Students use F-1 visas for academic programs and M-1 visas for vocational programs. To be eligible for either of these visas the student must first be accepted by a school. Once the student is accepted the school will prepare Form I-20 for the student to submit to the INS or to a consulate. The I-20 Form provides information about the student’s course of study and his means of financial support.
Students use F-1 visas for academic programs and M-1 visas for vocational programs. The key difference between the two categories is that M-1 holders may not change to another nonimmigrant status while in the U.S. Generally, both visa categories are issued for the duration of the approved educational program. In both cases, visa procedures may be initiated from the U.S. or abroad. The procedure for obtaining an F-1 student visa is as follows:
- Step 1. Be accepted by a school.
- Step 2. Obtain Form I-20 from the school. Form I-20 details the proposed course of study and estimates the financial resources necessary to complete the course of study.
- Step 3. If in the U.S., send Form I-506 Change of Status, Form I-20 and proof of financial support to the appropriate INS Regional Processing Center. If the INS approves the petition, the INS will respond with an endorsed I-94 evidencing student status. If abroad, fill out the consular application forms, supply Form I-20 from the school as well as proof of financial support. The consul will signify approval by issuing an F-1 or M-1 visa.
Three Key Questions, The Same Answer: Yes
The consuls and INS ask three key questions when reviewing student visa applications. These questions, along with the recommended answers, are listed below.
- Do you intend to complete a full-time course of study?
Be prepared to submit past school records and letters of recommendation from teachers as evidence.
- Do you have financial support?
Produce proof of adequate funds and/or show the financial statement of a sponsor on Form I-134, Affavidit of Support.
- Will you return to your home country after your studies are completed?
Prove this intention by demonstrating close family ties in your home country and/or a network of friends, relatives or job prospects. A course of study related to a prospective job in your home country also helps indicate your plans to return. For example, the father owns a ski lodge and resort and sends his child to the U.S. to study hotel management. In this case, the job logically relates to the course of study.
Students must prove a source of adequate financial support. Parents, guardians or benefactors should supply an Affidavit of Support, Form I-134, and supply proof of sufficient funds to support the student for the duration of the approved course of study. The person signing the Affidavit of Support guarantees the student will not use public assistance or welfare. Theoretically, this is rarely enforced; the signer of the I-134 is responsible for reimbursing the government in the event the student uses public assistance.
Since many students drop out of school, work illegally or never attend classes, the INS and consuls carefully monitor F-1 or M-1 applications. Good students attending academically-respected institutions experience few difficulties. But students with average or poor grades, along with English as second-language school applicants, experience greater scrutiny. The consuls and INS want to make sure the student indends to study and not use the student visa to disappear in the U.S. Students must prove their credibility.