Eligibility for an M-1 Student Visa

For vocational study on an M-1 visa, you'll need to prove English language ability, financial capacity, and more.

Knowing that you want to pursue vocational study in the United States, or even gaining admission to a vocational school, is not enough by itself to qualify you for an M-1 student visa. If you are interested in a vocational (M-1) visa, you’ll also need to satisfy the U.S. consulate or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you:

  • have been admitted to a U.S. school that has been approved by USCIS
  • are a “bona fide” student
  • are qualified and ready for your planned course of study
  • plan only a temporary stay in the United States, and
  • can pay for your studies

We will discuss all of these below.

You Have Been Admitted to an Established, USCIS-Approved School or Program

You can’t get a student visa unless your intended school or program has already been approved by USCIS to receive foreign students. Most established schools have such approval. The school itself should be able to confirm this for you.

In order to come on an M-1 visa, you must attend a community or junior college that provides vocational training and gives out associate degrees. Or, you must enroll in a vocational high school or other approved program.

M-1 students can’t come to the United States for the sole purpose of studying English. However,  if your program will include some English-language training that will help you “understand the vocational or technical course of study,” that will not be a hindrance to getting your visa. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.3(a)(2)(iv).

You Are a Bona Fide Student, and Nothing Else

Since students often stay longer and learn more skills than people on other types of visas, the U.S. government’s suspicion that you want to stay permanently is particularly high. You’ll have to convince the government that you are a bona fide (real) student, whose intention in coming to the United States is not to get a job, find a spouse, or even just enjoy the scenery. You won’t be given a visa unless you can show that you’re ready and able to “hit the books” and study.

You Are Qualified to Pursue a Full Course of Study

The requirement that you are “qualified” to study is loaded with meaning. You must have the appropriate background, including study, training or experience, for the program that you will be entering. Also, you must be sufficiently proficient in English to complete your studies.

Showing Your English Proficiency

You’ll have to prove your proficiency in English twice. First, you’ll have to prove it to the school that admits you. It may require you to take an English test in your home country, such as the “TOEFL” (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Second, you will have to prove it to the U.S. government officer who decides whether to grant you the M-1 visa. The government knows that the school has tested your English already, but seems to want to double-check it. Perhaps this is because the consulate or USCIS has a chance to meet you personally, whereas the school might not.

Definition of a “Full Course of Study” for M-1 Students

A “full course of study” for vocational (M-1) students must “lead to the attainment of a specific educational or vocational objective.” 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(m)(9). This objective can be a degree, a certificate or the completion of a program. On the way to that objective, you must spend your time studying in or at one of the following: (See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(m)(9).)

  • A community college or junior college of at least 12 semester or quarter hours of instruction per academic term, except during the last term if you need fewer hours to finish the -program.
  • A post-secondary vocational or other business school (not language training) of at least 12 hours weekly (or its equivalent), at a school that gives associate or other degrees (or gives credits that are accepted unconditionally by at least three institutions of higher learning).
  • A vocational or other nonacademic curriculum (not language training) consisting of at least 18 hours of classroom attendance per week or 22 hours per week if the dominant part of the course is shop or laboratory work.
  • A vocational or other nonacademic high school curriculum, for the minimum number of hours the school requires for normal progress toward graduation.

You will be allowed some breaks in your study regimen, such as for school vacations, illness and exam preparation periods. Also, your school can authorize fewer study hours if appropriate for academic or medical reasons (including pregnancy).

Your Stay in the U.S. Will Be Only Temporary

The toughest part of getting a student visa is persuading a consular or USCIS officer that you plan to return home when your temporary stay is over. It’s especially tough because the law forces the person reviewing your application to presume that you want to stay in the United States even before having met you. It will be entirely up to you to convince the official otherwise,

You will have to show evidence that your true, long-term residence is in a foreign country, and that you have ties to that country that will naturally pull you home when your studies are completed. These ties could include your family, a home, a job, or any other personal situation or obligation.

You Are Able to Pay for Your Studies

You must show that your education will be fully -financed and all your day-to-day living expenses (including the expenses of your spouse or children if they plan to come with you) will be paid without your having to work in the United States. (If your family will not be coming with you, and you normally support them, you may also be asked how they’ll be supported while you’re gone.) Your financing can come from your own resources or from family, friends or scholarships. We’ll talk about how to prove that these are actual, reliable resources in the chapters covering application -procedures later in this book. For more information on this, see the article "Financial Requirements for a Student Visa."

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