F-1: Academic Student

When a foreign citizen wants to study in the U.S., he or she must have a valid F-1 nonimmigrant visa, allowing him or her to study for a specific time.  A lawful nonimmigrant in a status other than F-1 may or may not be permitted to engage in study depending upon the regulations governing her or his status and the facts of the case.  Without F-1 status, any foreign national who undertakes study risks violating his or her nonimmigrant status. 

A foreign student seeking to come to the U.S. for non-vocational study under the F-1 visa classification must prove that their sole purpose of coming to the U.S. is to study and they have strong ties abroad that they don’t intend to abandon and permanently immigrate to the U.S. 

In order to obtain F-1 student status (and F-2 for accompanying spouse and unmarried minor children), a foreign student must submit an application for F-1 visa, accompanied by SEVIS Form I-20, issued in his or her own name by a school approved by the USCIS, adequate documentary evidence of financial support.  A bona fide nonimmigrant, who entered the U.S. with a visa other than F-1 status, may apply to USCIS to change his or her classification to that of an F-1 student.

An F-1 student is admitted for duration of status – the time during which anhe or she is pursuing a full course of study at an educational institution approved by USCIS for attendance by foreign students, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies. An F-1 student may be admitted for a period up to 30 days before the indicated report date or program start date listed on Form I-20.  The student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a course of study. If a student fails to complete his or her stated academic objective within the time estimated on the I-20, the student must apply for a program extension and an extension of stay.

Under limited circumstances, an F-1 student may have the following options for employment: (i) on-campus employment; (ii) off- campus work authorization; (iii) employment due to severe economic hardship; (iv) international organization internships; (v) practical training. 

A student who is maintaining his or her status may transfer to another USCIS approved school.  However, an F-1 student is not permitted to remain in the United States when transferring between schools or programs unless the student will begin classes at the transfer school or program within 5 months of transferring out of the current school or within 5 months of the program completion date on his or her current Form I-20, whichever is earlier.

M-1: Student

The M-1 visa is suitable for foreign students wishing to attend a full vocational or non-academic course, other than language training, at colleges, universities, or conservatories in the United States.  On M-1 student visa, a person can remain in the country for one year or for as long as he or she is enrolled as a full-time student in the course of study plus 30-days to prepare to leave the U.S.

The M-1 visa holders are able to apply for change or adjust status to other categories of U.S. temporary visas.  But they cannot change to H-1B visa or F-1 visa status if the employment offered is based on knowledge gained through studies while in M-1 status.

Some of the benefits an M-1 visa holder include, travel in and out of the U.S. in between their program; transfer from one college to another, work lawfully on-campus and off-campus with some limitations. 

Note: Once an M-1 holder is 6 months into a program of study, he/she is disallowed from changing his/her course of study, excluding under truly exceptional situation. 

Extension of stay 

After the completion of studies, the M-1 visa holder can apply for extension of stay if he/she wishes to pursue practical training.  In general, a person holding M-1 visa will be authorized to have one month of practical training for every four months of study he/she has finished.  The student will be limited to six months total training time.

To extend your stay, you must submitcompleted Form I-539 (application to extend or change nonimmigrant status) to USCIS at least 15 days (but not more than 60) prior to your approved stay in the country ends.  At the same time, you are required to submit Form I-20I-D to the USCIS.

Exchange Visitor Status: J-1

The J-1 Visa offers cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the United States through a variety of programs overseen by the U.S. State Department.

The “J” exchange visitor can be a student, scholar, trainee, teacher, professor, research assistant, specialist, a leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill, or other person of similar description, who is coming temporarily to the United States to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills or receive on the job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years.

To qualify for “J” status the visitor must meet certain qualifications, including havingsufficient funds to cover the program and living expenses, and capable in terms of language and profession to participate in the specified program.

When an exchange visitor is coming under the “J” program for graduate medical education or training he/she must also pass the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination in Medical Sciences, and be automatically subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement (after completion of their program), and the time limits on the duration of their program.  Physicians coming to the United States on exchange visitor programs for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or conducting research in which there is little or no patient care are not subject to the above requirements.

An exchange visitor alien must be sponsored by a designated exchange visitor program.  An exchange visitor program wishing to sponsor an alien issues that alien a Form DS-2019. 

The complete list of programs can be found on the Exchange Visitor Program website: https://j1visa.state.gov/programs

The two most popular programs are Summer Work and Travel and Au Pair programs.

There are specific set of regulations pertaining to the Summer Work/Travel category, where foreign post-secondary students may enter the United States to work and travel for a maximum of four months during their summer vacations.  While most participants enter the United States with prearranged employment, sponsors are required to place only 50 percent of their participants each year.  Sponsors must ensure that participants entering the United States without prearranged employment have sufficient financial resources to support themselves during their search for employment.  In addition, sponsors must provide such participants with information on how to seek employment and secure lodging in the United States before they depart their home countries, and with a job directory that includes at least as many job listings as the number of participants in their program who are entering the United States without prearranged employment.  Finally, sponsors must undertake reasonable efforts to secure suitable employment for participants unable to find jobs on their own after one week.

Program regulations permit participants to repeat the program more than once.  However, sponsors are required to limit the number of repeating participants to no more than 10 percent of the number of their previous year’s participants.

Department regulations prohibit the placement of program participants as domestic help in U.S. households or in positions requiring them to invest their own money for inventory, such as door-to-door sales.  Most participants typically work in non-skilled service positions at resorts, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks.  Summer internships in US businesses and other organizations (i.e., architecture, science research, graphic art/publishing and other media communication, advertising, computer software and electronics, and legal offices, etc.) are allowed.  However, the term of the internship may not exceed the four-month program duration and must be completed during the student’s summer vacation. 

Through the Au Pair program, foreign nationals between 18 and 26 years of age participate directly in the home life of a host family by providing limited childcare services for up to 12 months.  Childcare is limited to no more than 10 hours per day, and to a maximum of 45 hours per week.

Participants in the Au Pair program must be proficient in spoken English, and are required to complete at least six hours of academic credit or its equivalent at an accredited U.S. post-secondary educational institution.  Host families are required to pay up to $500 toward the cost of the Au Pair’s required academic course work.

Exchange visitor’s program may be extended for adequate and justified reason. 

Change of Status 

J-1 visitors may apply for a change of status.  The most frequent changes include: change to F-1/student status; B-1/B-2 visitor status; H-1B working visa.  If the J-1 visitor fears to go back to his or her country due to persecution based on nationality, political opinion, membership in a social group, race or religion he/she may also apply for asylum in the United States.