Individuals seeking to study as full-time students in the United States may apply for a student visa. There are three main categories of temporary student visas: F visas, M visas, and J visas.

  • F visas, for academic students, allow individuals to study at accredited colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, elementary schools, or other academic institutions, or in language training programs. The course of study must culminate in a degree, diploma, or certificate, and the school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
  • M visas, for vocational students, allow individuals to study in vocational or nonacademic programs. Examples of vocational institutions include aviation/flight school, culinary school, welding school, and carpentry school.
  • J visas are also available for students participating in specific educational exchange programs, and are regulated differently than F or M visas.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security operates a website, Study in the States, containing a wealth of information about U.S. student visas, including a searchable database of Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools and programs eligible to enroll students in the United States with F-1 and M-1 visas.

An student visa holder’s spouse and unmarried children under age 21 may apply for F-2 visas to accompany the student in the United States. F-2 visa holders do not qualify for work permits or enrollment in full-time educational programs without adjusting to another visa status. However, children on F-2 visas may attend elementary, middle, or high school (kindergarten through 12th grade) in the United States, and spouses on F-2 visas may enroll in educational programs on a part-time basis. If desiring full-time enrollment, the F-2 visa holding spouse must adjust to F-1 status.

F visa holders may not work off-campus during their first academic year, but may accept certain types of on-campus employment. After completing their first academic year, students with F visas may work in three categories of employment: Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training (OPT), and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics OPT Extension.

OPT is employment in the student’s field of study in the United States. Students must apply for authorization to work in Optional Practical Training, either during their studies or after graduating from a program, for a total of one year. If OPT is done before completion of the degree program, it may be part-time or full-time employment; post-completion OPT must be full-time employment. Certain science, technology, engineering and math students may also apply for a further two-year extension of their OPT work authorization if they meet certain requirements. M visa holders may work in practical training only after completing their program of study.

F visas and M visas require that the applicant not have an intent to immigrate permanently to the U.S. when applying and entering the United States on the student visa. However, this does not preclude those in the United States on student visas from later changing their minds while in the U.S. and adjusting to another status, including for employment visas, green cards, and eventually U.S. citizenship. For instance, student visa holders may be able to request H-1B visas with employer sponsorship to adjust their immigration status and continue working in the United States after their OPT employment ends.


Moro Legal, LLC, advises and assists individuals through the U.S. student visa process, as well as adjusting from student visas to another immigration status. To begin your journey, schedule an attorney consultation today or contact our office for additional information.


The content of this website is for general informational purposes only and is not a replacement for legal advice. Immigration law is a complex area of law that is constantly changing and this website cannot cover every facet of the law. Every case is different, and all individuals and businesses should consult with an immigration lawyer prior to filing any petition or application.