For those wishing to study full-time at a U.S. academic program, there are two visas available: F and M. Both are nonimmigrant visas, and one of the requirements is that you maintain a residence in your home country that you have no intention of giving up. You must also be generally eligible for a U.S. visa.

The F-1 visa is for academic students and those seeking language training, while the M-1 is for vocational students. In general, academic students are those enrolling at approved, accredited schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories or language training programs that generally result in a certificate, diploma or degree. Vocational students are generally those enrolling in job training or other non-academic programs.

Applicants for both types of visas must meet these criteria:

  • Will be enrolled in an academic, language-training or vocational program at a school approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
  • Will be enrolled full-time
  • Are proficient in English or will be enrolled in English proficiency courses
  • Have sufficient money available to support yourself for the entire course of study
  • Maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up

Can I work while I’m in school?

F-1 students can, although they can only work on campus during their first academic year. After that first year, F-1 students can work in three types of off-campus employment:

  • Curricular practical training (CPT)
  • Optional practical training (OPT)
  • Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) optional practical training extension

M-1 students may only work at practical training jobs after they have completed their studies. For both F-1 and M-1 students, off-campus employment must be pre-authorized by the person designated to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) at your school, and by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Any off-campus employment must be related to the student’s area of study.

Can I bring my spouse and dependents with me?

Yes. The F-2 and M-2 visas were created to allow this.

Be careful to maintain your visa status to avoid accruing unlawful presence

Be aware that you may violate your immigration status if you overstay your visa, reduce your academic load below full-time, or exceed your work authorization. If you violate your immigration status, the USCIS could rule your presence in the United States to be unlawful, which could lead to deportation. If you are found to have been out of status for 180 days, you could be barred from reentry for three to 10 years. Your dependents could also be deported and/or barred from reentry for violating the terms of their visas.

As we discussed recently on this blog, the USCIS has recently changed how it counts periods of unlawful presence. The change has made it easier to deport people, so you should be very careful to understand and comply with the terms of your student visa. And, if you are deemed to be present unlawfully, you should contact an immigration law attorney right away for assistance.

At Yew Immigration Law Group, we have years of experience helping people from around the world come to the U.S. to get an education. If you have questions about student visas, work authorization, the rules for dependents, unlawful presence or any immigration topic, we would be happy to help you.