Within the U.S nonimmigrant visas for education, there are three types of visas:
- The M-1 visa which is designed for students enrolled in vocational and non-academic education, excluding language courses.
- The F-1 visa which is for students enrolled in academic education starting from elementary to graduate school, including language courses.
- The J-1 visa which is for students whose education is sponsored from governmental or other types of organizations.
Out of these three, the M-1 visa is special due to its vocational nature. It means that students can enroll in studies such as:
- Cooking classes
- Technical courses
- Flight school
- Cosmetology, etc.
Any course which is considered vocational falls under the M-1 visa umbrella. The M-1 does not have a cap so any student who meets the requirements could be granted a visa without any restrictions on the number of people.
Students on an M-1 visa are allowed to complete their vocational studies full-time and get an associate or other type of degree. They can get a driver’s license, open a bank account, transfer schools within the first six months of their program, and work in certain circumstances.
However, M-1 students are not allowed to do the following:
- They cannot work full-time out of campus
- They cannot complete their programs as part-time students
- They cannot change their program or transfer to another institution after six months of beginning their program
- They cannot continue higher education in the U.S to get their Bachelor’s or other type of degree
There are also considerable differences between F-1 and M-1 visas. F-1 visas allow students to enroll in academic and degree bearing education, such as a Bachelor’s or a Master’s Degree. They also give the freedom to students to transfer to any school at any time as well as work on practical training outside of campus. Students with an F-1 visa can also enroll in language courses, while M-1 students cannot.
What are the requirements for the M-1 Visa?
Not everyone can apply and be eligible for the M-1 visa to get a vocational degree. To be allowed to apply for an M-1 visa and to qualify for it, these conditions need to be met.
M-1 students have to be accepted at an SEVP institution
The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has a list of vocational and non-degree bearing institutions where M-1 students are accepted. To be eligible to apply for the M-1 visa, you need to apply and get admission at one of these institutions. You might have a list of preferred schools you would like to go to, but before you apply, make sure that they qualify to make you eligible for the M-1 visa. After you get accepted, the school will register you into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and give you a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
Have high English proficiency
International students should have a good comprehension of the language. Their English level should be high enough to allow them to understand and speak as required by educational institutions. They should understand lectures and be able to discuss class concepts. English proficiency can be proved by taking a standardized English proficiency test such as the TOEFL or the IELTS.
Prove strong ties to your home country
With the M-1 visa you are supposed to go back to your home country after you complete your education. That is why you should prove strong ties through property deeds, apartment lease, a foreign address, and family ties. If you don’t submit enough proof, the U.S Embassy might reject your visa due to suspicion that you want to stay in the U.S permanently.
Be able to finance your education and stay in the U.S
To get the M-1 visa you should prove that you can cover your expenses while studying and living in the U.S. Your I-20 form contains an estimate of the expenses for one year, so you should submit financial documents that prove you have that amount readily available. If your dependents are also joining you in the U.S, your financial situation should be even better, proving that you can also finance their stay in the country.
M-1 Application Process
The application process for the M-1 visa is quite similar to the application process of the F-1 visa. These are the necessary steps you should take if you want to study in a vocational school in the U.S with an M-1 visa.
Get your I-20 Form
After you are accepted into the vocational school of your choice, they will give you the I-20 form. With that form, you can initiate the application process.
Submit DS-160 form online
Your DS-160 form is the first form that you have to submit online. You should fill in all the necessary information which are relevant to your background, objectives in the U.S and your program of study. At the end when you submit the form, you will get a confirmation code and page which you will need later on for the interview and document file.
Pay the visa application fee
The visa application fee for the M-1 visa is $160. This is a non-refundable fee which means that even if you don’t get the visa, you will not get the money back. Besides this fee, there might be additional fees depending on the Embassy that you are applying in. If you are from specific countries, you might also have to pay a visa issuance or reciprocity fee, which is determined by the U.S Embassy. Keep the receipts which prove you have paid all fees.
Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee
Since all international students in the U.S are registered in SEVIS, there is also a fee which needs to be paid. The SEVIS I-901 fee for the M-1 visa is $200. You should pay and keep the receipt as you will need it later.
Schedule your interview
You will have to schedule an interview for your visa appointment. Try to do this as early as possible, since U.S Embassies have a high workload and it might take a while for them find you an appointment. After you schedule the interview, you will get your interview appointment letter which you need to attach to your documents file.
Compile your document file
Your document file should be completed with all necessary forms. You should have it with you when you go to your visa appointment. The file should contain the following:
- A valid passport for 6 more months after the expiration of your visa
- Your DS-160 confirmation page
- Your visa appointment letter
- One photograph
- Receipts which prove you have paid your fees
- Your original I-20 form and one copy
- Proof of your educational qualifications such as:
- Degrees and diplomas
- Standardized test scores, etc.
- Proof of your financial stability, such as:
- Bank statements for the last 3 years
- Tax information for the last 3 years
- If you have taken loans to finance your stay in the U.S, provide all the relevant information
- If you have gotten a scholarship for your education in the U.S, provide all relevant information
- If you will be supported by an individual in the U.S, submit Form I-134, Affidavit of Support and the person’s bank and tax return information for the last 3 years.
Attend your interview
Finally, attend your visa interview. Have all of your documents ready and be prepared to answer the interview questions. The M-1 visa interview questions will revolve around your intentions for going to the U.S, your financial situation, and the ties to your home country. If you are bringing dependents, such as a spouse or children, you will also be asked to prove the relationship to them.
M-1 Visa Processing Time
The processing time for the M-1 visa is quite short. The processing happens before your visa interview. There are cases when you get a response immediately after your visa interview ends, with the interviewer either congratulating you or stating the reasons for your denial. However, most of the time you should expect a processing time of a minimum of four weeks. Even if it takes more time, do not be alarmed. Most likely, the Embassy had a heavy workload and could not respond as fast.
M-1 Visa Duration
The validity of your visa depends on how long your vocational education takes. You might be given a visa for the total duration of your studies, or for a shorter time. However, your Form I-20 is only valid for one year. This means you will have to get a new one each year. The M-1 visa and the Form I-20 can be extended for a maximum of 3 years.
If your visa is not valid for the whole duration of your studies, you will have to apply for an extension. You can do so by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status to USCIS and your Form I-20.
In addition, you are also allowed to change your status to another non-immigrant visa. However, you cannot change to an F visa and there are also difficulties in changing to an H-1B visa if you will be working with skills you have gained during your studies as an M-student.
Many people want to go from an M-1 visa to Green Card. This can prove quite difficult since to get an employment based green card you need to have exceptional abilities, get married in the U.S, or have at least $500,000 to invest in the U.S economy. This means that not a lot of people go from an M-1 visa to a Green Card.
M-1 Visa Employment
The M-1 visa allows some employment with restrictions. You are only allowed to work on campus, part time when school is open and full time during breaks. The maximum amount of time you are allowed to work is 6 months. To be allowed to work, you will need to get your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or M-1 Visa Work Permit.
You can do so by filing Form I-538, Certification by Designated School to USCIS. The form needs to be signed by your Designed School Official (DSO). In addition, you should also file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. All the work that you do if your EAD is approved should be related to your field of study.
M-2 Dependents Visa
If the M-1 visa holder has a spouse or unmarried children under 21, they are allowed to come to the U.S too with an M-2 visa. The M-2 visa allows the dependents to accompany the M-1 visa holder in the U.S for the duration of their studies. The M-2 dependents get individual I-20 forms, but as soon as the M-1 visa expires, they are also required to return to their home country.
M-2 dependents are not allowed to work or study for degrees. They can enroll in recreational courses, and children can only complete their elementary and middle school (until 12th grade).