The 3 Types of International Student Visas in the U.S.: A 2024 Guide

Last updated on April 22nd, 2024 at 04:37 pm

  << The M1 Visa: An International Student’s Guide>> The H-1B Prevailing Wage: A Guide for U.S. Job Applicants

We live in a global society where international education can further your career. 

A popular destination to study is the United States, and if that’s where you want to go, you may wonder how you can get there. 

The good news is you can likely make your goal a reality by following standard immigration procedure and understanding which student visa type is best for you!

What Kind of Student Visas Are There?

There are three different student visas available in the United States:

  • F-1 Visa: Academic Studies
  • J-1 Visa: Practical Training
  • M-1 Visa: Non-Academic/Vocational Studies

International students can use any of the above visas to remain temporarily in the U.S. Navigating the U.S. immigration system and immigration services can be overwhelming, but doing research will help you prepare for your exciting new international venture.

F-1 Visa

To be eligible for an F-1 visa, you’ll need to be a full-time student at a U.S. educational institution. This includes a college, university, or high school that is an approved Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) school. You can also have F-1 status if you are enrolled in an English language training program.

The visa application process depends on which university or school you’re going to. They all have different admission requirements and policies. Financial stability and health insurance are also essential. 

Once you’re accepted, you’ll just need to pay the SEVIS fee, and the government will enter your information into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS.) Then your school will provide you with a Form I-20. 

You’ll need this form to apply for your F-1 student visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country where you have permanent residence.

J-1 Visa

The J-1, or the Exchange Visitor Visa, is a non-immigrant visa allowing you to study and work. 

This visa is for students who need employment experience or academic training that is not available to them in their home country. 

This training will directly relate to your current studies or academic program. However, this experience does not qualify as a permanent employment opportunity. 

Educational institutions, such as universities or nonprofit organizations that are accredited by the U.S. Department of State, can sponsor you.

There are many programs to enroll in if you wish to obtain a J-1. A few of them are:

  • College and University Student Program
  • Secondary School Student Program
  • Physician Program
  • Professor and Research Scholar Program

In total, there are 16 programs under the J-1 that all have varying requirements.

set a safe financial password like your remitly password like this african woman at a laptop

M-1 Visa

The M-1 is a non-academic visa. This visa is for students who are pursuing a vocational or technical program. 

The course of study is very specific and will lead you to a desired goal. You’ll need to have full-time enrollment, and you cannot work on this type of visa. 

Because you cannot work, you’ll need to provide evidence of financial support to the institution sponsoring you. These institutions are also SEVP approved, and like the F-1, there is a SEVIS fee and your information will be entered into SEVIS.

The application will vary for each university or school since they have different requirements. You’ll need to inquire about the admission policies of the programs that interest you. 

Since financial stability is an eligibility requirement to be an M-1 student, you’ll need to provide evidence that you can cover tuition and your own cost of living while studying.

Further reading: 5 Top Language Apps for Learning English

U.S. Student Visas: Similarities and Differences

It’s important to point out the similarities and differences between these visa types. 

This will help you determine which one applies to you most, and which one will provide you with the best opportunities for your future.

Application Process

All visa types have a similar application process. You can apply with the Online Non-immigrant Visa Application, the D-S 160 form

A visa interview is required, so make sure that you have all the documentation that you need, such as a valid passport, a photo, and a Certificate of Eligibility for either your F-1, M-1, or J-1 (Exchange Visitor). 

Entering the U.S.

Although you may hold visa status, this will only get you to the U.S. port of entry. 

You still need to be allowed entry by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials for all visas.

If you’ve been approved for your F-1 or M-1 visa, it can be issued 120 days before the start date of your academic program; although you cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the program starts. 

Your visa will be valid until its expiration date.

Employment with a Student Visa

A very important factor for visa applicants is having the ability to work while an international student in the United States. 

Many foreigners studying in the U.S. also need to send money to their family and therefore need to look into the possibility of employment. Sending money may seem like another daunting process, but companies like Remitly make it easy.

F-1 and J-1 visa holders may work, but M-1 students cannot. Although you can work as a J-1 student, you are limited to less than 20 hours per week and the job needs to be on campus. 

Likewise, the F-1 also allows you to get full-time or part-time employment, but there are limitations. With an F-1 visa, you can work off-campus, however. Visit our guide to learn how to get an internship under an F-1 visa.

Full-Time Student Status

Being a full-time student takes a lot of time and dedication, so it’s important to remember that the F-1 and M-1 international student visas require this educational status. 

Full-time typically means that you are enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester. This does not include the time spent on homework, projects, or other educational obligations. 

This might give you less flexibility in your time outside of school. If you are looking for more flexibility, the J-1 may be a better option for you.

Exciting Opportunities Await

Any of the three U.S. visa options—F-1, J-1, or M-1—can provide you with an enriching educational experience that will strengthen your skills and help you with your endeavors. Studying abroad at a U.S. college can open new opportunities for you and provide you with better ways to support yourself and your family at home.


You may also like: 5 Iconic City Skylines Shaped by Foreign Architecture