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M Visas for Vocational or Nonacademic Programs

M visas are a type of student visa, specifically designed for vocational or nonacademic programs (other than language training programs). Generally speaking, a student visa is required for foreign students who wish to study in the United States (either an F visa for students pursuing academic work, or an M visa for students in vocational or nonacademic programs). Students who come to the United States for a limited time for language training programs or recreational, non-credit study as part of a tourist trip are exempt from this requirement.

The process required to obtain an M visa is similar to the process required to obtain an F visa. A student seeking an M visa must apply to and be accepted to a SEVP-approved institution in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security maintains a searchable list of SEVP-approved schools at Once the student has been accepted, the school will prepare a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” Every SEVP-approved school has at least one “DSO” (designated school official) who works with foreign students and who is responsible for preparing this paperwork and updating the SEVIS system.

After a student receives his I-20 form, he must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee (this fee funds the SEVP and SEVIS programs). After paying this fee and receiving a receipt, the student must either apply for a student visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad (this process will include an interview), or apply to change their status with USCIS if the student is already present in the United States in a different nonimmigrant category. For a student who is already in the United States in a different nonimmigrant category, it is important that he maintain his current status and abide by any conditions of that current status until he receives his M visa.

An M visa student may arrive in the United States no earlier than thirty (30) days prior to the start of his program, and he must depart within thirty (30) days after his program has been completed, unless he successfully applies to change their status to a different nonimmigrant or immigrant status. M visa students generally may not work during the duration of their programs but may be eligible for practical training employment related to their program after their program has been completed.

An M visa student must maintain a full course load and must pass all of his classes. If he needs to take a leave of absence, cannot maintain a full course load, wishes to change his course of study, he needs to request a program extension, or needs to travel outside of the United States, he should speak to his DSO to ensure that he is complying with the applicable M visa requirements.

If you are interested in learning more about M visas, please contact Tanner Law Offices at 717-836-0471 to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.