For international students coming to the United States, there exist the F and M student visas. F visa is the primary study visa in the USA for academic purposes, while the M visa is for vocation or non-academic studies.
F visas are non-immigrant student visas which allow foreigners to pursue their academic endeavours in the United States. F visas are categorised into F1, F2 and F3. F1 visa is for the full time students, F2 visa is basically dependent visa which is for the spouses or children of the holders of the F1 visa, and F3 visa is for the border commuters who essentially reside in their country of origin, but attend school in USA granted only to the residents of Mexico and Canada. F1 student visa is only granted when students show that they will maintain a full course of study in the United States. These are issued by the US consulates and embassies not situated in the US territory.
In order to obtain the F1 visa, prospective students must first apply to the school in USA and obtain form I-20. Students are required to show that they are capable of supporting themselves while they stay in the United States, since there exist limited opportunities for them to obtain a legal employment. F2 visa holders are prohibited from procuring any type of compensated employment in the US. In this situation, however, the minor children are allowed to attend public schools in the country. F3 visas are only granted to the residents of Canada and Mexico who commute across the border to attend school in the United States. They are not however allowed to work on campus unlike the F1 visa holders, but they might be allowed for Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training after they complete their graduation. F1 visa holders can file Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.
The M1 visa is reserved for the students intending to attend vocational or technical schools. To obtain this visa also the student is required to complete and submit Form I-20 at a U.S. consulate or embassy, in the respective home country. For both F1 and M1 visa, Form I-20 is issued by the school official after the student fulfils the required admission criteria of that school. M1 students are admitted to the U.S for a fixed duration. When they enter the U.S. the I-94 departure cards that they hold, is stamped with a date, which is not the case with F1 visas. They are allowed to stay for the length of their training program, any Optional Practical Training (OPT) and additional 30 days of grace period after the completion of the training program. The stay must not exceed a year unless in certain circumstances like medical emergencies, they are granted with an extension. Upon violation of the status granted under this visa, students are not eligible for the grace period. M1 visa holders are barred from holding any form of employment on or off campus and from converting to the F1 visa category. Also, they are allowed a shorter OPT duration, 1 month for every 4 months of study. M1 visa holders can file I-539 in order to extend their status. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicates the various applications for status extension through its service centres across the United States.
The schools willing to be authorised to admit non-immigrant students have to file petition to SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program). It is imperative that the public schools (grades 9 to 12), private schools (grades kindergarten-12),university, college, or vocational schools is a participant in SEVP. Schools may petition to enrol only F students or only M students or both F and M students. An institution can acquire this certification by filing Form I-17 with the USICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which is a one-time procedure. An institution may obtain this certification without being nationally or regionally unaccredited, but the converse is not always existent i.e. an institution despite holding national accreditation may choose to not be SEVP certified if it does not intend to admit international students under the F, J or M status. SEVP’s governing regulations set forth the types of academic or vocational programs that are eligible to file petition for SEVP- Certification. To obtain this certificate, the school makes a commitment to adhere to applicable laws, regulations and DHS requirements. On careful review of application, supporting documents, payment of prescribed fees, site visits and research, the decision to grant certificate is made.
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