Student Visas

Foreign students who want to pursue higher education in the United States may apply for two different types of visas:

  • The F visa, for academic studies; and
  • The M visa is for nonacademic or vocational studies.

Although most F-1 visa holders are college students, foreign students who obtain F-1 visas may also enroll in high school.

Qualification for a Student Visa

In order to qualify for a student visa, you will be required to establish the following:

  • That you can pay for your education and all living expenses associated therewith from an identified and reliable financial source - Specifically, that you 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. An M-1 student visa applicant must be able to evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of intended stay.

  • That you have successfully completed the course of study normally required as a prerequisite to enrollment in the U.S. educational program you wish to attend;

  • Unless coming to participate exclusively in an English language training program, either that you are sufficiently proficient in English to pursue the intended course of study, or that the school you will attend has made special arrangements for English language courses or will teach the course of study in your native language;

  • That you have been accepted for a full course of study with a U.S. educational institution; and

  • You must establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer that you have binding ties to your residence in a foreign country which you have no intention of abandoning, and that you will depart the United States when you have completed your studies.

F-1 visas are not available for students below the high school level, and are also not available for students who wish to attend publicly funded adult education programs.

To attend a public high school (grades 9 - 12) on an F-1 visa, the applicant must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. High school attendance under an F-1 visa is limited to 12 months. (Please note that this rule does not affect other visa categories, such as the J-1 exchange visitor program, or programs for qualified school aged children of aliens holding other nonimmigrant visas.

Waivers of Ineligibility

If you fall into a category of persons ineligible for U.S. visas under current law, you may be able to apply for a waiver of ineligibility, such that you can obtain a student visa if the waiver is approved.

Entry Into the United States

Possession of a valid student visa does not of itself guarantee entrance into the United States. An immigration officer at the U.S. point of entry will make the final determination as to entrance. Also, the ultimate determination of the length of the student's authorized stay in the United States will be determined by the USCIS, not by the consular officer who reviews the application.

Eligibility for Employment

An F-1 student may not accept off-campus employment at any time during the first year of study. The USCIS may grant an F-1 visa holder permission to accept off-campus employment after one year. F-1 students may accept on-campus employment from the school without USCIS permission.

With the exception of temporary employment for practical training, an M-1 student may not accept employment.

Visas for Family Members

The spouse and unmarried, minor children of a student visa holder may also be classified for a nonimmigrant visa to accompany or follow the student to the United States. 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 United States when the student's program ends.

Spouses and children of student visa holders who gain derivative status through the student visa holder are not eligible for employment at any time.

Copyright © 2002 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on May 8, 2018.