The “M-1” Student Visa for Vocational Students
The United States permits foreign nationals interested in pursuing studies in a vocational program to obtain the M-1 visa. In order to qualify for this visa, the vocational school must be approved by USCIS for vocational studies; the student must have the financial resources to support the course of study and a Form I-20 (Form I-20M-N) issued by the school. Examples include culinary schools, beauty schools, and certain community colleges. Language programs are not considered a qualifying course of study – the F-1 is the more appropriate visa category for that pursuit.
Like F-1 students, those individuals in M-1 status may transfer schools and must keep their Forms I-20 safe and secure as they can be difficult to replace. But unlike F-1 students, M-1 visa holders may only transfer schools within the first 6 months of study and are admitted for a specific period of time that is directly tied to their program of study. The maximum period of stay for the M-1 visa is 3 years. After completion of the program the M-1 student is afforded a 30-day grace period to depart the United States. The M-1 visa is not a path to an H-1B.
Practical training is available in an abbreviated form: it must be related to the vocational program and is only granted for 6 months in total. M-1 principal visa holders may bring their spouses and minor children on the M-2 visa; these dependents are issued their own Form I-20. M-2 visa holders are not eligible for work authorization and may only study part time (unless enrolled in K-12).