The M-1 visa is a popular visa for students who wish to study in the United States. The visa is primarily used for vocational schools and hands-on training courses.

You may qualify for an M-1 visa if you are visiting the United States to attend one of the following courses:

  • Cooking School
  • Technical Courses
  • Trades like Electrical, Plumbing, Locksmithing, Carpentry, etc.
  • Flight School
  • Cosmetology School

Generally, any course considered “vocational” will fall under the umbrella of M-1 visas. If you are attending a traditional college or university or some other type of educational institution, then you may wish to apply for an F-1 visa.

A vocational school is an educational institution that typically offers a relatively short, career-focused program designed to quickly prepare graduates for the workplace. While some states have public vocational schools, most vocational schools in the United States are private institutions.

In addition to the courses listed above, common vocational programs in the United States that may qualify for an M-1 visa include welding, plumbing, carpentry, locksmithing, electrical, automotive repair, floral design, medical transcription, and hotel and restaurant management.

As an M-1 visa holder, you are permitted to enter the United States to study full-time at a vocational school. You can receive an associate degree or other type of degree offered by your vocational school.

The United States does not have a cap on M-1 student visas. As an M-1 student visa holder, you can get a driver’s license, open a bank account, and transfer schools within the first six months of your program. You are also permitted to work in certain circumstances (say, in on-campus jobs or if the work is related to your training).

What Am I Permitted to Do on an M-1 Visa?

An M-1 visa allows you to:

  • Enter the United States to attend a vocational school or similar training program
  • Receive an associate degree or similar degree from that vocational school
  • Transfer schools within the first six months of the program (to, say, a similar vocational program at a different school)
  • Open a bank account, get a river’s license, etc.
  • Work in certain on-campus jobs or related employment opportunities

What Can I Not Do with an M-1 Visa?

M-1 visa holders have certain restrictions, including some restrictions that aren’t faced by ordinary F-1 student visa holders. Restrictions on an M-1 visa can include all of the following:

  • Cannot work full-time out of campus
  • Cannot complete programs as part-time students
  • Cannot change programs or transfer to another institution more than six months after starting the program
  • Cannot continue onto higher education in the United States, like to a Bachelor’s Degree (you can re-apply for an ordinary F-1 student visa if you wish to continue your studies)
  • Cannot enroll in language courses

These restrictions are different from the F-1 student visa. For example, an F-1 student visa holder can enroll in academic and credit-bearing courses at a traditional college or university, and an F-1 student visa holder can receive a bachelor’s or master’s degree. F-1 visa holders can also transfer to a new school at any time or work on practical training outside of campus, while M-1 visa holders cannot.

M-1 Visa Requirements

The main requirements for an M-1 visa include all of the following:

Accepted at an SEVP Institution: In order to accept foreign students, educational institutions in the United States need to be on the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) list. This list includes a mix of traditional universities and colleges as well as vocational schools. In order to qualify for an M-1 visa, you must first be accepted at an SEVP institution in the United States. Once you have received your 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. You will need this information to proceed with your M-1 visa application.

English Proficiency: You must be proficient in English to attend vocational school in the United States. You may have to demonstrate your English proficiency by taking a standardized test (like TOEFL or the IELTS).

Strong Ties to your Home Country: The M-1 visa allows you to study in the United States temporarily. You must intend to return to your home country after you graduate. You may be required to demonstrate strong ties to your home country, including a foreign property you own, family and friends in your home country, or an employment opportunity back home. If the consular officer feels that you intend to stay in the United States after your M-1 student visa expires, then your application will be denied.

Sufficient Finances: You must have sufficient finances to cover your living expenses, tuition, and other costs while living in the United States. Your school should provide an I-20 form that explains the estimated cost of living for students at your chosen school. 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. You can also submit a Form I-134 from a relative or friend in the United States. This form verifies that the individual is willing to support you while you study in the United States. Scholarship information and student loan information can also be used to verify financial support.

How to Apply for an M-1 Visa

The M-1 visa application process is relatively straightforward. It’s similar to the application process for any other visa. The main difference is that you need to apply for admission to a U.S. vocational school and receive a letter of acceptance before you start the application process.

Step 1) Receive a Letter of Acceptance from a U.S. Vocational School: Apply to vocational schools in the United States. Once you receive a letter of acceptance from your school, you can proceed with the M-1 student visa application. Your school must be on the SEVP list to qualify.

Step 2) Get your I-20 Form: Your vocational school may provide form I-20 to you automatically. Or, you may need to request it. The I-20 form explains the expected costs of attending your chosen school. You will need this for the rest of the M-1 visa application.

Step 3) 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. Complete the form honestly and then submit it. You will receive a confirmation code. Keep this code and page for your records.

Step 4) Pay the Visa Application Fee: The standard fee for an M-1 visa is $160 USD. This fee is non-refundable, so even if your M-1 visa is accepted, you will not get a refund on the fee. Students in most countries will pay $160, although students from certain countries may pay additional fees depending on their reciprocity agreement with the United States. After paying this fee, keep the receipt for future reference.

Step 5) Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee: SEVIS is a student ID system for foreign students in the United States. You will need to pay a fee of $200 to receive your SEVIS I-901. Pay this fee and keep the receipt for future reference.

Step 6) Schedule your Embassy Interview: Once you have completed all of the steps above, you can apply for your interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate. Depending on the workload at your local U.S. embassy, your appointment could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks away.

Step 7) Collect your Documents: Before your interview, make sure you have collected all necessary documents, including standard visa paperwork and additional paperwork that may be required for an M-1 visa:

  • Valid passport
  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • Letter confirming your visa appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate
  • 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 financial stability and ability to support yourself in the United States, including bank statements, loan information, scholarship information, and tax data for the last several years

Step 8) Attend your Interview: The interview will take place at a U.S. embassy or consulate. You may have your fingerprints taken prior to the interior. The interviewer will ask various questions about your visit to the United States and your studies. Sometimes, your visa will have been processed before the interview and the interview is the final step. In that case, the interviewer may tell you that your visa has been approved by the end of the interview. In other cases, you may need to wait longer.

How Long Does It Take to Process My M-1 Visa?

The M-1 visa and other student visas are some of the fastest visas to process. Sometimes, your visa is processed immediately before the interview, in which case you will be told whether your visa has been approved or denied once the interview is complete.

In other cases, the M-1 visa will take 3 to 5 weeks to process. Generally, you’ll want to start the M-1 student visa application process at least two months before your expected start date for your studies.

Processing times depend largely on the embassy workload. If your M-1 visa application takes longer, then it could simply be a large workload at your local U.S. embassy.

How Long Does an M-1 Visa Last?

An M-1 visa is typically granted for the duration of your vocational training. However, your form I-20 needs to be renewed each year. The form I-20 is the certificate from your school.

Your M-1 visa will last a maximum of 3 years if you continue to extend it.

In some cases, your visa will not be granted for the duration of your studies. In this case, you might have to apply for an extension to continue your studies. You can apply for an extension by completing form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Non-Immigrant Status. Send this form to USCIS along with your new form I-20.

Can I Get a Green Card with an M-1 Visa?

The M-1 visa is not typically a path to a green card. The two main ways to get a green card with an M-1 visa include:

  • Proving that you will invest at least $500,000 in the U.S. economy
  • Marrying a U.S. citizen while in the U.S. on your M-1 visa
  • Getting an H-1B visa from an employer

These are typically the only ways an M-1 visa holder can move from an M-1 visa to a green card. M-1 visa holders cannot transition to a normal F-1 student visa while in the United States, and some students face difficulties receiving an H-1B visa. The majority of M-1 students will return to their home country after completing their vocational studies.

Can I Work with an M-1 Visa?

The M-1 visa allows you to work in the United States, although there are a number of restrictions.

You are only permitted to work on campus in a part-time position during the school year, for example, although you can take a full-time on-campus job during breaks in the school year. You are permitted to work for a maximum of 6 months.

If you wish to seek employment while in the United States on an M-1 visa, then you will need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or an M-1 Visa Work Permit. You can receive this document by filing Form I-538, Certification by Designated School, to USCIS. You may also need to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

The work you perform on-campus with your EAD should be related to your field of study. If you’re attending cosmetology school in the United States, for example, then you should work on-campus as a hair stylist with the school or in similar work related to your program.

Can I Bring My Dependents to the United States Under an M-2 Visa?

The M-1 visa allows you to bring dependents to the United States on an M-2 visa. Your family may qualify for an M-2 visa if:

  • The dependent is your legal spouse
  • The dependent is your unmarried child under age 21

With an M-2 visa, your dependents can accompany you to the United States for the duration of your studies. Typically, an M-2 visa is granted for the duration of the M-1 visa holder’s studies.

The M-2 dependent visa has special restrictions. M-2 dependents cannot work in the United States or attend credit-bearing classes. Children, meanwhile, are permitted to attend elementary and middle school in the United States but cannot attend high school under the M-2 visa.