Guide to M1 Visas in the U.S.

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • M1 Visa: Nonimmigrant visa for vocational studies in the United States.
  • Allows full-time vocational courses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, healthcare access, and restricted work opportunities.
  • Dependents can accompany the student.
  • Restrictions: No full-time jobs outside of campus, no part-time study, no transferring institutions after six months, and no pursuing higher degrees after vocational courses.

There are different types of student visas that the U.S .government offers. M1 visas are one of them, the others being J and F student visas. But who is eligible for an M1 visa? In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the M1 student visa.

What Is an M1 Visa?

An M1 Visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa issued by the USCIS to foreign students looking to study in the U.S., but not every student gets an M1 visa. It is intended specifically for those who want to pursue vocational studies in the United States.

With an M1 visa, students can come into the U.S. and complete their full-time vocational studies. Post completion, they can either get an associate or a higher-level degree or head back to their home country. Using the M1 visa, you, as a student, can get a driver’s license, a U.S.-based bank account, access to healthcare services, and apply for work under certain restrictions. You can bring in your relatives as dependents to live with you in the United States, as long as your M1 visa status is valid.

Here’s what you cannot do with an M1 visa:

  • Apply for full-time jobs outside of campus
  • Complete the full-time course as part-time activity (which means attendance is strictly checked)
  • Transfer from one institution to another after six months of the beginning of the program (you can do so before six months)
  • Continue with a Bachelor’s or other types of degree after the completion of your vocational course

Who Qualifies for an M1 Visa?

As already mentioned, M1 visas are issued to a certain category of foreign students. Here are the requirements for applying for this visa:

  • You are applying to nonacademic or vocational training courses only in the United States.
  • You meet the minimum education qualification required by the vocational course you are applying for.
  • You have been accepted by a U.S.-based vocational institution and have received the Form I-20.
  • You possess the required level of English proficiency, both written and verbal.
  • You have demonstrated that you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses while you’re in the U.S.
  • You have a permanent residence in your home country and have no intention of abandoning it.
  • You have no intention of staying in the U.S. and will leave after the completion of your education unless you become eligible to change your visa status.
  • The institution is convinced that the education you receive in the U.S. will be beneficial to your homeland and hence induce you to leave post-completion.

M1 Visa Required Documents

After going through the eligibility criteria laid out for admission, if you find yourself to be eligible, you should go ahead with the application process. But before that, you need to be aware of the course requirements.

M1 visas are for vocational courses. This means that the program must have a goal and should be full-time in nature. In the United States, this means a full course of study in a community or junior-level college with a minimum duration of at least 12 semesters or quarter hours. The entire 12-semester session must be held within that community college, except for short-term courses that are delivered outside of it and are part of the curriculum. This could also mean studying at a post-secondary school that awards associate or similar degrees after completion.

If it has fewer than 12 semesters, the institute has to demonstrate that some of its credits are accepted by at least three higher institutions, it can qualify for that.

If that is not possible, you are required to study in a DSO-certified nonacademic vocational curriculum and gain at least 18 hours of weekly attendance, which translates to 22 clock hours a week.

Your final option is to take courses at a DSO-certified nonacademic vocational high school that requires attendance no less than the minimum required to advance through to graduate courses.

As you can conclude, attendance is the main course requirement. It’s part of your responsibility to choose an institution and its offered courses wisely.

How to Apply for an M1 Visa

The M1 visa application process starts with the university or institution at which you intend to study. Different institutions will have their own admission policies and methods. Your institution will inform you accordingly, but here are the most common steps involved. Being aware of them beforehand will help you while applying for an M1 visa.

Get Your Form I-20 Issued

Before you apply for any type of student visa, whether it be J, F, or M, you must first apply at a U.S.-based institution of higher education and get accepted. The institution should be affiliated with the SEVP or Student Exchange and Visitor Program. You need to receive Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, from your designated school official or DSO. This form will be used for most of the steps that follow, so keep it safe.

Submit Form DS-160

Once you receive Form I-20, you can begin your immigration-related application process. You are required to submit Form DS-160, The Online Immigration Visa Application form, online, which you can access here. The questionnaire includes your personal information, background information, and motivation for your study in the U.S. You might be required to upload a copy of Form I-20 as well.

Pay the Visa Application Fee

Currently, the application fee for the M1 visa is $160. Please note that this amount is non-refundable, even if your visa gets rejected. Depending upon the embassy you are applying at, there might be other minor costs, like visa issuance or reciprocity fee, that you might be asked to pay for. You can pay via credit/debit card or cash.

Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee

All international students must register with SEVIS, which has a fee of $200 and has to be paid for separately from the M1 visa. You’ll receive receipts for every type of payment you make.

Schedule Your Interview

In the next step, you will be asked to attend a face-to-face interview with a U.S. consulate. This will be scheduled at the embassy. An interview appointment letter will be mailed to you; you must bring it to the interview.

Compile Your Document File

You’ll be asked to bring certain documents to the interview for verification. These are:

  • A passport with a validity of at least six months
  • DS-160 confirmation
  • Visa appointment letter
  • 4–5 recent photographs
  • Fee receipts
  • Educational certificates
  • Proof of financial stability (bank records, real estate holdings, tax information, scholarship amount, etc.)

Attend Your Interview

Finally, visit the embassy on the appropriate date and attend the interview. If you are bringing someone with you, you will be asked to prove their relationship to you before they are allowed entry.

M1 Visa Processing Time

For M1 visas, there are no cap limits, which means no waiting time. Hence, the processing time is quite short. You will get your M1 visa within four to six weeks of applying.

M1 Visa Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few questions that you might want to have the answers of:

How long can I stay in the U.S.?

As long as your M1 visa is valid or you change your status.

Can I change my status to another U.S. visa?

Yes, you can, but changing to an F1 or H1B visa status is quite hard.

Am I allowed to work in the U.S. on an M1 visa?

You can take some part-time jobs on your campus, but nothing outside of it. The maximum time you are allowed to work is six months, for which you’ll need an EAD.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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