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There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for people who want to study in the USA. The primary visa is an "F" visa which is for 'academic' studies, and the second one is an "M" visa is for 'nonacademic or vocational' studies.

Course Eligibility
You must have successfully completed a course of study which is typically required for enrollment. Unless you are coming to participate exclusively in an English language training program, you must either be sufficiently proficient in English to pursue the intended course of study, or the school must have made special arrangements for English language courses or teach the course in your native language.

Financial Funding
You must prove that you have sufficient funds or that funds will be available from an identified and reliable financial source to cover the costs of your living and school expenses during the entire period of anticipated study in the United States.

Approved Educational Institutions & Forms
If you are coming to the USA to study, you must be accepted for a full course of study by an educational institution which is ‘approved’ by the INS. The institution you will be attending must send you a Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Language Students. If you are applying for the nonacademic or vocational visa (M-1), the institution must send you a Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status For Vocational Students. The Educational institution you will be attending can obtain Forms I-20A-B and I-20M-N from the INS.

Who is NOT Eligible
The nonimmigrant visa application Form DS-156 lists classes of persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a student, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved.

How to Apply for a Student Visa
You should generally apply to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate which has jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.

Required Documents
1) An application Form DS-156, completed and signed. (See below for details on obtaining FREE Forms and for current processing fees)

2) A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the USA. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;

3) One photograph 1 and 1/2 inches square (37x37mm) for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background; and

4) For the "F" applicant, a Form I-20A-B. For the "M" applicant, a Form I-20M-N.

5) Evidence of sufficient funds.

You must pay a nonrefundable application fee (see Forms and Fees below).

Other Documentation Required
You must show to the satisfaction of the consular officer that you have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which you have no intention of abandoning, and that you will depart the USA when you have completed your studies (i.e. you must show that you intend to return to your homeland after you have completed your studies in the USA).

Employment issues while on a Student Visa
An F-1 student can NOT accept off-campus employment at any time during the first year of study; however, the INS may give you permission to accept off-campus employment after the first year. However, F-1 students can accept on-campus employment from the school without INS permission. Except for temporary employment for practical training, an M-1 student may not accept employment.

Bringing Family Members
Your spouse and unmarried children may also be classified for a nonimmigrant visa to accompany you to the USA. All family members must meet all visa eligibility requirements, including showing the INS that they will have sufficient financial funds for their support, and that they will depart the U.S. when your student education program finishes. Spouses and children of students may not accept employment at any time while in the USA.

Forms Emquiries
You can obtain Forms I-20A-B and I-20M-N from the educational institution. If the institution does not have the forms, it should contact the local INS office.

Please note that you can NOT obtain an F-1 visa to attend a U.S. public elementary or middle school (K-8). Anyone who wants to attend public high school (grades 9-12) in the USA on a student visa (F-1), must submit evidence that the local school district has been paid in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. Also, attendance at U.S. public high schools cannot exceed a total of 12 months.
Also you can NOT be issued an F-1 visa in order to attend a publicly-funded adult education program.

Remember, International student organizations, including clubs that students form themselves (representing their various countries) are very common on college campuses. Many of them also have websites (accessible from their school’s site). Once you are interested in a school, you may want to see if there is a student club representing your country there, and even ask the club (online) about conditions at the school.

Proposed Changes to Student Visa

US Embassies and Consulates - Worldwide

INS Forms and Fees are available online
by calling 1-800-870-3676
by requesting forms by mail


~ Student Graduate Center

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Transmission of this information is not intended to create, and receipt by you does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers must not act upon any information without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.
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