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Types of US Student Visa

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If you’re planning to study abroad in the US – either for a full degree or a shorter period – you’ll need to apply for a US student visa. Here’s a quick guide to the three types of non-immigrant student visas for studying in the US.

F Visa

This type of US student visa is for international students who are intending to pursue an academic degree at an accredited US college or university, or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute. There are three types of F visa:

  • F-1 visas for full-time students.
  • F-2 visas for dependents of F-1 visa holders (spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21). This includes same-sex married couples.
  • F-3 visas for ‘border commuters’ – Mexican and Canadian students who reside in their country of origin while attending part- or full-time school in the US.

Students with F-1 visas can work on-campus for 20 hours a week or less. Students wishing to work longer hours and off-campus must gain prior authorization from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – they may also grant work authorization for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for a total of twelve months, without accruing more than 90 days of unemployment.

M visa

The second category of US student visa is for international students who want to engage in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the US. There are three types of M visa:

  • M-1 visas for students engaging in vocational or non-academic studies.
  • M-2 visas for dependents of M-1 visa holders (as in F-2 visas).
  • M-3 visas for ‘border commuters’ as in F-3 visas, but for vocational or non-academic studies.

M-1 students are admitted to the US for a fixed time period – the length of their training program plus any Optional Practical Training. They must not stay in the US for longer than one year except in the case of extensions due to medical reasons. M-1 visa holders are not allowed to work on- or off-campus while studying and may not change their status to F-1.

J visa

Finally, this third type of US student visa is for international exchange visitors participating in programs in the US that promote cultural exchange. Whether it is to obtain medical, business or other training, all applicants must meet the eligibility criteria of the program in question and be sponsored by a private sector or government program. Holders of J visas usually stay in the US for a short period of time, perhaps one or two semesters. There are two types of J visa:

  • J-1 visas for exchange students on a relevant exchange program.
  • J-2 visas for dependents of J-1 visa holders (as for F-2 visas)

J-1 visa holders will be subject to the two-year home-country physical presence (foreign residence) requirement if they are part of a government-funded exchange program, doing graduate medical educational or training or if their training is listed in the Exchange Visitor Skills list (i.e. the J-1 visa holder’s home-country has deemed their field of specialized knowledge or skills as necessary to the development of the country). This requirement means J-1 visa holders will need to return to their home country for at least two years at the end of their exchange visitor program.

Derivative visas

Holders of F-2, M-2 and J-2 visas are also allowed to study in the US provided they meet their chosen institution’s criteria. They do not have to apply for an F-1, M-1 or J-1 visa, but can apply if qualified.

J-2 visa holders can enroll as recreational or degree-seeking students, either full- or part-time, and discontinue their program at any time. They can also petition for a change to F-1 student status if they haven’t completed their academic program by the time the principle J-1’s status has ended. However, this is only if the J-1 visa holder is not subject to the two-year home residency requirement.

F-2 and M-visa holders are not allowed to work, and must secure an appropriate work visa if seeking employment. J-2 visa holders may request work authorization from USCIS by submitting form I-765.

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Written by Hasna Haidar

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Can someone study Masters degree from USA if he/she is there with a Business Visa instead of a F-1 Visa?

Question: Executive MBA student visiting the main campus in US would fall under which category of student visa in the United States. Many business schools have international students that travel to attend classes in U.S and go back to their country after a week of classes. Please answer because it is important for me.

Hi Saleem, I'd advise checking with your business school to see if they can advise you on what visa you'll need to study temporarily in the US. 

Hello Hasna!

I work for a small non-profit in Pasadena-California, American International Education Foundation (AIEF). We specialize in facilitating international student recruitment fairs as well as publishing our magazine UScampus Guide. UScampus Guide features useful articles and information to help students succeed in their journey to study in the United States. Thousands of copies are distributed free of charge each year via AIEF Education Fairs throughout Asia as well as at advising centers and other locations in 15 countries.

I am contacting you in regards to your article 'Types of US Student Visa'. I was contacting you to request permission to reprint the article in our magazine as I believe it can really give students insight into studying in the United States. We would give recognition to the author(s) of the article should we be given permission to reprint.

I look forward to hearing further from you. Thank you for your consideration.
Thank you,
Cris Tsai

I’m trying to apply for a university that offers GIS courses in the united states. I only have one year scholarship from my company to select specialized courses without earning any types of degree.
As I understand from some schools, I can be granted with J-1 visa, as a part time student.
Unluckily, all schools I applied for so far have admitted me, but later reject my application due to the visa issue.
They informed me that not all universities can grant me with the needed from (DS 2019) as required for the J-1 visa.

My question is: are you aware of the universities that would accept my case, in terms of visa rules as an “international non-degree student”.
Thanks in advance.

I want to study in US I need help how to go about it

Hi Oluwasegan. We have a guide to studying abroad in the US, plus guides to each US state: https://www.topuniversities.com/where-to-study/north-america/united-states/guide

Hope this is helpful!

thanx it is really very helpful

Am a secondarian, I need help ro study in u.s, i will be grateful if anyone can be of help.

Thank you for helping!

You're very welcome! Glad you found this useful :)