The M visa is a temporary visa used by students wishing to enter the United States to participate in nonacademic or vocational studies. This differs from the F visa, which is used by international students who want to participate in academic or language programs.
The M visa is for students enrolled in vocational studies at an accredited institution. Generally, any course considered “vocational” will qualify for an M visa. “Vocational” is a relatively short, career-focused program designed to prepare students quickly for the workplace. Examples that qualify as “vocational” include:
- Technical courses
- Flight school
- Cosmetology school
- Cooking school
- Trade schools like carpentry, locksmithing, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, welding, floral design, automotive repair, medical transcription, etc.
Restrictions on an M visa include:
- It must be a full-time visa
- Cannot work full-time off campus
- If there is to be a change of schools or programs, it must be requested within 6 months of starting the program
- Cannot continue to higher education (such as a bachelor’s degree) on an M visa; they can apply for an F-1 student visa if they wish to continue their studies
Who Qualifies for the M Visa?
Students wishing to obtain an M Visa so that they can participate in a vocational program in the United States must:
- Be accepted as a full-time student in a vocational program approved by the U.S. Attorney General (through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
- Be proficient in English. They may have to prove this by passing a standardized test, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Testing System (IELTS).
- Have sufficient funds to meet the expenses for the period of expected study without having to work.
- Intend to study full-time.
- They have strong ties to their home country. Because M visas are non-immigrant visas (meaning that the visa holder has no plans to move permanently to the United States), the student must intend to return to their home country after graduation. They can demonstrate ties to the homeland by showing that they have a written job offer back home; they own real estate there, that they have a mortgage, or that they have friends or family members back home.
What Is the Duration of the M Visa?
An M visa is typically granted for the duration of the vocational training program, for a maximum of 3 years. The form I-20 (the certificate from the school) needs to be renewed each year.
In some cases, the visa will not be granted for the duration of the studies. In this case, the foreigner must apply for an extension of stay by completing form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status. This form is submitted to USCIS along with a new I-20 form from the school.
Can an M Visa be Extended?
Yes. M 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 the initial stay and the expiration date can be found on the Arrival and Departure documentation, or Form I-94, which the student was given when they entered the country.
To be eligible for any visa extension, the student must meet the following requirements:
- Their non-immigrant visa status is currently valid. This means that the length of time the USCIS granted for the visa is still valid, even though the visa given on entry into the United States was granted for a shorter time and has expired
- They were lawfully admitted into the U.S. with a non-immigrant visa
- They applied for an extension before your stay expires
- They have maintained a valid passport during their entire stay in the United States
- They have not committed any crimes that would disqualify them for a visa extension. This includes violation of immigration law (such as overstaying a visa or lying on an application) and state or federal law violations by committing a crime of “moral turpitude.” “Moral turpitude” is conduct considered contrary to social standards or that exhibits a lack of honesty, good morals, or a sense of justice.
- Crimes of moral turpitude are intentionally or inherently evil. They include violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault, solicitation, prostitution, or murder. They also include non-violent crimes such as robbery, forgery, and fraud. Other crimes will disqualify someone from receiving a visa extension, including racketeering, perjury, tax evasion, domestic violence offenses, bribery, and trafficking in drugs, humans, or weapons.
May the Student Work?
The M visa allows for limited work with several restrictions. Students are only permitted to work on campus and only in a part-time position during the school year. They can take a full-time on-campus job during breaks in the school year.
The work must be related to the field of study. If the student is attending plumbing school, for example, they should work on-campus as a plumber, plumber’s assistant, or a related position.
What about an M Student’s Spouse and Children?
If a student is approved for an M visa, the student’s spouse or unmarried children under 21 can apply for an M-2 visa to accompany the student to the United States. The spouse and children may not work or attend school on M-2 visas. If they want to go to school, they must apply for their own M-1 or F-1 visa.
How Do I Apply for an M Visa?
- Apply to vocational schools. Once you have been accepted, the school will register you into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
- Complete form DS-106, the standard application form for non-immigrant visas. Submit it to your local embassy or consulate
- Pay the visa application fee. The standard fee is a non-refundable US$160. Students from some countries have to pay a higher fee. This depends on their country’s reciprocity agreement with the United States
- Pay the SEVIS fee. That is currently US$200.
- Gather the documents you will need to submit (make copies):
- DS-160 confirmation page
- Passport valid for at least 6 months after the date of entry into the United States
- One passport-style photograph
- Receipts for the fees you paid
- Proof of your educational qualifications, such as degrees or diplomas
- Proof of your ability to support yourself in the United States. That could be bank statements, loan information, scholarship information, or tax returns for recent years
- Attend your interview at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. You may need your fingerprints taken before the interview, depending on the consulate’s rules.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Get an M Visa?
There are many kinds of visas, each with rigid requirements. An experienced immigration attorney in your area can help determine which visa is best for you. An immigration lawyer can also help you change your visa status or extend your stay.
Additionally, an attorney can represent you in immigration court should any legal issues arise concerning your M visa. Immigration laws and requirements can be complex, but your attorney can keep you informed of your rights under the law.