The M-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa. (A non-immigrant visa is a temporary visa. Everyone applying for non-immigrant status must demonstrate that they do not intend to live permanently in the United States).
The M-1 visa is for vocational students at an accredited institution. Generally, any course considered “vocational” will qualify for an M-1 visa. “Vocational” is a relatively short, career-focused program designed to prepare students quickly for the workplace. Examples that qualify as “vocational” include:
- Cosmetology school
- Technical courses
- Cooking school
- Flight school
- Trade schools like electrical, carpentry, plumbing, welding, locksmithing, automotive repair, floral design, medical transcription, etc.
Restrictions on an M-1 visa include:
- Cannot work full-time off campus
- Cannot go to school only part-time
- Cannot change programs or transfer to another institution unless the change is made within 6 months of starting the program
- Cannot continue to higher education in the United States, like a bachelor’s degree (they can re-apply for an ordinary
- F-1 student visa if they wish to continue their studies)
What Is Required to Obtain an M-1 Student Visa?
To be eligible for a student visa, the prospective student must meet several requirements. Applicants must demonstrate that:
- They have been accepted by an accredited U.S. vocational school that the Attorney General has approved
- They will be a full-time student
- They have enough money to meet their expenses for the period of expected study without having to work
- They have sufficient knowledge of the English language. They may have to demonstrate their English proficiency by taking a standardized test (like TOEFL or the IELTS)
- They have strong ties to their home country. Because the M-1 is a non-immigrant visa, the student must intend to return to the home country (or another country) after graduation. They can demonstrate ties to the homeland by showing they own real estate there, that they have a written job offer back home, that they have a mortgage, or that they have friends or family members back home
How to Apply for an M-1 Visa
- Apply to vocational schools. Once you have received a letter of acceptance, the school will register you into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and give you Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status. The I-20 will explain the estimated cost of attending that school, including room and board. You must demonstrate that you can cover these costs. You may wish to provide bank statements and other information to prove you have the financial means to support yourself. Scholarship and student loan documentation can also verify the ability to pay for school and living expenses.
- Complete Form DS-160. DS-160 is the standard application form for non-immigrant visas to the United States, including student visas. The form can be found on the website of your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Complete the form honestly and then submit it. You will receive a confirmation code. Keep this code and page for your records.
- Pay the visa application fee. The standard fee for an M-1 visa is $160. This fee is non-refundable, so you will not get a refund even if your M-1 visa application is denied. Students in most countries will pay $160, although students from certain countries may pay additional fees depending on their country’s reciprocity agreement with the United States. After paying this fee, keep the receipt for future reference.
- Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee: SEVIS is a student ID system for international students in the United States. You will need to pay a fee of $200. Pay this fee and keep the receipt for future reference.
- Schedule your embassy interview: Once you have completed the steps above, you can apply for your interview with your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
- Collect your documents. Before your interview, make sure you have collected all necessary documents:
- DS-160 confirmation page
- Letter confirming your visa appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate
- Valid passport
- One photograph
- Receipts for your SEVIS fee and M-1 visa application fee
- Proof of your educational qualifications, including degrees and diplomas, transcripts, and standardized test scores
- Proof of your ability to support yourself in the United States, including bank statements, loan information, scholarship information, or tax data for the last several years
- Attend your interview. The interview will take place at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. You may need to have your fingerprints taken before the interview. The interviewer will ask about your visit to the United States and your studies.
How Long Does an M-1 Visa Last?
An M-1 visa is typically granted for the duration of your vocational training, for a maximum of 3 years plus 6 months to allow you to leave the country. Note, however, that your form I-20 (the certificate from the school) needs to be renewed each year.
In some cases, your visa will not be granted for your studies. In this case, you can apply for an extension of stay by completing form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Non-immigrant Status. Send this form to USCIS along with your new I-20 form.
Can I Work with an M-1 Visa?
The M-1 visa allows for limited work with several restrictions. You are only permitted to work on campus and only in a part-time position during the school year (you can take a full-time on-campus job during breaks during the school year).
The work must be related to your field of study. For example, if you’re attending plumbing school, you should work on-campus as a plumber or plumber’s assistant.
Can an M-1 Visa Be Extended?
Yes, M-1 visa holders may apply for an extension of stay by submitting Form I-539. This Application to Extend or Change Immigrant Status must be submitted to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) between sixty and fifteen days before the visa expires.
Information regarding the length of your stay and expiration date can be found on the Arrival and Departure documentation or Form I-94, which you received when you entered the country.
To become eligible for any visa extension, you must meet the following requirements:
- You were lawfully admitted into the U.S. with a non-immigrant visa
Your non-immigrant visa status is currently valid
You have not committed any crimes that would disqualify you from a visa extension
You applied for an extension before your stay expires
You have maintained a valid passport for your entire stay in the U.S.
Can I Bring My Family to the United States?
The M-1 visa allows you to bring dependents to the United States on an M-2 visa. Your family member will qualify for an M-2 visa if:
- The dependent is your legal spouse
- The dependent is your unmarried child under 21
With an M-2 visa, your dependents can accompany you to the United States for your studies.
The M-2 dependent visa has special restrictions. For example, M-2 dependents cannot work or attend high school or college classes in the United States. They would need an F-1 student visa for that.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Apply for an M-1 or M-2 Visa?
You should contact an attorney if you or your dependent need help with a visa application. An experienced immigration attorney can help you apply for the correct visa, including an M-1 or M-2 visa.
Additionally, an attorney will be able to represent you in court, as needed, should any legal issues associated with your M-1 or M-2 visa arise, including representing you in immigration court.