M Visa

M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Student


Purpose of the M-1 Visa Classification 

The M-1 Vocational / Non-Academic Student Visa classification enables interested foreign students to enter the United States temporarily for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study at a vocational school or other recognized nonacademic institution.

An M-3 Vocational / Non-Academic Student Visa classification exists for Canadian or Mexican national commuter students who wish to attend vocational or other nonacademic programs in the U.S.


  • M-1 Student Visa status allows foreign students to take advantage of the vocational / non-academic institutions available in the United States.


  • An M-1 Vocational / Nonacademic Visa student may not change his or her educational objective.


  • The spouse and minor children accompanying an M-1 Vocational / Nonacademic Visa student are eligible for admission in M-2 Visa status if the student is admitted in M-1 status.
  • An M-2 Visa spouse and M-2 Visa children may not accept employment.
  • The M-2 spouse may not engage in full time study, and the M-2 child may only engage in full time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school.
  • M-2 spouses and children can only obtain an extension of status if the M-1 student obtains an extension.

Points of Interest 

Flight school trainers must provide the U.S. Attorney General with the identification of any M-1 Visa Student who wishes to be trained on an aircraft with a takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or more so that the Attorney General can assess possible security risks prior to the training.


1. Definition of M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Student

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines an M-1 Vocational Student as:

  • An alien who has a residence in a foreign country that he or she has no intention of abandoning;
  • Who seeks to enter the United States temporarily;
  • Solely for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study at a vocational school or other nonacademic institution in the United States. INA § 101 (a) (15) (M).


2. Requirements for M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Student Status

Basic application package for a nonimmigrant visa:

  • Form DS-160;
  • A valid, unexpired passport;
  • Passport-type photograph; and
  • Application fee, if any.

Note that males between the age of 16 and 45 must also use Form DS-157.

Admission to a school that has received approval to admit foreign students and a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20) issued in the student’s name by the admitting school. 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (b) (1) (i).

Evidence of intention to return to a foreign residence, i.e., nonimmigrant intent. INA § 101 (a) (15) (M); 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (b) (1) (iv).

Documentary evidence of financial support in the amount indicated on Form I-20. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m) (1) (i) (B); 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (b) (1) (ii). The document generally used to establish financial support is Form I-134, an Affidavit of Support, usually executed by a relative. Evidence of the student’s own assets or of a scholarship from the school or other sources may also be used.

Evidence of English language proficiency or demonstrate that the student will receive training to become proficient. 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (b) (1) (iii).


3. First Step for M-1 Visa – Vocational Student Status: Admission to a Qualifying School. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (1).

The starting point for every M-1 Vocational Student is to gain admission to a non-academic school that has received approval to admit foreign students. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) approves the schools that can admit foreign students. At each approved school a Designated School Official (DSO) handles the administrative aspects of the school’s M-1 program. The DSO provides immigration officials with information about admitted students through an internet based tracking system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

After obtaining admission to a qualifying school, the school will complete a SEVIS Form I-20 and then send it to the student. Form I-20 will indicate when the student is expected to complete the course of study, the date for the student to report to school and the date by which studies should be completed.


4. Step Two: Inspection by a United States Consulate. 22 C.F.R. § 41.61 (d).

The student then applies for an M-1 Vocational Student Visa by submitting an application to a United States consulate in the student’s home country. In addition to the requirements outlined above, a foreign student should also be prepared to provide:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended; and
  • Any scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.

If the consulate approves the visa application, he or she will place an M-1 Vocational Student Visa in the student’s passport. Once a visa is issued, the student may travel to the United States and may enter the U.S. up to thirty days before the commencement of his or her studies. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m) (5).


5. Step Three: Inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m) (1).

At the port of entry, the M-1 student must present a passport with the M-1 Vocational Student Visa stamp, the Form I-20, evidence of nonimmigrant intent, and evidence of financial support. If satisfied with the student’s application, the inspecting officer will issue Form I-94, which will indicate the student’s M-1 admission and duration of status.


6. Duration of M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Student Status

Period of Stay. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m) (5).

  • An M-1 Vocational Student is admitted for a fixed time period. The length of stay is defined as the period necessary to complete the course of study indicated on Form I-20, including any practical training following completion of the course of study. An additional 30 days is allotted for the M-1 student to depart. An M-1 Vocational Student’s stay may not exceed a total period of one year. An M-1 student who fails to maintain a full course of study or otherwise fails to maintain status is not eligible for the additional 30-day period of stay.

Full Course of Study. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m) (9).

M-1 Visa Students must be pursuing a full course of study at a vocational school or other nonacademic institution that leads to the attainment of a specific educational or vocational objective. A full course of study is defined as:

  • Study at a community college or junior college consisting of at least twelve semester or quarter hours of instruction per academic term;
  • Study at a qualifying post-secondary vocational or business school;
  • Study in a vocational or other nonacademic curriculum, consisting of at least eighteen clock hours of attendance a week if the study consists of classroom instruction, or at least twenty-two clock hours a week if the course of study consists of shop or laboratory work; or
  • Study in a vocational or other nonacademic high school curriculum.

No on-line or distance education classes may be considered to count toward an M-1 student’s full course of study requirement if such classes do not require the student’s physical attendance for classes.

A designated school official may authorize an M-1 student to engage in less than a full course of study only where the reduction is necessary due to a documented illness or medical condition.

Extension of Stay. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (m) (10).

An M-1 student may be granted an extension of stay if:

  • The M-1 visa student is a bona fide nonimmigrant currently maintaining student status;
  • Compelling educational or medical reasons have caused a delay in the M-1 visa student’s course of study. Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extension; and
  • The M-1 visa student intends to maintain M-1 student status.

The cumulative time of extensions that can be granted to an M-1 visa student is limited to a period of 3 years and 30 days from the M-1 student’s original start date.

To apply to for an extension, the M-1 visa student must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. A student’s M-2 spouse and children seeking an extension of stay must be included in the application. The M-1 visa student must submit the application to the service center having jurisdiction over the school the student is currently authorized to attend.

Form I-539 must be filed at least 15 days but not more than 60 days before the program end date on the M-1 visa student’s Form I-20. The application must also be accompanied by the student’s Form I-20. If an extension is requested for the M-1 visa student’s spouse and/children, the Forms I-94 of the student’s spouse and children must also be submitted.

An application for extension may be granted for the period of time necessary to complete the course of study plus 30 days or for a total period of one year, whichever is less.


7. School Transfers

An M-1 Visa Student may transfer to another school if the student:

  • Intends to return to his or her foreign residence after completion of studies;
  • Has been pursuing a full course of study at the school the student was last authorized to attend;
  • Intends to pursue a full course of study at the school to which the student intends to transfer; and
  • Is financially able to attend the school to which the student intends to transfer.

The first step for an M-1 Visa Student who wishes to transfer schools is to notify his or her current school of the intent to transfer and to indicate the school the M-1 Visa student intends to transfer to. The current school will then update the M-1 Visa Student’s SEVIS record. The transfer school then is permitted to generate a SEVIS Form I-20 and will send the form to the student.

Upon receipt of the SEVIS Form I-20 from the transfer school, the M-1 Visa student must apply to the CIS service center on Form I-539 for permission to transfer. If the application is approved, the student will be granted an extension of stay for the period of time necessary to complete the new course of study plus 30 days, or for a total period of one year, whichever is less. The CIS service officer will endorse the name of the school that the student is transferring to on the student’s Form I-20. An M-1 Visa student who transfers without complying with the application requirement or whose application is denied will be considered out of status.

An M-1 Visa student may not transfer to another school after six months from the date the student is first admitted as an M-1 student, unless the student is unable to remain at his or her original school due to circumstances beyond the M-1 Visa Student’s control.


8. Employment Opportunities for the M-1 Visa – Vocational Student

An M-1 Visa Student may not accept employment, except for temporary practical training after completion of the student’s course of study. To accept employment for practical training, an M-1 Visa Student must apply for permission on Form I-765, with the appropriate fee, and accompanied by a Form I-20 that has been endorsed for practical training by the Designated School Official. The application must be submitted prior to the program end date listed on the student’s Form I-20 but not more than 90 days before the program end date.

In order for an M-1 Visa Student to be eligible for practical training, the proposed employment must be:

  • Recommended by the DSO for the purpose of practical training;
  • Related to the M-1 Visa Student’s course of study; and
  • Similar employment is not available to the student in the country of the M-1 Visa Student’s foreign residence.

If authorized to engage in employment for practical training, the M-1 Visa Student will be issued an employment authorization document. The M-1 student may not begin employment until he or she has been issued this document. One month of employment authorization will be granted for each four months of full-time study that the M-1 student has completed. However, an M-1 student may not engage in more than a total of six months of practical training.


9. Reinstatement to M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Student Status

If an M-1 Visa Student has violated status, he or she may be able to obtain a reinstatement to M-1 Visa Student status. To request reinstatement, a student must file with the appropriate CIS Service Center Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, accompanied by a properly completed SEVIS Form I-20, which indicates the DSO’s recommendation for reinstatement.

A request for reinstatement to M-1 Visa Student status may be granted if the student:

  • Has not been out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement or if the failure to file within the 5 month period was the result of exceptional circumstances;
  • Does not have a record of repeated or willful violations of U.S. immigration regulations;
  • Is currently pursuing, or intends to pursue, a full course of study at the student’s originally approved school;
  • Has not engaged in unlawful employment;
  • Is not deportable on any ground; and
  • Establishes that the violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control or that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship.

If the Service Center reinstates the student, it will endorse the M-1 student’s copy of Form I-20 to indicate that the student has been reinstated and return the form to the student. The immigration officer will update SEVIS to reflect the Service Center’s decision. If the Service Center does not reinstate the student, the student may not appeal the decision.


10. Change of Status

Individuals lawfully present in the United States in nonimmigrant status may apply to change to M-1 Visa Student status. The individual must send Form I-539 to the CIS Service Center with jurisdiction over the individual’s place of temporary residence in the United States.

In addition to Form I-539, an applicant for change of status must also file:

  • The I-20 form issued by the school the student wishes to attend;
  • Evidence of financial support;
  • A copy of the student’s Form I-94;
  • Evidence that the student has maintained lawful non immigrant status since entry;
  • Evidence of a residence abroad that the student has no intention of abandoning; and
  • The required filing fee.

There are three prohibitions involving M-1 Student Visas and change of status:

A non-immigrant may not apply for a change of status to the M-1 Visa student classification in order to qualify for a subsequent change of status to that of an H Temporary Worker Visa classification.

An M-1 Visa student may not apply for a change of status to an H Temporary Worker Visa if the education or training which the student received while an M-1 student enabled the student to meet the qualifications for the H temporary worker classification.

An alien may not change from classification as an M-1 student to that of an F-1 student.


11. Helpful Advice for the M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Student

Prospective students & B-2 Visitor Visa. In some situations, a student may obtain a B-2 Visitor Visa in order to travel to the United States to learn more about a school, or to take an entrance examination. The U.S. consul may issue a B-2 visa annotated “Prospective Student.” This annotation theoretically enables the student, once in the United States, to seek a change to M-1 student status without incurring the possibility of a denial because of an alleged failure to disclose the student’s true purpose in coming to the United States. However, this kind of visa issuance has become more difficult to obtain since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Overstaying M-1 Visa Period of Stay. An M-1 Student visa, along with any other non-immigrant visa, is void as soon as the student overstays his or her period of authorized stay. INA § 222 (g).

In such a case, the student will be ineligible to be readmitted as a nonimmigrant unless he or she obtains a visa from a consular office located in the individual’s country, or where “extraordinary circumstances” exist.

M-1 Visa Students have a 30 day grace period from the date listed on Form I-94.

The “3/10 year bar” May Apply to M-1 Visa Students. Non-immigrants, including those in M-1 Student Visa status, will be considered unlawfully present in the United States if present in the U.S. after the expiration of their period of authorized stay.

Non-immigrants unlawfully present for more than 180 days but less than one year who leave the U.S. are ineligible for admission or reentry for three years from date of departure.

Non-immigrants unlawfully present for one year or more who leave the United States are inadmissible for 10 years from the date of departure. A waiver of inadmissibility may be obtained in some instances.


12. Travel Tips for M-1 Visa – Vocational / Non-Academic Students

Hand Carry (do not check) the following documents:

  • Passport;
  • SEVIS Form I-20;
  • Evidence of financial resources;
  • Evidence of student status, such as tuition receipts, transcripts or letter of acceptance; Paper receipt for the SEVIS fee; and
  • Name and contact information of your designated school official.
  • If you are a new M-1 Visa student, remember to carry with you the sealed envelope given to you by the U.S. Department of State’s Consular Officer, which is attached to your passport. It is important that this envelope is unopened.
  • Inform the immigration officer at the port of entry as soon as possible that you will be anew or returning student in the United States.
  • Report to your school upon arrival so that your school official can validate your participation in SEVIS.
  • Maintain contact with your designated school throughout your stay to ensure your SEVIS data is updated and accurate.

The M-1 student surrenders Form I-20 to the inspection officer at this time. The Department of Homeland Security will eventually issue the M-1 student a Form I-20 ID copy with his or her admission number. The student must keep this document in his or her possession at all times. The officer will use SEVIS to notify the school of the student’s admission into the United States.


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