The United States is home to some of the world’s top universities, attracting thousands of students from around the world seeking higher education. Most foreign nationals who want to travel to the USA must obtain a visa before doing so, including international students studying abroad in the USA. A student visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows foreign students to enter and stay in the US for the duration of their studies or coursework.

A student visa is a special passport endorsement issued to students by the government. Before applying for a visa, students are required to be enrolled at a qualified educational institution. Student visas are issued for the period it takes the student to complete his/her course of study, program, or work assignment.

The course of study and the type of institution determines the category of visa that will be issued to the student. There are three major types of student visas on which international students can study in the US.

Types of Non-Immigrant Student Visas

1. F-1 Visa: Academic Studies

An F1 Visa is the most common type of nonimmigrant student visa. F-1 visas are issued to students or researchers who wish to study or conduct research at an accredited US college, university, high school, private elementary school, approved English language school, or other approved academic institutions. Students issued an F-1 visa are expected to complete their studies in the nominated time.

In order to be qualified for an F-1 visa, students must be accepted by a recognized school, college, or university as a full time student and have proof of sufficient financial support during their stay in the US. An F-1 student can stay in the US as long as he/she is enrolled in a school, college, university, seminary, conservatory, or other academic institution.

F-1 visa applicants must obtain an I-20 form from their college or university in order to apply. F-1 visas are only issued in US embassies and consulates outside the US.

Excluding any training required by a course, F-1 visa holders cannot work in the United States. F-1 students are only eligible to work part-time on campus for up to 20 hours per week.

2. J-1 Visa: Academic Studies as an Exchange Visitor

A J1 Visa is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals who will be participating in a work and study based exchange visitor program that promotes cultural exchange in the US, especially for medical or business training.

To qualify for a J-1 visa, the participant must be proficient in the English language and have appropriate medical insurance. All applicants must meet the eligibility criteria and be sponsored by the government or a private sector program. They must have a proof of funds to cover their expenses in the US and be able to show plans to remain in the US for a specific period, including their return to their home country. 

The participant will receive a DS-2019 form from his/her sponsoring organization or US government agency, which is necessary to apply for a J-1 visa.

3. M-1 Visa: Non-Academic or Vocational Studies

An M-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa for individuals who want to pursue a full course of study at a non-academic institution or vocational school in the US.

To qualify for an M-1 visa, applicants must be accepted by a vocational institution approved by the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Applicants must be sufficiently fluent in English, have sufficient funds, have a permanent residence in their home country, and intend to leave the US upon completion of the course of study. M-1 students may stay in the US for a fixed time period but may not stay more than one year unless they are granted an extension for medical reasons. M-1 visa holders may stay for the length of their training program and optional practical training plus a 30-day grace period at the end of their training.

Applicants must present a signed I-20 form at a US embassy or consulate in their home country, issued by a designated school official. M-1 visa holders are not allowed to work on or off campus during the course of their studies.

To learn about applying for a student visa, read about the Student Visa Application Process.