your program was exactly one year, or twelve months, you would be allowed three months of authorization for paid work.

M-3 Visa for Commuter Students: If you are a Mexican or Canadian student who has been accepted to attend a non-academic or vocational school in the U.S., this visa might be better than an M-1 depending on where your school is. The idea behind this visa is to allow students who live close to the border, to commute to school in the United States. There are additional limitations, you cannot live in the U.S. at any time on this visa, and you cannot apply for status for family members. However it is an easier visa to obtain, since you do not need to prove financial support (because you will not be living in the U.S.),  and you can even attend school part-time on the M-3.

If you want to learn new practical skills for a career or profession in the U.S., then an M visa might be the best way! Please contact us to help make your process quick and smooth.

Can I leave the country and return on a student visa?

Yes! You should make sure you have all your documents with you (passport and I-20 at least). You will also need a travel endorsement signature. That is a signature from the International Student Affairs staff at your school on the second page of your original I-20 or DS-2019. The signature proves that you are maintaining your status, and this will be checked by an immigration official when you re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad.

Will I and my dependents have to be interviewed?
You will most certainly need an interview. You will have to go to the embassy or consulate nearest you within 120 days of your program start. In general, anyone coming to the U.S. on any kind of student visa, or student visa dependent, will have to be interviewed if they are between ages 14 and 79. Sometimes those aged 13 and younger, and those aged 80 and older will need to be interviewed only if requested by the embassy/consulate, but that is not the standard practice.
What if my English needs some improvement?
Well it depends on what program you are applying for. If you are applying for an English language intensive program, then that is fine, since the whole point is for a language immersion experience! For a J-1 visa you need enough language skills to participate in whatever program you choose, so it is dependent on the needs of the program. In general, aside from a language intensive program, your english skills should be high enough that you do not struggle in the program. Especially if you are trying to earn a degree!
Can I drive in the U.S.?
Yes you can! You need to get a driver’s license in the state you are living. You should wait at least ten days after you arrive in the U.S., so that all of your information updates in the various systems. The specific procedure varies state-by-state, so you should look up your state’s requirements. You will almost certainly need your passport, your I-20, and proof of residence. Proof of residence means proof that you live in that state (not in your home country)–but what is actually required might be different in different states, so you should check with your state’s DMV.
Is there a limit on how many people can get a student visa per year?
There is no numerical limit! You have to meet the various requirements of the visa and your program, but the government does not have a set limit.

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