The United States have always been considered as one of the most welcoming and diverse countries for international students to come and study in from all over the world. International students are encouraged to apply for the numerous programs at any of the US’ many prestigious and ivy league schools. Furthermore, in order to encourage international students to apply, many of the universities can also grant students scholarships for their studies.
If you are a foreign student and you wish to enter the US for this purpose, you must first apply for and obtain a Study Visa. This could be a visa for a temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. You must therefore obtain a student visa in order to be legally allowed to study in the US if you are not yet a citizen of the US. This will also be a requirement of your school of choice prior to undertaking any studies. Based on the school you select to attend and the program of study, you may require either an “F” visa or an “M” visa.
Please take note that you cannot study in the US if you entered the US on a visitor “B” visa or through the Visa Waiver Program except to go through a recreational (non-credit) studies during your visit as a tourist.
What is an F or an M Visa?
If you come to the US to attend a college, university, high school, middle school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory or other academic institution which includes a language training program, you will require an “F” visa. For other recognized non-academic institutions or vocational, other than a language training program, you will require an “M” visa.
In order to be eligible for an F-1 or M-1 visa, you will need to meet the following criteria:
- You need to be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, language-training program or vocational program;
- Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration and Customs enforcement;
- You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the approved institution;
- You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in a course for English proficiency;
- You must have sufficient funds available and financial means to self-support yourself (and your dependents) for the entire duration of the course of study selected and accepted into;
- You must maintain your residence abroad and have no intention to give it up.
The first step is to apply for a study program in a given school and be accepted to a school in the US. Our attorneys can also help you with the process of selecting and applying to the right school school based on your individuals wants and needs and assist you throughout the application process.
How to apply for a F or M visa?
There are several steps required to be completed in order to apply for and obtain an F or M visa. Detailed guidelines can also be found at www.usembassy.gov.
You will need to complete an online application and upload a photograph of yourself that satisfies the government’s regulations.
Most of the time (and depending which country you are applying from) an interview will be scheduled. There is a government fee that must be paid prior to attending the interview. We can assist you in preparing for the interview and gathering all of the necessary documentation for the interview. An appointment will be scheduled at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and waiting times depend on the location.
After the interview, you will be informed of the next steps and if the visa is granted, you may need to pay the visa fees immediately.
How soon after the interview will I get a Visa?
For new students a visa can be issued up to 120 days prior to the beginning of your classes, but you may not enter the US until up to 30 days prior to the beginning of your classes. For a renewal of an existing visa, this can be done at any time and students may re-enter the US at any time.
What documents are required for an application?
The following is a list of documentation that you must have when submitting an application for an F or M Visa:
- A valid passport for travel to the US (it must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your period of stay, unless exempt which is country specific);
- The Non-immigrant visa application confirmation page;
- Application fee payment receipt;
- Passport sized photograph;
- A certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students;
- Form I-20 or Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students. For Form I-20, the school that you have selected will send you a Form I-20 once they have entered your information in the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS) database. You and your school official must sign the Form I-20. All students must be registered in SEVIS. Please note that your spouse and/or minor children, if they intend live in the US with you, will each receive an individual Form I-20.
It is possible that the following additional documentation may be required:
- Your academic diplomas, degrees, transcripts and proof of attendance;
- Standardized test scores;
- Proof of your intent to leave the US upon completion of your studies;
- Proof of how you intend to pay for your education costs, living costs and travel costs.
What can I expect when entering the US with my new Visa?
When you arrive in the US, you will need to provide your passport, visa and I-20 Form at the border. A visa does not guarantee that you will be granted access to enter the US. A visa will only allow a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport or border) and request permission to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have full discretion and authority to grant or deny admission to enter the US without any explanations. If you are allowed to enter the US, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or paper Form I-94, namely the Arrival and Departure official Record.
Can I extend my stay beyond the date of expiration of the Visa?
If you are a foreign student in the US on an “F” visa, you will need to depart the US within 60 days from the date of completion of your studies listed on the I-20 Form including any authorized practical training program. Failure to depart within the provided timeframe will render you “out of status”. This means that any visa you may have will be voided and could even prevent you from obtaining any Visa in the future. You may however request a n extension of your Visa while your current Visa is still valid.
Can I request a change of status while on a Study Visa?
Yes, it is possible to request a change of status if your situation has changed while you are in the US legally on a student Visa. This can occur if, for example, you got married to a US citizen or got a job offer. While you are in the US, receiving a change of status from the USCIS does not require you to apply for a new visa. However, once you depart the US you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the appropriate category for your travel.
What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Once you complete your studies, you may be eligible for OPT. According to the USCIS, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). For more information, please visit www.uscis.gov/opt.
For Pre-completion OPT, you may be allowed to work for up to 20 hours a week while school is in session and full time when school is out of session.
For Post-completion OPT, you may work full-time for 12 months following the completion fo your study program.
What is the STEM OPT extension?
STEM OPT extension stands for Science, technology, engineering and math. If you have earned a degree in certain STEM fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorization if:
- You are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree included on the STEM list;
- You are employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify, and
- You received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.
In this situation, you will need to apply for OPT and get authorization prior to the beginning your job.
With the multitude of available visa options for international students, it can be difficult to decide which option best suits you and your career path. Our attorneys at KLM Immigration specialize in Study Visas to the US and can help you with every step of the application process and beyond. To find out more about all of the programs and Visas available to you, please call us today at 1-888-603-3003 to speak to a lawyer.