A student visa such as an M-1 visa or an F-1 visa allows you to study in the U.S. and remain in the country for your studies for as long as it takes you to complete your education.

What is the Difference Between an F visa and an M Visa?

The type of educational institute you are planning on attending and your course of study determines what type of visa you need. You need an F visa if you entering the country to attend:

  • University or College;
  • High School;
  • Private elementary school;
  • Seminary; or
  • Conservatory.

However, you need an M visa if you are attending a vocational or other recognized non-academic institution, other than a language training program.

How Long Can You Stay Under a Student Visa?

Because a student visa is a temporary visa, you are only permitted to be in the country for a certain period of time. Your Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) will generally indicate how long you can stay in the U.S. If you hold a student visa, it is important to leave no later this day or to get an extension of your visa if you need it.

In some cases your Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) will indicate “Duration of Status” rather than a specific date. In these cases, you can stay in the U.S. as a student for the entire length of your studies as long as you maintain your status as a student.

Also, you will have some to leave the U.S. after your duration of study is over. If you have a F-1 visa, you will generally have 60 days to transfer schools or leave the country after you are done with your studies. But with an M-1 visa, you will have 30 days to leave the U.S.

What are the Penalties for Violating Your Student Visa?

If you are a student, it is important to leave no later than the time specified in your visa or get a proper extension of your visa if you need it. Overstaying your visa by even one day is considered a serious violation of immigration laws and can lead to serious consequences such as:

  • Automatically voiding your visa;
  • Making it difficult for you to re-enter the US if you decide to visit or study in the US again;
  • Making you ineligible to receive a visa in the future; and/or
  • Deportation.

How Do You Extend Your Stay Under a Student Visa?

You are generally eligible to extend your student visa if there are compelling reasons. This typically includes valid academic or medical reasons like:

  • Dealing with an illness;
  • Transferring between different schools;
  • Changing majors; and/or
  • Embarking on extra studies or research.

However, to extend your F-1 or M-1 visa, you have to remain a full-time student and not miss five months or more of classes. If you did not meet these requirements, you will not be able to extend your visa and you will need to apply for a new student visa.

What are the Procedures for Extending Your Student Visa?

If you are eligible and want to extend your student visa, you have to file an extension of stay with the Department of Homeland Security. You can download the form and instructions online and you need to include the following documents:

  • A letter which explains your request;
  • Two passport photos;
  • All the documentation that you needed for your student visa; and
  • Any additional documentation which the instructions mention.

You will generally have to prove that you are maintaining a permanent residence outside the U.S., that you plan to return to your home country and that you have enough funds to support a longer stay in the U.S.

You also generally need to file Form I-20 to extend your student visa. Also, in some cases, you may want to enter the U.S. before your student visa takes effect. If this applies for you, you are required to file Form I-539 (Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status) and Form I-20 to the Department of Homeland Security.

What About Changes in Status?

If your plans change while you are in the U.S. because of certain reasons like marrying a U.S. citizen or receiving an offer of employment, you may be able to request a change in your nonimmigrant status to another category through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If you are in the U.S., receiving a change of status from USCIS does not require you to apply for a new visa. However, once you travel outside the country, you have to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate which reflects the change of status.

Should I Contact a Lawyer for Issues with My Student Visa?

Immigration laws can be complex and overstaying your visa can lead to serious consequences. If you are a student and if you wish to extend your student visa or obtain a different visa, it would be beneficial to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can inform you about the relevant laws and guide you through the process.