Students Visas Available for Non ImmigrantsJanet Rangi
For international students coming to the United States for studies, there are three different student visas that you could be issued: F1 Visa, J1 Visa or M1 Visa. Two of these visas, F1 and J1 visas allow for the possibility of employment during the course of your stay in the US, while the M1 Visa does not allow for employment. Before you can apply for a visa you need to be familiar with the different types of visas available. One also needs to know that the type of visa could impact your financing while in the USA and how to go through the application and arrival processes.
An F1 visa is issued to non-immigrant students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program at a US college or university. F-1 students must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. They can remain in the United States up to 60 days beyond the length of time it takes to complete their academic program, unless they have applied and been approved to stay and work for a period of time under the OPT Program. If one may want to come with their family they can opt for the F2.
F1 students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date on their I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) which is provided by the US College or University that the student has been accepted to and will attend during the course of their stay.
There different admission policies for various universities and colleges. Your university or college will tell you what they need to determine if you are academically eligible. Among other requirements, you will need to show the school that you have enough money to support yourself while studying without having to work and you may have to show health insurance in order to cover any medical expenses should you need any medical assistance. Once the university has determined that your application is complete and you are academically eligible, they will issue an I-20 form to enable you to apply for your student visa.
F1 Visa Qualifications
In order to qualify, applicants need to satisfy and prove several strict criteria during an F1 visa interview, including the following:
F-1 applicants must have a foreign residence and must intend to return there upon the completion of their studies.
While on your F-1 visa, you may only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted.
Applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial support — the Study USA Financing Guide can help you prepare for this aspect of your time abroad.
Ties to Home Country
All applicants must demonstrate that they have strong ties to their home country.
Strong ties consist of, but are not limited to, the following:
• A job offer letter upon completion of studies
• Assets (i.e., house, land, vehicle, etc.)
• Bank accounts
Requirements for F1 Visa Application
Although the process may vary or require additional steps, depending on your country and embassy or consulate, you will need the following when applying for your student visa:
You will have to pay a non-refundable application fee. This means that if your visa does not get approved, you will not get your money back.
- Form DS-160
All applicants will need to complete and submit DS-160, the online application for a non-immigrant visa.
- Form DS-157
A DS-157 form for all males aged 16-45.
- Valid Passport
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 United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application.
You can upload a digital photo that is: In color, Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm) or 50% and 69% of the image’s total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance. Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background. Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera. With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open. Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis
The J-1 classification (exchange visitors) is authorized for those who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.
In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department of State designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. J-1 non-immigrants are therefore sponsored by an exchange program that is designated as such by the U.S. Department of State. These programs are designed to promote the interchange or persons, knowledge, and skills, in the fields of education, arts, and science. The applicant also has to have stayed in their home country for at least two years.
Examples of exchange visitors include, but are not limited to: Teachers, Professors or scholars, Trainees, Research assistants, Students, Specialists, Nannies/Au Pair Program and Camp counselors.
The U.S. Department of State plays the primary role in administering the J-1 exchange visitor program, so the first step in obtaining a J-1 visa is to submit a Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, (formerly known as an IAP-66). This form will be provided by your sponsoring agency. You should work closely with the officials at your sponsoring agency who will be assisting you through this process. An official who is authorized to issue Form DS-2019 is known as a Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO). Your RO or ARO will explain to you what documents are needed in order to be issued a DS-2019.
After you have obtained a Form DS-2019, you may then apply for a J-1 visa through the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so submitting your visa application as early as possible is strongly encouraged (though you may not enter the United States in J-1 status more than 30 days before your program begins).
Some J-1 non-immigrants enter the United States specifically to work (as a researcher, nanny, etc.) while others do not. Employment is authorized for J-1 non-immigrants only under the terms of the exchange program. Please check with your sponsoring agency for more information on any restrictions that may apply to you working in the United States.
Family of J-1 Visa Holders
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of nationality, are entitled to J-2 classification. Your spouse and children are entitled to work authorization; however, their income may not be used to support you. To apply for work authorization as a J-2 nonimmigrant, your spouse or child would file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
The M1 Visa
The “M” visa is for non-immigrants who wish to study for nonacademic or vocational studies. M-1 visa holders for technical and vocational programs are not permitted to work during the course of their studies. The M-1 student visa applicants must have evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of intended stay.
M1 Student Visa Requirements
You cannot enter as an M1 to just study “generally”; your program must have a goal and you must be involved in a “full course of study”. A full course of study means study in a community or junior college, with at least 12 semester or quarter hours. It must be in a school where anyone attending for at least 12 semester or quarter hours is charged full tuition, or considered full-time. The only exception is where you need a smaller course-load to complete your course of study. It can also mean study at a post secondary vocational or business school which grants Associate or other degrees. Alternatively, if a school can demonstrate that its credits are, or have been, accepted unconditionally by at least 3 institutions of higher learning it can qualify. If that is not possible, study in a vocational or nonacademic curriculum, certified by a DSO to require at least 18 hours of weekly attendance or at least 22 clock hours a week (if most of your studies are in a shop or lab). If that is not possible, the last option is study in a vocational or nonacademic high school curriculum which is certified by a DSO to require class attendance for not less than the minimum required for normal progress towards graduation.
Applying for an M1 Visa
Different universities have different admission policies. Your university will inform you what they need from you in order to determine that you are academically eligible. Amongst other requirements, you will need to show the school that you have enough money to support yourself whilst studying without having to work and you may have to show health insurance in order to cover any medical expenses should you need any medical assistance. Always protect yourself by keeping a copy of everything that you fill out and send off.
Once the university has determined that your application is complete and you are academically eligible, they will issue an I-20 form to enable you to apply for your student visa.
Applicants for student visas should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. [This will normally be your home country, the country in which you live]. 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.
When applying at the consulate for your student visa:
• You will have to pay a non-refundable application fee. This means that if your visa does not get approved, you will not get your money back.
• All applicants will need to complete and submit DS-160, the online application for a non-immigrant visa.
• A DS-157 form for all males aged 16-45.
• 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 United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application.
• Photos. You can upload a digital photo that is: In color, Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm) or 50% and 69% of the image’s total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head, taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance, taken in front of a plain white or off-white background and taken in full-face view directly facing the camera, with a neutral facial expression and both eyes open, taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis
When applying for a student visa, you will have to prove to the consular officer that you have strong ties to a residence in a foreign country which [this most likely will be your home country] you have no intention of leaving from, and that you will leave the United States when you have completed your studies.
You should take as much evidence as possible to show that you have ties to your home county. Such evidence can include, but is not limited to:
• Ownership of property
• Proof of immediate family that is still based in your home country such as your parents, brothers, sisters
• Evidence of a mortgage payment
• Letter from a future employer stating that you have a job offer when returning home
• Assets, a car or anything else that can show that your intention is to return to your home country
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