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Study in the USA with a Student Visa (F, M, and J Visas)

Students talking

Due to its high-quality education and abundant career opportunities, the United States is one of the most popular study abroad destinations for students from other countries. If your goal is to study in the U.S. as an international student, you must apply for and obtain a U.S. student visa. This visa allows you to temporarily reside in the United States for the purpose of completing your education.


There are three types of student visas that foreign nationals can apply for. The type of program and school you are applying for determines which student visa you will need.


F-1 visa

An F1 visa is issued to students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program, they are required to uphold a minimum course load to maintain their full-time student status. F1 status allows for part-time, on-campus employment (fewer than 20 hours per week). Moreover, students have the opportunity to engage in optional practical training (OPT) for a period of up to one year after finishing their academic program. It is essential for students to complete their studies by the expiration date indicated on their I-20 form, which serves as their Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.


J-1 visa

This visa is for international students participating in short-term study programs such as an exchange program or study abroad program for one semester in the U.S., J-1 visas may also apply to full-time students who receive financial support from their home country's government.


M-1 visa

The M-1 visa primarily pertains to education and training programs with a career-oriented focus, such as culinary school or vocational training programs. M-1 visa holders enrolled in technical and vocational programs are not allowed to engage in employment while pursuing their studies. Prospective M-1 student visa applicants are required to demonstrate that they possess readily available funds to cover all expenses, including tuition and living expenses, for the entire duration of their intended stay.


Steps To Apply For A Student Visa

There are multiple steps that one must follow while applying for a student visa to study in US, below are the steps and documents required for students visa:


  1. Apply to a certified university and receive an offer of admission. The school must be approved by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP).

  2. Receive Form I-20 or DS-2019 From Your School. Once admitted to a school, you'll receive one of two forms: F-1 and M-1 students will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), and J-1 students will receive Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status).

  3. Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee, which is separate from your visa application fee.

  4. You must apply for your international student visa through your nearest US embassy or consulate 

  5. Complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, also known as Form DS-160. It is critical that you answer each question on this form completely, accurately, and truthfully, or else you may need to correct your file, adding additional time to the process that you may not have. For this reason, be sure that you have gathered your passport, a visa photograph, and your completed Form I-20 or DS-2019.

  6. After submitting Form DS-160, contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to schedule your visa interview.

  7. Pay Your Visa Application Fee. Your embassy should instruct you as to when and how you'll need to pay your visa application fee.

  8. The big step in the visa process is to attend the interview as it is a crucial determinant of whether an applicant receives a U.S. student visa. Prepare all necessary documents and information in advance. You'll undergo a security check and provide digital, ink-free fingerprints during or after the interview.

  9. Pay the visa issuance fee. Depending on your country and the reciprocity agreement that it has in place with the U.S., you may be required to pay an issuance fee in order to finally receive your visa. This fee, if required, will vary by country. 

  10. Once you’ve completed all of the steps above and have received approval for an international student visa to the US, your embassy will return your passport to you with your new visa in it.



How long can you stay in the US after graduation?

According to U.S. immigration law, students holding F visas are typically required to depart the United States within 60 days following the program end date indicated on their Form I-20. Students on J and M visas, however, are generally required to leave the U.S. within 30 days after the program end date stated on their Form DS-2019 for J visa holders or Form I-20 for M visa holders. If you wish to extend your stay in the U.S., you can apply for a visa extension through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. However, it's essential to explore your visa options for post-graduation before seeking an extension.


How You Can Change Your Visa Status

While residing in the U.S., your circumstances may change, necessitating a change in your visa status. Should you decide to make such a change during your stay in the U.S., you generally do not need to apply for a new visa. Instead, you must formally request a change in your nonimmigrant status through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is highly advisable to inform your Designated School Official (DSO) about your intent to change your status. Your school should be aware of any modifications to your nonimmigrant status, and your DSO can provide guidance and support throughout the process.





The requirements, restrictions, and specific permissible activities of each visa category can be complicated. However, consulting an immigration attorney can help determine which option is best and guide your throughout the process. For more information on how we can assist you, please visit our website at or email us at

Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of the Elizee Law Firm, an immigration law firm located at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131. Phone 305-371-8846.



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