IMMIGRATION: F-1 & M-1 Student Visas

FOREIGN STUDENTS

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States.

The "F" visa is for academic studies, and the "M" visa is for nonacademic or vocational studies.

BACKGROUND REQUIREMENTS:

Changes in U.S. immigration law, effective November 30, 1996, require that no alien may be issued an F-1 visa to attend a U.S. public elementary or middle school (K-8). Any alien who wishes to attend public high school (grades 9-12) in the United States in student visa (F-1) status must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. Also, attendance at a U.S. public high school cannot exceed a total of 12 months.

Please note that these changes do not affect other visa categories such as the J-1 Exchange Visitor program or the qualified school-age child of an alien who holds another type of nonimmigrant visa.

No alien may be issued an F-1 visa in order to attend a publicly-funded adult education program, or public elementary or secondary school.

The student visa applicant must have successfully completed a course of study normally required for enrollment. The student, unless coming to participate exclusively in an English language training program, must either be sufficiently proficient in English to pursue the intended course of study, or the school must have made special arrangements for English language courses or teach the course in the student's native language.

FINANCIAL RESOURCES:

Applicants must also prove that sufficient funds are or will be available from an identified and reliable financial source to defray all living and school expenses during the entire period of anticipated study in the United States. Specifically, applicants must prove they have enough readily available funds to meet all expenses for the first year of study, and that adequate funds will be available for each subsequent year of study.

M-1 student visa applicants must have evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of their intended stay. An applicant coming to the United States to study must be accepted for a full course of study by an educational institution approved by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

The institution must send to the applicant a Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for all Academic and Language Students. The applicant takes the Form I-20A-B to the appropriate U.S. Consulate for visa issuance.

The nonacademic or vocational institution must send to the student a Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status For Vocational Students. The applicant takes the Form I-20M-N to the appropriate U.S. Consulate for visa issuance.

VISA INELIGIBILITY / WAIVER

Certain classes of persons are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances, an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a student, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa, if the waiver is approved.

APPLYING FOR A STUDENT VISA

Applicants for student visas should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. Required Documentation Each applicant for a student visa must pay a nonrefundable application fee and submit:

1) An application Form DS-156, along with DS-157 for persons between the ages of 16 and 45 years of age;

2) A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;

3) One photograph 1 and 1/2 inches square (37x37mm) for each applicant,
showing full face, without head covering, against a light background;

4) For the "F" applicant, a Form I-20A-B;

5) For the "M" applicant, a Form I-20M-N;

6) Evidence of sufficient funds. Other Documentation Student visa applicants must establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they will depart the United States when they have completed their studies;

7) The appropriate filing fee.

PORT OF ENTRY

Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which inspects incoming aliens, has authority to deny admission, for good cause and on lawful grounds. Also, the period for which the bearer of a student visa is authorized to remain in the United States is determined by the CPB, not the Consular Officer who originally isssues the visa. At the port of entry, an CBP officer validates Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted. Normally, students are given D/S, which means Duration of Status. So long as the student remains enrolled in school full time, the status does not need to be extended.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Employment: An F-1 student may not accept off-campus employment at any time during the first year of study. F-1 students may accept on-campus employment from the school without CIS permission. Upon the showing of financial hardship due to changed circumstances, off campus employment authorization may be obtained, upon a proper showing, after one year of study. F-1 students may become employment authorized in the United States for a perios of one year upon the completion of their studies, as practical training in an occupation that relates to their studies. Students wanting to remain employed in the United States should consider the H-1B visa.

Except for temporary employment for practical training, an M-1 student may not accept employment.

Family Members

A spouse and unmarried, minor children may also be classified for a nonimmigrant visa to accompany or follow the student. Family members must meet all visa eligibility requirements, including evidence that they will have sufficient funds for their support, and that they will depart the U.S. when the student's program ends. Spouses and children of students may not accept employment at any time unless they independently qualify for an employment authorized visa status.

We advise consulting a qualified immigration lawyer for assistance.


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