The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. The "F" visa is for academic studies, and the "M" visa is for nonacademic or vocational studies.
To apply for a student visa for academic or language study, an alien must have been accepted for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study in an academic institution approved by the U.S. Attorney General. The student must present to the Consular Officer the original Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Languages Students" properly completed and signed by the alien and the designated school official. To apply for a student visa for vocational studies, an alien must have been accepted for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study in a nonacademic institution approved by the Attorney General. The student must present a form I-20M-N, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status - for Vocational Students" properly completed and signed by the alien and the designated school official. The issuance of an I-20 is not a guarantee that the prospective student will qualify for the visa; the prospective student must meet all of the requirements of United States law to qualify for a student visa. The Consular Officer determines whether the prospective student qualifies for a visa.
The F-1 student visa applicant must present documentary evidence that sufficient funds are, or will be, available from a specifically identified and reliable financial source to defray all living and school expenses during the entire period of anticipated study in the United States. Specifically, the applicant must present credible documentary evidence that he or she has enough readily available funds to meet all expenses for the first year of study and that, barring unforeseen circumstances, adequate funds will be available for each subsequent year of study. The M-1 student visa applicant must have evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of intended stay.
The student visa applicant must have completed successfully a course of study normally required for enrollment at the level of study contemplated. The student, unless coming to participate exclusively in an English language training program, must either be sufficiently proficient in English to pursue the intended course of study, or the school must have made special arrangements for English language courses or instruction in the student's native language.
Student visa applicants must establish to the satisfaction of the Consular Officer that they have a residence in a foreign country, which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they will depart the United States upon termination of their student status.
A spouse or dependent child of a student may be eligible for a nonimmigrant visa to accompany or follow the principal applicant. Family members must meet all visa eligibility requirements, including evidence of relationship to the primary applicant; proof that they will have sufficient funds for their support, and that they will depart the United States upon termination of the student's program.
An F-1 student may not accept off-campus employment at any time during the first year of study. Under certain circumstances, the Immigration and Naturalization Service may grant permission to accept off-campus employment after one year. F-1 students may accept on-campus employment from the school without INS permission. Except for temporary employment for practical training, an M-1 student may not accept employment. Spouses and children of students may not accept employment at any time.