Studying in the U.S.
Are you looking to study in the U.S.? Choosing the right visa for your time in the U.S. is important! The F-1 Visa is perfect for most academic programs, and it is by far the most common way to be a foreign student in the U.S. The M-1 Visa is for training for a specific skill or profession. Finally the J-1 Visa has a variety of uses, which also include some students. Please keep reading to find out more!
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Did you get accepted into a university or an advanced degree program in the United States? If so, first of all, congratulations! Secondly, you are going to need a lawful nonimmigrant immigration status in order to stay and study in the U.S., for the duration of your degree or program. Which visa you get, depends entirely on what you are studying in the United States. All student visas are temporary nonimmigrant visas, however you can stay as long as it takes you to get your degree (you may have to apply for an extension); assuming you maintain your eligibility. The first item on your to-do list is to be accepted to an approved school or program. Approved by whom? The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)! They have a list of all approved schools and programs, and to be eligible for a student visa you have to pick one of these schools (click here). You can also apply for visas for any dependents (spouses and minor children under 21) to come with you, although there are work restrictions for spouses. Children can attend public schools.
In general, in order to get and keep a student visa, you must:
Maintain enrollment in an “academic” educational program, a vocational program, or a language training program,
Maintain full-time enrollment as a student at that institution (usually at least 12 credit hours per semester) ,
Be proficient in English or be taking courses that will facilitate English proficiency,
Be able to support yourself financially during your time in the U.S., i.e. pay tuition, buy textbooks and groceries, etc., and
Keep a residence abroad which you intend to return to, maybe your parents’ house for example (the idea is to show you are not trying to immigrate permanently to the U.S.).
What visa is right for me? Well, it depends on your course of study!
F-1 Visa: This visa is for academic studies or english language programs. This is the most common visa for international students. There are no annual F-1 Visa limits, so if you qualify for the visa, you can get it without having to worry about about a visa quota or lottery. You have to take at least the minimum credit hours required by the program or university, to be considered a full-time student while you are enrolled. You are also allowed to work, generally only on the campus of your school/university, as long as it is fewer than twenty hours per week. Also you cannot come into the U.S. more than thirty days before the start of your program. For more information click here
M-1 Visa: This visa is for non-academic, technical, or vocational schools and programs. For example: welding, electrical installation and maintenance, and carpentry would all be program types that fit in this category. Unfortunately, you cannot work at all with this visa, and when you apply, you have to show that all the funds you will need for the course of the program (tuition, living expenses) are already available to you. For more information click here
J-1 Visa: This visa is not strictly for students, but rather for research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange. Therefore, it can include students depending on the specific exchange program. One reason to get a J-1 visa over an F-1 is that you can do a program or internship in the U.S., that may satisfy a degree requirement for your university back in your home country. Or you might be getting your degree in the U.S., but you have a special international scholarship or there is a treaty between the U.S. and your government regarding exchange students. For these students, it makes more sense to get a J-1 visa. All applicants must meet eligibility criteria, english language requirements, and be sponsored either by a University, private sector or government program. A J-1 student status allows for similar employment as the F-1 visa, with similar restrictions, as long as permission is given by the exchange visitor program sponsor. For more information click here
Can you become a student if you’re already in the U.S. for another reason? Yes! There are even some nonimmigrant visas that allow you to study, without filling out more paperwork or applying to USCIS. These visas include:
- A visa (foreign officials and their family members)
- E visa (treaty investment, for more information click here)
- G visa (representative of international organization like OxFam and their families)
- H visa (employment visa, for more information click here)
- I visa (foreign press and their family)
- J visa (research scholars, professors, and exchange visitors and their families)
- L visa (intracompany transferee, for more information click here)
- F and M visas (you do have to apply for a change of status when you switch to post-secondary school, i.e. college or university)
If you are in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant status that is not one of these visa statuses, you can generally still qualify to be a student! You would have to fill out a form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The process can often take between three and six months, which may be longer than leaving the United States and getting a new visa. You should take that timing into consideration, among other factors, when deciding if it is better for you to leave the U.S. to apply for student status, or not. For more information about changing or extending your status, please read our page on Extending or Changing your Nonimmigrant Status, available here.
Immigrating can be complicated and stressful. Please let us help you minimize the stress and increase your chances of success!
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?
What if my English needs some improvement?
Can I drive in the U.S.?
Is there a limit on how many people can get a student visa per year?
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