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Non-Immigrant Student Visas

Going through an educational journey to study in the United States is a pivotal moment for international students. While the path starts with securing admission to an American academic institution, vocational school, or language program, the most essential part of this journey is obtaining a student visa.

This article gives an overview of the complexities of acquiring U.S. student visas. This includes looking at the types of student visas, eligibility criteria, and other relevant details. Whether looking at academic advancements in the U.S. or wanting to acquire vocational training, it is crucial to understand these fundamental requirements.

Understanding Student Visas

There are two types of student visas: F-1 visa and M-1 visa.

F-1 Student Visas

F-1 student visas apply to those who are aiming for academic pursuits. The F-1 visa is designed for individuals aspiring to study full-time in the United States. With this visa, you can enroll at an accredited university, college, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, language training program, or other academic institution.

The visa requires you to enroll in a course or program of study that grants a certificate, degree, or diploma. In addition, the school you are enrolling at should have authorization from the U.S. government to accept international students.

M-1 Student Visa

In contrast to F-1 visas, M-1 visas apply to those looking at acquiring nonacademic or vocational education. Like F-1 visas, M-1 student visa applicants should also enroll in accredited institutions authorized to accept international students. This program focuses on nonacademic and practical training as well as skills development.

The 5 Main Requirements of Student Visas

To be eligible for either type of student visa, a foreign national wishing to study in the United States must show proof of five things:

  1. Acceptance: A foreign national must show that they have been accepted as a full-time student in a U.S. educational, language training, or vocational program. In addition, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services must have accepted the school or program as valid under the student visa requirements.
  2. Educational Preparation: A foreign national must have completed the course of studies required for enrollment in the educational program. Unless the purpose for coming to the United States is to participate in an English-language training program, each applicant must demonstrate a command of the English language. The student's English proficiency should be enough to handle the course of study. An exception applies if the educational institution made special arrangements for the applicant, such as if the educational institution arranged the applicant's enrollment in English classes.
  3. Payment of the Appropriate Fees: After your school accepts your application, they will register you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). After you register for SEVIS, you should pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.
  4. Financial Resources: An applicant must prove that they have sufficient funds to cover all school and living expenses. These funds should be enough to cover the period the applicant will be studying in the United States. Foreign students pursuing nonacademic or vocational studies must provide evidence that they have sufficient funds to pay all educational and living expenses during their entire stay in the United States.
  5. Temporary Intent: Students seeking a visa must also show they intend to remain in the United States on a temporary basis. Applicants who fail to demonstrate compelling reasons for them to return to their homeland after their period of study is complete face a high risk of having their student visa application rejected.

Visa Interviews

After gathering all the required documents, you will interview a consular officer to determine your qualification for a student visa. If the consular officer approves your visa, they will take your passport and stamp a visa, allowing you to enter the United States.

All F and M students need a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status (Form I-20). The student's designated school official provides the Form I-20 after the international student gets accepted into the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

Can I Work on a Student Visa?

The simple answer is that it depends. F-1 students may apply for on-campus work subject to certain restrictions and conditions, but F-1 students cannot work for off-campus employment during their first academic year. After their first academic year, F-1 students may start working for three kinds of off-campus employment. This includes the following:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

F-1 students may also work outside campus, based on particular situations such as the student experiencing severe economic hardship. The special situations are assessed case-by-case.

M-1 students may participate in practical training jobs only after their studies are complete.

F-1 and M-1 students should ensure that their work outside campus is related to their field of study. If you are an F-1 or M-1 student, you need to ask for permission from the Designated School Official before you can start working off campus. For more information about the employment of F-1 or M-1 students, you may visit this article by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

What To Know Before You Travel to the U.S. With a Student Visa

Whether you're F-1 or M-1, once you have your student visa you can enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start of your educational program. You can see the start of your educational program on your Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrants.

It is essential to schedule your trip within the 30-day window. If you try to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before your educational program starts, you may be denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

Once you arrive at the port of entry, you will again go through an immigration interview. The decision to allow you to enter the country will depend on the CBP official's decisions. The CBP officer will issue you Form I-94 after they allow you to enter the U.S. with your student visa. This serves as a record of your arrival and departure from the United States. This document will also state the length of time you can stay in the United States.

Seek Legal Advice From an Immigration Attorney

Obtaining a student visa to study in the United States can be complicated. It requires a strong understanding of U.S. immigration laws. To successfully secure a U.S. visa, you must familiarize yourself with different requirements. For instance, you must learn about the requirements, the application process, and how to prepare for your visa interview.

Although these may seem daunting, do not let the legal uncertainties stop you from your academic goals. Seeking legal advice from an immigration lawyer can be helpful. With their experience in handling immigrant and nonimmigrant visa cases, they can guide you through acquiring a U.S. student visa.

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