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US Immigration Laws for International Students

As an international student, you will need a visa to enter the US to stay for the duration of your study.  The three categories are:

  • F 1 Visa
  • J 1 Visa and
  • M 1 Visa

The most commonly issued visa is the F 1 visa and detailed information is given below about each category.  All visas are issued and regulated by the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).  Though the application process can be a bit daunting, information is provided on the Student Visa and Immigration Center to guide people through the process. 

F 1 Student Visa:

This is the most issued category for students come to the US for higher studies at any of the many Universities or Colleges.  There are some minimum requirements that a student has to meet for the duration.

  • Minimum course load per semester to be considered full time student
  • Stay up to 2 months or 60 days beyond the date of visa to complete coursework
  • Additional 12 months to get practical training in their field of study – the Optional Practical training Program (OPT)
  • Students have to absolutely complete all aspects of their studies before the expiry of their I-20 form (Certificate of Non-Immigration Student Status).  This is attested to and provided by the University that they are to attend.

Qualifications for an F 1 Visa have the following criteria and applicants have to meet these standards.

    • Must be a resident of a foreign country and return after studies
    • Can only go to college mentioned on the Visa and the college which signed off on admission
    • Adequate financial support
    • Ties to home country such as assets, bank account information, family etc.
    • Chance to convert F-1 to temporary work visa after completing degree.  Family and children of applicant have to get F-2 Visa and cannot work in the US.

J-1 Student Visa 

Let’s look at what the J-1 Visa is and what criteria will determine eligibility.  This visa is issued to the students who want to get practical training as part of their academic program.  It is a non-immigrant visa which works towards fostering exchange students and cultural awareness – mostly issued for business or medical training in and around the US.  All applicants have to meet all the criteria and need sponsorship by a private sector company or any Government Program.

Length of Stay:

  • J-1 Applicants may stay till the end of their program under the rules on Form DS-2019 and an additional month beyond the date of visa – this is considered the “grace period”. 
  • If they leave within this time period, they have to get a new J-1 Visa before they can re-enter the US.
  • The time period of each J-1 Visa is determined by the category under which people apply.
  • As with any other non-immigrant visa, the J-1 holder and dependents have to leave the country at the end of the specified period.

M-1 Student Visa

This is issued to students who are interested in enrollment in technical or vocational schools.  To get one of these to travel to the US, the student has to present a signed I-20 Form at the US Embassy or Consulate in the home country.  I-20 Forms is issued to the student by a school official after all the admission requirements and proof of finance has met the criteria.

With this visa, students can go only for a fixed period to the US.   When they enter the country, their I-94 Departure Card is date stamped, unlike an F-1 Visa.  They can then stay only for the allotted time plus the Optional Practical Training program and a 30 day “grace period”.  Only in the case of medical issues can the stay be extended beyond a year.  If the status is violated, for instance: not completing the course, the grace period is cancelled.  Students with an M-1 Visa cannot work and also cannot change their status to F-1.


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