For international students who wish to study in the United States, obtaining a student visa is a crucial step in the process. There are different types of US student visas available, each with its own eligibility criteria and requirements. Therefore, it's essential to understand the different types of visas and the application process before applying to study in the United States.
In this comprehensive guide, we will provide an overview of the different types of US student visas available and the specific requirements for each.
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Also read: Which US student visa do I need?
Types of US student visas
The United States offers three types of student visas for international students who wish to study in the country. The type of visa required will depend on the course of study, the length of study, and the institution.
The three different types of student visas and their specific requirements are:
The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that is issued to international students who wish to pursue academic programs in the United States. This visa is designed for full-time students who want to enrol in universities, colleges, or other academic institutions in the United States.
To apply for an F-1 visa, the student must first be accepted into a SEVP-approved academic program in the United States. The student must then obtain an I-20 form from the academic institution, which is used to apply for the visa.
The F-1 visa allows international students to enter the United States as full-time students and remain in the country for the duration of their academic program. Students are also allowed to participate in on-campus employment, internships, and practical training, but must receive approval from their academic institution and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
International students with an F-1 visa are required to maintain a full-time course load and make progress towards their degree program. They must also maintain a valid passport and I-20 form and are required to report any changes in their personal or academic information to their academic institution and USCIS.
F-1 visa holders may also be eligible for certain benefits, such as travel outside the United States and re-entry into the country, as well as the opportunity to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completing their academic program. OPT allows students to work in their field of study for up to 12 months and may be extended for an additional 24 months for students in certain STEM fields.
The J-1 Visa is a type of non-immigrant visa issued by the United States government to individuals who wish to participate in cultural exchange programs or to obtain training in a specific field. The J-1 Visa program is administered by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and is designed to promote mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through educational and cultural exchanges.
J-1 Visas are typically issued to individuals who participate in programs such as:
- Student Exchange Programs: J-1 Visas are often issued to students who participate in exchange programs at U.S. universities or high schools. These programs allow students to study in the United States for a period of up to 12 months.
- Internship and Training Programs: J-1 Visas can be issued to individuals who participate in training or internship programs with U.S. companies or organisations. These programs typically last for up to 18 months.
- Research Scholar Programs: J-1 Visas are also issued to scholars who wish to conduct research or teach at U.S. universities or research institutions. These programs can last for up to 5 years.
- Au Pair Programs: J-1 Visas can be issued to individuals who wish to participate in an au pair program in the United States. These programs typically involve providing childcare services to a host family for a period of up to 12 months.
To obtain a J-1 Visa, an individual must first apply to a sponsoring organisation that has been approved by the U.S. Department of State. The sponsoring organisation will then issue a Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status) to the applicant, which must be presented to the U.S. embassy or consulate when applying for the visa.
In addition to Form DS-2019, applicants must also provide other documentation, such as proof of financial support, proof of English proficiency, and proof of ties to their home country. Applicants must also undergo an interview with a consular officer at the U.S. embassy or consulate.
Once the J-1 Visa is issued, the holder is permitted to enter the United States and participate in the approved program. J-1 Visa holders must maintain their status by complying with the terms and conditions of their program and must depart the United States at the end of their authorised stay.
The M-1 visa is a type of non-immigrant visa issued by the United States government to individuals who wish to pursue vocational or technical training in the United States. The M-1 visa is specifically designed for international students who want to enrol in vocational or technical programs, such as vocational schools, technical schools, and community colleges, to learn skills that will help them in their professional careers.
To apply for an M-1 visa, applicants must complete an online application, pay a non-refundable application fee, and attend an interview at the US embassy or consulate in their home country. Applicants must also provide documentation to demonstrate that they meet the eligibility requirements for the M-1 visa, such as proof of acceptance into an accredited vocational or technical school, proof of financial support, and evidence of strong ties to their home country.
Additionally, applicants must also demonstrate that they have strong ties to their home country, such as family or property, to show that they are not likely to remain in the US after their studies are complete.
One of the key benefits of the M-1 visa is that it allows international students to work in the US while they are studying. However, M-1 visa holders are only allowed to work on-campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week during the academic year and full-time during vacation periods. M-1 visa holders are not allowed to work off-campus without obtaining authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
M-1 visa holders are also allowed to remain in the United States for a period of one year after completing their studies to gain practical training in their field of study. This practical training is known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), and it allows M-1 visa holders to gain hands-on experience in their field of study before returning to their home country. However, M-1 visa holders are only eligible for 6 months of OPT, and they must apply for this training before their visa expires.
The United States offers a wealth of academic opportunities for international students, and with the right visa, they can make the most of their educational experience in the country. International students should carefully consider their intended course of study and the requirements of their chosen institution when deciding on which type of student visa to apply for.
Also read: How to avail your US student visa
Frequently asked questions
What are the different types of US student visas?
The three main types of US student visas are F-1 visas, J-1 visas, and M-1 visas.
What is an F-1 visa?
An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa for individuals who wish to pursue academic studies in the United States at an accredited college or university.
What is a J-1 visa?
A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals who are coming to the United States to participate in an exchange visitor program. Examples of exchange visitor programs include the au pair program and the summer work travel program.
What is an M-1 visa?
An M-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals who are coming to the United States to pursue vocational or other nonacademic studies.