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A Guide to the M-1 Visa for Vocational Students

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September 27, 2022

Key Takeaways

There are different visa categories for foreign students who wish to pursue an education in the United States. If you would like to receive vocational training in the United States, you may be able to do so with an M-1 visa if you can meet the requirements. This article explains what the M-1 visa is, who can apply for it, and how to apply. It also answers some frequently asked questions about the student visa.

Table of Contents

What Is the M-1 Visa?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues nonimmigrant visas, including the M-1 visa. The M-1 visa is for foreigners who want to attend a full-time vocational program in the United States. After their training program, M-1 students can pursue a vocational certificate or a non-academic associate’s degree in the United States. Eligible programs include vocational schools, cooking schools, flight schools, and any other non-academic programs.

If you obtain an M-1 visa, you’ll be able to open a U.S. bank account, access U.S. healthcare, get your driver’s license, and work with specific limitations. M-1 visa holders may bring their relatives to the United States as dependents. Your M-1 visa is valid for up to one year. You can apply for an extension of up to three years by speaking with your institution’s designated school official (DSO).

M-1 visas are different from F-1 student visas. If you are entering the United States to attend a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or language training program, you’ll need an F-1 visa. M-1 visas are for prospective students at vocational and other recognized nonacademic institutions.

Who Can Apply for the M-1 Visa?

To be eligible for an M-1 visa, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You will enroll in a vocational, practical training, or nonacademic program in the United States.
  • You have proof of acceptance to a U.S. program.
  • Your institution is a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school.
  • You must have a Form I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
  • You meet your program’s written and verbal English proficiency guidelines.
  • You can prove you have sufficient funds to support yourself in the United States.
  • You have the minimum educational qualifications for your program.
  • Your institution agrees that your training in the United States will benefit your home country.
  • You can prove that you intend to return to your home country after the program ends. In other words, you have a permanent residence in another country.

What Is the M-1 Visa Application Process?

Before you become eligible for an M-1 visa, you’ll need an acceptance from an appropriate institution. Each institution may have different admissions processes, but once they accept you, they’ll provide information about applying for the M-1 visa. They will need to send you Form I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Next, most applicants will complete the following steps and submit several supporting documents with their application.

File Form DS-160

After receiving Form I-20, you’ll need to file Form DS-160: Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. To complete Form DS-160, you’ll need to provide personal information and explain why you’d like to study in the United States. For more guidance on the form, check out our guide to completing Form DS-160.

Make Fee Payments

After submitting Form DS-160, you’ll need to pay a few fees to continue your M-1 visa application. The visa application fee for an M-1 visa is currently $160. You must pay the fee, regardless of whether U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your application. Depending on your local U.S. embassy or consulate, you may also face additional costs. Some embassies may ask you to cover a visa issuance or reciprocity fee.

You’ll also need to register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) as an international student. To register, you must pay a fee of $200.

Interview and Submit Required Documents

After submitting your application and fees, you’ll need to interview with your local U.S. consulate or embassy. A consular officer will schedule a visa interview appointment with you and mail you an appointment letter. At the interview, answer all questions truthfully and to the best of your ability.

You’ll need to bring the following documents with you:

  • Your Form DS-160 confirmation
  • Your visa appointment letter
  • Your fee receipts
  • Your passport (must be valid for at least the next six months)
  • Four to five recent photographs of yourself
  • Your past educational institution certificates
  • Proof that you are financially stable — this may include bank statements, tax returns, scholarship information, and real estate documents

If your documents are not in English, you must get a certified English translation of them. Bring the translated and original documents to your interview.

Once you’ve completed your interview, there is a short processing time for M-1 visa approvals. You’ll likely get your M-1 visa within the next four to six weeks if approved.

M-1 Visa FAQs

You may still have questions about the M-1 visa application or status. The M-1 visa provides certain benefits and comes with specific limitations. As an M-1 visa holder, consider your visa status before making significant changes to your plans in the United States. You can find the answers to some questions about the M-1 visa below.

What Are the Limitations of an M-1 Visa?

M-1 visas do not permit you to pursue a part-time training program or seek other full-time jobs outside of your program’s campus. If you have already spent over six months at your institution as an M-1 visa holder, USCIS will prohibit you from transferring to another institution. You also may not pursue a college degree, such as a bachelor’s degree, after finishing your vocational studies course load.

What Kind of Work Opportunities Can I Accept With an M-1 visa?

While you’re in the United States, there are limitations on which outside work opportunities you may take. You’ll be able to take some part-time campus jobs. However, you can’t take any off-campus jobs. You should consult your designated school official (DSO) before taking any positions. You'll need a work permit to work for the maximum time of six months. Work permits are also known as employment authorization documents (EAD).

Can I Switch to Another U.S. Visa Status?

Yes, M-1 visa holders can switch to another U.S. visa status depending on their circumstances. That said, obtaining an F-1 or H-1B visa is often difficult.

Conclusion

The M-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa without a direct pathway to a U.S. green card or citizenship. However, sometimes nonimmigrant visa holders become eligible for U.S. green cards if they happen to meet and marry a U.S. permanent resident or citizen during their stay.

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