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How to Obtain a Student Visa (F-1, M-1)


Student (F-1 | F-2, M-1) Visas

The United States welcomes foreign citizens travelling to study or participate in an exchange program. When accepted to a study-abroad or other academic program that requires travel to the U.S., the participating educational institutions and program sponsors will provide you with the necessary approval documentation, to be submitted when applying for a visa.

A F-1 visa is a non-immigrant (full-time) student visa that allows foreign citizens to pursue education in the United States. A F-2 (dependent) visas are given to families of a F-1 student (spouse and/or minor children). F-2 visa holders are not allowed to engage in compensated employment.

If you are travelling to the U.S. for mainly tourism, but wish to take a class totaling less than 18 hours a week, you may do so with only a B-1 | B-2 tourist visa. However, if your period of study exceeds 18 hours a week, you will need to obtain a student visa. In most countries, first time student visa applicants are required to do an in-person interview at the consulate or embassy. However, each consulate and embassy sets its own rules for student visa interview procedures, so it is helpful to research the embassy or consulate from which you will be applying to be sure. If necessary, be sure to schedule an interview early, as dates and times tend to fill up, especially during the summer months. Please see Visa Wait Times for an estimate of when you will be able to schedule an interview.

Required documentation

If you are applying for a student visa, you must supply the following documentation:

  • Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students OR Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students. The I-20 Form is generated by the academic institution and is designed to help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security monitor student exchange programs.
  • A completed Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 along with Form DS-158. These are available electronically.
  • Ink-free, digital fingerprint scan (performed at the interview)
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States
  • One 2"x2" photograph
  • Receipts showing payment of the visa application fee, visa issuance fee (if applicable), and SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.
  • Students authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT and provide a USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Document (work permit)

Be prepared to provide:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previously attended institutions
  • Standardized test scores (TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.)
  • Financial evidence showing you or whoever is sponsoring you has sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses
  • Applicants with dependents must provide proof of the student's relationship to those dependents (marriage/birth certificates)

The visa will last until it expires, unless it is previously cancelled. Renewals can be granted with reapplication of forms DS-156, DS-158, and I-20, with processing fees for each. When renewing, you may also be required to provide copies of your grades or transcripts, and proof of your ability to cover costs of tuition and living expenses.

The visa is good as long as you are enrolled in class. For F-1 visas, it also lasts for 60 days after classes end, and for M-1 visas, it lasts for an additional 30 days. This extended time period is to allow for departure from the U.S. or transfer to another school.

Additional Resources:

Visa Wait Times

Form DS-156

Form DS-158

U.S. State Department Student Visa Overview

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