You’ll need to apply for a US student visa if you want to study in the US, either for a full degree or for a shorter amount of time. Here’s a quick look at the three types of non-immigrant student visas for studying in the US.
This type of US student visa is for international students who want to get a degree at a college or university that has been approved by the US government, or who want to study English at a university or an intensive English language institute. F visas come in three different types:
- Full-time students can get F-1 visas.
- F-2 visas for dependents of F-1 visa holders (spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21). This includes married people of the same gender.
- F-3 visas are for “border commuters,” or Mexican and Canadian students who live in their home country but go to school in the US part-time or full-time.
Students with an F-1 visa can work on campus for less than 20 hours a week. Students who want to work longer hours or off-campus must get permission from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS may also give work permission for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for a total of 12 months, as long as the student hasn’t been unemployed for more than 90 days.
The second type of US student visa is for international students who want to study or train in the US in a field other than academics or work. M visas come in three different types:
- Students who are taking vocational or other non-academic classes can get M-1 visas.
- M-2 visas for dependents of M-1 visa holders (as in F-2 visas).
- M-3 visas are like F-3 visas in that they are for “border commuters,” but they are for vocational or non-academic studies.
M-1 students can stay in the US for a set amount of time, which is the length of their training program plus any optional practical training. They can’t stay in the US for more than a year, unless they need to stay longer for health reasons. Students with an M-1 visa can’t work on or off campus while they’re in school, and they can’t change their status to F-1.
The third type of US student visa is for people from other countries who want to take part in cultural exchange programs in the US. Whether they want to learn about medicine, business, or something else, all applicants must meet the requirements of the program they want to join and be sponsored by a private or public program. J visa holders usually only stay in the United States for a short time, maybe one or two semesters. The J visa comes in two types:
- Exchange students in a good exchange program can get J-1 visas.
- J-2 visas for dependents of J-1 visa holders (as for F-2 visas)
J-1 visa holders will have to live outside of their home country for two years if they are in a government-funded exchange program, doing graduate medical education or training, or if their training is on the Exchange Visitor Skills list.
This means that the J-1 visa holder’s home country has decided that their field of specialized knowledge or skills is important to the country’s growth. Because of this rule, people with J-1 visas will have to stay in their home country for at least two years after their exchange visitor program is over.
People with F-2, M-2, or J-2 visas can also study in the US as long as they meet the requirements of the school they want to attend. They are not required to apply for an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa, but they can do so if they meet the requirements.
J-2 visa holders can go to school full-time or part-time for fun or to get a degree, and they can drop out of school at any time. They can also ask to change their status to F-1 student if they haven’t finished school by the time the main J-1’s status ends. But this is only true if the J-1 visa holder doesn’t have to live in their home country for two years.
F-2 and M visa holders are not allowed to work. If they want to work, they must get a work visa. By sending in form I-765, people with a J-2 visa can ask USCIS for permission to work.