The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. The “F” visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the “M” visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.
F-Academic Students and M-Vocational Students Requirements
Foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. may enter in the F-1 or M-1 category provided they meet the following criteria:
- The student must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
- The school must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
- The student must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
- The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to Englishproficiency;
- The student must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
- The student must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up.
Click to find out more specific information about becoming an academic student in the United States.
Click to find out more specific information about studying the English language in the United States.
Click to find out more specific information about becoming a vocational student in the United States.
Information on How to Apply for the Student Visa, Visa Ineligibility/Waiver, Student Employment can be obtained via Visa Services at Department of State Website.
Also see Sec. 641 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-208). Section 641 of IIRIRA is one of the catalysts behind a new interagency initiative known as the Student Exchange and Visitors Program, or SEVP program. SEVP is designed to improve processes for foreign students and exchange visitors holding F, J, and M visas, and schools, colleges and other organizations sponsoring programs for these visa holders.
SEVP will facilitate and automate several processes affecting foreign students, such as:
- Visa issuance
- admissions to the U.S.;
- benefit requests; and
- information reporting.
A school operated as a public educational institution by federal, state, or local government; and
A school accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency.
The Form I-17 must be signed by an officer of the institution who has authority to sign contracts.
The petitioning school must submit certification indicating that it is licensed, approved, and/or accredited.
Where to apply?
All applications submitted by schools and institutions wishing to accept nonimmigrant students, should be mailed to the “Attention of the USCIS Schools Officer” at the USCIS District Office having jurisdiction over the geographic area in which the institution is located.
Please visit the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, or SEVP website at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more information.
Useful information for Schools
Obtaining Approval to Receive Nonimmigrant Students
Petition for Approval, Form I-17, must be filed with the district office with jurisdiction for the the locality where the school is located. There are two types of foreign students, F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrants. A school may be approved for F and/or M students, as described below. However, an individual student’s classification depends on his/her principal educational goals.
F-1: Approval for attendance of academic students may be solicited by an accredited college or university that awards bachelors, masters, doctorate or professional degrees; an accredited community or junior college that provides instruction in the liberal arts or the professions and awards associate degrees; a seminary; a conservatory; an academic high school; a private elementary school; or an institution that provides language training, instruction in the liberal arts, the fine arts or the professions, or instruction in one or more of these disciplines.
M-1: Approval for the attendance of non-academic students may be solicited by a community college or junior college that provides vocational or technical training and awards associate degrees; a vocational high school; a trade school or a school of nonacademic training other than language training.
Current USCIS regulations recognize the following as approved schools:
If an institution of higher education does not fall into one of these two categories, it must submit evidence that its course credits are accepted by at least three accredited schools.
If a private elementary or public or private secondary school does not fall into one of these two categories, it must submit evidence that it satisfies the compulsory attendance requirements of the state in which it is located and that it qualifies graduates for acceptance by approved schools at a higher educational level, and in the case of a private elementary or secondary school, that it is accredited by an accrediting organization, certified by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Non-Public Education.
Petition for approval (Form I-17) is filed in duplicate with the district director in the school’s locality. The following requirements must also be met.