Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What’s the Difference Between an F, M and J Visa?


By Xiao Lu
World Education Services

International students usually arrive in the U.S. with one of three visa types: F-1, J-1, and M-1. Each visa is designed for specific purposes. This blog post will explain which visa is the best fit for you and help you understand the differences between each one.


An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa. It applies to full-time foreign students who want to study in the U.S. solely for academic purposes. Basically, if you’re pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in the U.S., you’ll need an F-1 visa. In order to obtain an F-1 visa, you must complete an
 I-20 form, which the school will issue to you after determining that you meet all of their admissions requirements. An I-20 should accurately reflect your biographical information, address, financial, and academic information for visa officers. It also proves your legal stay as an international student in the U.S. 


Different from the F-1 visa, the M-1 visa is issued to students who are in the U.S. for non-academic purposes such as a career or job training. You’ll also need an I-20 to apply for an M-1 visa, which is the same process as applying for an F-1 visa.

The J-1 visa is generally used for students in specific educational exchange programs such as the Fulbright program or any government-sponsored exchange program. To be eligible for a J-1 visa, students must receive a majority of their financial support from sources other than personal funds. More than 51 percent of your total financial support should come from an institutional or government fund. Personal and family funds do not qualify.

Here are some key questions to consider:


1. Can I work under my student visa?

  • F-1: When you're in school, you are allowed to hold an on-campus job. After one academic year, you're permitted to apply for Curriculum Practical Training to work 20 hours a week off campus. This applies to M-1 students as well. 
  • J-1: Any employment on or off campus requires a work permit from the program sponsor. Academic training is available for up to 18 months.

2. How long can I stay in the U.S. after my visa expires?

  • F-1: You are allowed to extend your stay for another 60 days after your I-20 status expires. This gap period is left for you to wrap up your time in the U.S. and prepare to depart the country.

  • M-1: Like F-1 visa holders, M-1 visa holders can extend their stay in the U.S. after their visa expires, though it’s a shorter term of 30 days.

  • J-1: You must return to your home country after finishing your study in the U.S. for at least two years residency before transferring to another non-immigrant visa. 

3. Can I transfer my student status after it expires?

  • F-1: Yes, under several conditions. You can directly transfer to an H1B working visa after your F-1 visa. You must speak to your manager or a human resources employee about sponsoring your H-1B visa. 

  • Both M-1 and F-1 students can transfer to permanent residence after their marriage to a U.S. citizen.

  • J-1: You must return to your home country after finishing your study in the U.S. for at least two years residency before transferring to another non-immigrant visa. 
All in all, you can choose a visa type based on your purposes for visiting the U.S. Usually, your U.S. school will suggest the type of visa to which you should apply. According to the Brookings Report, a majority of international students come to the U.S. with F-1 visas to study in a full-time academic program.

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