You must first obtain a visa if you wish to enter the U.S. You can obtain either an immigrant visa for a permanent stay or a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay. To undertake studies in the United States, you must obtain a student visa. The educational institution you plan to attend, and your course of study determine if you require an M or F visa. You need an M visa to come to the U.S and attend a vocational or another relevant non-academic institution, except a language-training program. On the other hand, you need an F visa to enter the U.S and attend seminary, private elementary, conservatory, high school, college or university, or another educational institution, inclusive of language-training programs. If you need an F or M visa to undertake studies in the United States, the California Immigration Attorney can help you apply for a visa.

No Visitor (B) Visa or Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Permitted for Students

A student requires an M or F visa to enter and undertake studies in the United States. You cannot travel with a Visitor Visa or on the VWP to the United States. After entering through the VWP or Visitor (B) visa, students cannot undertake studies in the United States. You can only enroll in the non-credit or recreational study while on a tourist visit.

A Visitor (B) Visa would be appropriate for brief periods of recreational studies. You may enroll in a brief recreational program through a Visitor (B) Visa that is not for an academic certificate or credit for a degree. The U.S government does not permit any study resulting in a certificate or degree through a Visitor Visa, even though it is only for a brief period. You must obtain a student M or F visa before entering the United States if you are a student enrolled in a distance learning educational program, which needs to stay on the educational institution’s U.S campuses.

SEVP Approved Schools Enrollment in the U.S

SEVP Approved Schools in the United States can enroll immigrant students. You need to submit an application to a school approved by SEVP, and after the institution’s acceptance, your details are maintained in the SEVIS. After the enrollment, you have to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee, which is $ 200, to obtain an I-20 form. You may proceed to apply for the student M or F visa at a consulate or U.S Embassy after obtaining the I-20 form and register in SEVIS. You will need to give the consular or embassy officer an I-20 form during the visa interview.

If your children or spouse wishes to join you in the U.S. during your study, they will have to register in SEVIS. They will also have to obtain individual I-20 forms from SEVP-approved schools and submit a visa application, but the SEVIS fee is not applicable.

Visa Application Procedure

There is a procedure you must follow while applying for a visa in the United States. The steps vary by the consulate or U.S Embassy. Some of the steps you must follow are:

Filling Form DS-160 online Visa Application

Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form DS-160 is for K (Fiancé) visa and temporary travel to the United States. You are required to fill this form and submit electronically to the Department of State website through the internet. You should fill in all the important information relevant to your background, your program of study, and your objectives in the United States.

The consular officers use DS-160 information to process a visa application. They also combine DS-160 information with the interview to determine if you are eligible for a nonimmigrant visa. You must print the DS-160 form after completing the online visa application because it is an interview requirement. You must also upload your photo because it is an essential element of your visa application. To ensure that your photo meets all the requirements, it is good that you use a professional visa photo service. Your photo must meet the following requirements:

  • Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
  • No uniform in your photo
  • No wireless hands-free devices or headphones in your photo
  • Neutral facial expression and both eyes open
  • Should be a colored photo
  • Taken within the last six months to reflect your current appearance
  • Taken in front of a plain white background
  • Sized in a way that ensures the head represents 69 percent of the photo’s total height from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin

Pay Visa Application Fee

The M and F visa application requires a fee of $ 160. You cannot get the money back if you fail to secure a visa because the fee is non-refundable. Apart from the application fee, there could be other fees depending on the consulate or U.S Embassy you are applying to. You might also have to pay reciprocity or a visa issuance fee if you are from specific countries determined by the consulate or the U.S Embassy. You should keep the receipt that proves that you have paid all fees.

Additional Considerations

During visa application, you will require to prove to the consular staff that you have strong ties to your permanent residence and don’t intend to leave your home country. You will also have to show that you truly intend to leave and come back to your home country after completing your studies. Therefore, you must provide sufficient evidence that you have strong ties to your country before applying for a visa to travel to the United States. Some of the evidence you might provide are:

  • Proof that you own property in your home country
  • Papers showing you pay a mortgage in your home country
  • Documents showing assets you own in your home country like vehicle
  • Proof that you have immediate family in your home country
  • A letter showing that there is a job waiting for you when you return to your home country.

Interview Scheduling

If you apply for any visa, consular staff may invite you for an interview. The consular staff may  interview visa candidates with certain limited exceptions as follows:

  • Applicants 80 years and above do not attend the interview
  • Applicants aged 14 to 79 years attend the interview
  • Applicants 13 years and below do not attend the interview

You have to schedule your student visa interview appointments at the consulate or U.S Embassy in your own country. It could be hard for you to qualify for a visa if you schedule the visa interview at another consulate or U.S Embassy outside the country you live in. You should also apply for the visa early because wait times for the interview appointments vary by visa category, season, and location. The 999 calendar days wait time means the consular officers provide interview services to emergency or urgent cases only. Interview appointment wait time at a consulate or U.S Embassy is based on actual incoming workload, staffing and can change weekly. However, these are only estimates and do not guarantee the availability of an appointment.

Prepare and gather the required documents before your student visa interview. The documents you need include:

  • Nonimmigrant visa application DS-160 form confirmation page
  • Receipts which prove you have paid your fees
  • Your uploaded photo, but if it fails to upload, you should produce a printed photo
  • Application fee receipt, if it is a, must pay before the interview
  • Your valid passport for United States travel- The passport should be a minimum of six months valid ahead of your time of stay in the U.S. Every person who requires a visa has to submit a distinct application, including your close relatives outline in your passport.
  • Eligibility certificate for the Nonimmigrant (M-1) for vocational student or I-20 form. You will receive an I-20 form from your school once the institution enters your details in the SEVIS online database. You and the official from the school have to sign the I-20 form.
  • Eligibility certificate for Nonimmigrant (F-I) student status for language and academic students

A consular staff may demand that you provide additional documents during the interview to decide on your student visa qualification. The additional documents may include:

  • Standardized test grades as recommended by your U.S school
  • Your transcripts, diplomas, and degrees
  • Scholarship for your education in the U.S, provide all necessary information
  • If another person supports you in the U.S, you have to submit your sponsor’s bank and tax return information for the last three years, Affidavit of support, and form I-134

The consular could also question how your education will be funded, travel costs, and living. You will also need to state if you intend to leave the United States upon completing your course.

During the interview, you must ensure that you have all the U.S law requirements to obtain a visa. This is when the consular staff will check and interview you to establish if you qualify for a student visa. The fingerprint scans are usually taken at the time of the interview. This process is a component of your application, but it varies depending on the country. After your student visa interview, the embassy or consular staff might inform you if your application is successful or it needs additional administrative processing.

Expedited Interview Appointment

If there is an urgent, unforeseen situation like a school start date, medical emergency, or funeral, the consular staff overseas may expedite your interview date. The procedure of seeking an expedited nonimmigrant visa interview differs by country. You will need to visit a consulate or U.S Embassy visa section website for instructions or their online appointment-scheduling site. However, you will have to provide evidence as to why you need an expedited interview appointment.

In all cases, you will have to pay the application fee, submit the online visa application DS-160 form, and schedule the early available interview appointment. The consular staff will only consider you for an expedited interview appointment after meeting those requirements. Unfortunately, travel for assisting pregnant relatives, enjoying last-minute tourism, participating in an annual professional conference, and attending weddings does not qualify for expedited appointments. You will have to schedule a regular visa appointment in advance for such cases.

Visa Processing

United States visa applications have only two possible outcomes; the consular staff might deny or issue you a visa. You might have to pay a student visa issuance fee after its approval. However, you may only pay if it is applicable in your country. The consular staff might deny you a visa if you fail to prove your eligibility during the interview. Some visa applications that are rejected may need additional administrative processing.

The consular staff will inform you at the end of the interview if your visa application needs additional administrative processing. The administrative processing period may vary based on the individual facts of each case. The consular staff might inform you if you are eligible or not at the end of administrative processing. Before making inquiries about the status of administrative processing, you should wait for 180 days from the date of submission of supplemental or interview. You can only make inquiries in case of emergency travel.

You can find the wait time for nonimmigrant visa processing and interviews on a consulate and U.S Embassy websites worldwide. It is worth noting that the country’s information about the wait time for nonimmigrant visa processing does not include administrative processing time. The time needed to return the passport to applicants by local mail system or courier services is not included in the administrative processing wait time. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly read all the information on the specific consulate or U.S Embassy visa website section. You should know the instructions and local procedures like how to make an interview appointment. Any additional procedures for students, those who require an earlier visa interview appointment, and exchange visitors; such information is found on the consulate and U.S Embassy websites.

Continuing students’ M and F visas are issued at any time as long as they are currently enrolled in the institutions and SEVIS or at a SEVP-approved school. New students’ M and F visas are issued 120 days in advance before commencing their courses.

Entry in the United States

A visa is not a guarantee or an assurance of an opportunity to enter the U.S. It only gives you a chance to go to the airport and seek approval to come into the U.S. The U.S CBP agents and the Department of Homeland Security at the airport have the powers to deny or permit you to enter the U.S.

After presenting the I-20 form, visa, and passport at the airport, the CBP agents may decide. The CBP agent will provide paper form I-94 or admission stamp, and departure or arrival record. Once you are cleared to enter the U.S., Continuing students can enter the U.S before classes begin, or any time they feel convenient. Authorities cannot allow new students to enter the U.S. 30 days before the set time of commencing their studies.

M, F Visa Student Course Study

The M visa students must maintain a full course study. Non-academic high school students must attend classes that the school considers normal progress towards graduation. Post-secondary vocational students must take classroom instructions at least 18 hours per week. The U.S government does not allow M visa students to take distance-education classes and online classes since they do not count towards the full course of study.

If you must take less than a full course due to a medical condition or illness, the Designated School Official (DSO) must authorize the reduced course of study. The licensed medical doctor must also document the student’s medical condition or illness.

The SEVIS recommends that F visa students must maintain a full course load. The full course load takes 18 or more contact hours for intensive English program enrollment. However, the requirement in terms of course structure may vary by school. Additionally, there is an acceptable course load reduction for F visa students in a particular semester or quarter. The reasons for course load reduction could be as follows:

  • Academic difficulty due to improper course level placement, unfamiliar U.S teaching methods, and difficulty with reading requirements or English language
  • Illness or medical condition
  • Final semester or quarter, where only a partial course load is required to graduate

You must apply in advance for course load reduction so that you can obtain a new Form I-20 and SEVIS to update their record.

After your studies in the United States

Foreign students possessing F visas in the United States are required to leave the country within 60 days after course completion, as stated in form I-20. If you fail to leave the United States on time, you will be out of status. Visas of students out of status under U.S law are automatically voided as the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.

Any voided entry visa because of being out of status may not earn you an entry into the United States in the future. The M-1 visa and form I-20 can be extended for three years maximum. You can do so by filing your form I-20 and form I-539, Application to change or change Nonimmigrant Status to USCIS.

Students and Employment

During the first academic year, F-1 students must not work off-campus, but the U.S government may accept on-campus employment subject to certain restrictions and conditions. F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment after the first academic year. The type of employment could include:

  • Severe economic hardship
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) post-completion or pre-completion
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) optional practical training extension

The United States government permits M-1 students to engage in practical training only after completion of their studies. Any off-campus training employment for M-1 and F-1 must be related to their area of study. USCIS, SEVIS, or Designated School Official must also authorize the employment before starting the work. You can also seek employment by filing form I-538 that the Designated School Official must sign. Additionally, you must also file form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The maximum amount of time that the U.S government may allow you to work is six months.

An application for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must include the following:

  • Two passport photos
  • Form I-539
  • Copy of both side I-94 card
  • Form I-765
  • Cover letter explaining your situation
  • Your current bank statement
  • Copy of passport photo page and visa
  • $ 410 filing fee payable to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Copy of original I-20 and original financial documents
  • $ 370 filing fee made out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Signed form I-20 with Optional Practical Training request

Form I-539 and I-765 are adjudicated separately at the service center. If form I-765 is approved, it becomes an Optional Practical Training card, also known as an Employment Authorization Document. On the other hand, an approved I-539 form becomes a new I-94 departure card. You will have to surrender your I-94 card when you leave the United States as evidence that you have left the country.

You may start paid work upon applying for social security number and receiving the OPT card, even before receiving an I-94 card. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may send you a request to prove if they need more information concerning your OPT application. The requests are occasionally about the original items you sent to them. It is, therefore, wise that you immediately sent them again for confirmation. You may receive a rejection or approval after different amounts of time and separately.

Change of Status

While in the United States, you do not need to apply for a new visa to change status from USCIS. For instance, your plans may change by securing employment or marrying a U.S citizen. In this case, you may seek a change in your status to another category. If such opportunities arise after leaving the United States, you can apply for another visa at a consulate or U.S Embassy in the relevant category for your travel.

However, you cannot change from an M visa to an F visa. It is also hard to change from an M or F visa to H-1B visa if you will be working with skills acquired during your studies as an M or F student.

Find a California Immigration Attorney near Me

Applying for a student visa can be challenging, especially if you are not familiar with the application process. However, the visa application process is much easier with the help of an immigration attorney. For the best guidance and visa application services, contact the California Immigration Attorney. Contact us at 424-789-8809 and speak to one of our attorneys.