What is an M-1 student visa?
With an M-1 student visa, a foreign student can study full-time at a technical, vocational, or other nonacademic program in the United States. The M-1 visa is similar, in terms of process and eligibility, to the F-1 visa, which is for non-U.S. citizens seeking full-time enrollment at a language school or academic institution — such as a university, seminary, conservatory, or high school.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the process for obtaining an M-1 visa:
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To apply for the M-1 student visa, you’ll need to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee of $330 and an application fee of $160. Depending on the country where you’re applying, you may also need to pay an issuance fee (also referred to as a reciprocity fee) upon approval of your visa.
Not sure if you qualify for an M-1 student visa? Start by checking your eligibility.
As with the J-1 visa, appointment wait times will vary depending on the country where you’re applying. If you’re in London, you can expect to wait 14 days, but if you’re in Tokyo, you will only have to wait 3 days (at the time of writing). For up-to-date wait times, check out the U.S. Department of State’s “Visa Appointment Wait Times” tool.
Note: The M-1 visa can only be issued up to 120 days ahead of the start date for a course of study. You will only be able to enter the United States within 30 days of this start date.
You don’t have to navigate the M-1 student visa process alone. Boundless + RapidVisa can complete your M-1 application, help you prepare for your visa interview, and answer any student visa questions you may have along the way. Learn more about what we do to help.
In order to apply for an M-1 visa, you must satisfy the following criteria:
- You must be enrolled, as a full-time student, in a vocational or other non-academic program
- You must have a high level of proficiency in English, or alternatively, you must be enrolled in English-language classes
- You must be financially self-sufficient for the duration of your stay
- You must have a residence outside the United States
- Your program must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP)
Note that, in order to apply for the M-1 visa, you must first be enrolled in a vocational (or other non-academic) program. Once accepted into such a program, you may then proceed to the application process, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Once you’ve successfully enrolled in an SEVP-approved program, your information will be entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), at which point you’ll need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. After you’ve registered with SEVIS, you can expect to receive Form I-20 (officially called “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”), which you’ll need to bring to your visa interview. With these initial steps behind you, you can apply for an M-1 visa at your local U.S. Embassy or consulate.
Filing the Application
Every embassy has slightly different rules governing the M-1 visa application process, so be sure to check the website of your local U.S. Embassy or consulate. To begin with, you will need to fill out form DS-160 (officially called “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application”), which will require you to upload a photograph satisfying the State Department’s regulations. Be sure to print out the confirmation page when you’re finished, as you’ll need this at your interview.
Unless you are under 13 or over 80, you will need to schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in your country of residence. While you are technically permitted to apply in another country, this could result in a much longer application process.
Preparing for the Interview
First, depending on the embassy, you may need to pay a $160 application fee prior to your interview. You should also be sure to gather the following materials:
- Form I-20, signed by both you and an official from your study program. Your spouse and any dependents should also receive a Form I-120.
- A passport that will be valid 6 months after the intended date of entry. Each family member listed on the passport will need to submit their own application.
- Confirmation page for Form DS-160.
- A photo that satisfies the State Department’s requirements — that is, if you’re unable to upload the photo while completing Form DS-160.
- A receipt for the application fee (if applicable).
You may also be asked to supply other documents as well, including evidence of your academic qualifications. To that end, you should bring:
- The standardized test scores required by the U.S. vocational program
- Degrees, diplomas, transcripts, or other certificates from previous schools
- Any evidence showing you’ll be able to pay costs related to your education, travel, and living
- Proof demonstrating your intent to leave the United States once the program ends
Note: you will only need to pay issuance fees if your visa is approved (and if they’re required in the country where you’re applying).
Going to the Interview
At the interview, the consular officer will ask questions to determine whether you qualify for the M-1 student visa, as per the eligibility requirements. During the interview, the officer may take digital fingerprints — though this doesn’t occur at every embassy. If your visa is approved, you may have to pay an issuance fee, depending on where you’re located.
In some cases, more administrative processing may be required. If this is the case, the officer will tell you. You may also need to make plans to have your items returned to you.
When entering the United States, you will need to have your M-1 visa, passport, and Form I-20. Remember, having a visa does not necessarily mean you will be granted entry into the country. This decision lies, ultimately, with the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agent. If permitted to enter, the agent will either stamp your passport or give you a Form I-94 (otherwise known as an Arrival/Departure Record).
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Can I work during my stay?
Yes, but only under specific conditions. The work must be part of a practical training program, and it must occur after the completion of your course load. You can work no more than 6 months, and prior to working, you must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
If you obtain work, you will be asked to complete Form I-9 (officially titled “Employment Eligibility Verification”). You will need to provide the EAD information in section 2 of that form.
Note: M-2 dependents are not permitted to work on this visa.
Can I enroll in school if I’m in the United States on another nonimmigrant visa?
That depends on the visa. B-1/B-2 visa holders, for instance, are not permitted to enroll in school. But E visa holders are permitted, as long as they continue to satisfy the requirements of the existing visa. If you have a nonimmigrant status preventing you from enrolling, you will first have to change your status to M-1. Failure to do so would likely result in a violation, which means you would not be permitted to extend your stay or change status to M-1.
Is there any way to enter the United States more than 30 days prior to my start date?
Strictly speaking, you are not allowed to enter the country on an M-1 visa any more than 30 days prior to your start date. That being said, you may apply for a B visa in order to enter the country earlier. Once in the United States, you will then need to apply for a change of status to the M-1 student visa, which, it should be noted, could result in longer processing times. No matter what, you will not be able to start your program until you are granted the M-1 status. Alternatively, you could return to your country of residence and come back to the United States using your M-1 student visa.