M-1 Student - Frequently Asked Questions
This page contains general information for M-1 International Students. You will find links and other valuable information connected with each topic.
- What is the M-1 visa?
- Requirements for M-1 visa
- What is SEVIS?
- What is the application process to gain M-1 status?
- How do I get the M-1 visa?
- When can I come to the United States?
- Where should I keep my immigration documents?
- What if I forget my immigration documents?
- What if I can’t arrive by the “begin date” on my I-20?
- What is an I-94 card?
- What if I lose my I-94 card?
- I have left the US and forgot to turn in my I-94 card. What do I do?
- Do I have to check in with anyone when I arrive in the US?
- Where will I live while I am in M-1 status?
- What happens if I fall out of legal immigration status?
- Can I travel while I am studying? What documents do I need?
- Can I transfer to another M-1 program? What are the procedures?
- I am not going to finish my M-1 program on time. Can I extend my M-1 status?
- I am done with my program. How long can I stay in the US?
- Can I work while on my M-1 program?
- Do I have to file taxes?
- I want to bring my family; how can I?
- Can my dependents study on the M-2 visa?
- What are the passport requirements?
- How does an M-1 vocational student differ from an F-1 academic student?
- Do I have to report my address changes?
- Visa renewals
- Can I change my visa status while in the United States?
- What are the FAA requirements?
M-1 Visa (for Vocational or Non-Academic Students)
The M-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for international students who wish to pursue a course of study that is not principally academic in nature. Spouses and dependents of M-1 students are classified as M-2 non-immigrants.
NOTE: The M-1 category contains restrictions on employment, maintenance of status, transfer, and extension of stay that are not present in the F-1* category. Also, there are many fewer M-1 than F-1 students* overall. Unfamiliarity with the M-1 status on the part of US Consulates, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and other agencies can cause various errors that impact the M-1 student. Be sure that any documents and stamps that you receive (visa, your Electronic I94 Card, entry stamps) are marked as “M-1”.
Requirements of the M-1 Visa
You have been accepted for a full course of study by a vocational institution approved by the US Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS);
You are sufficiently fluent in English (can read & understand without having to be enrolled in an intensive language program) to pursue the intended course of study;
You have sufficient funds to cover your first year of study and access to sufficient funds to cover subsequent years of study;
You have a permanent residence in your home country, which you do not intend to abandon;
You intend to leave the US upon completion of your course of study.
Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
The purpose of SEVIS is to monitor the visa adjudication process and oversee the academic career of foreign visitors and their dependents who enter the US using an M-1 or M-2 (dependent) visa. This database, administered by the Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), keeps track of all students and exchange visitors in the United States.
Prospective M students need to contact FIT Aviation for appropriate application materials. After being accepted into the program, students will receive an immigration form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student). The form I-20 is a required document for student entry into the United States. You cannot be a student in the US without this form.
SEVIS Fee & Visa Process
After receiving an immigration form I-20, the student should make an appointment at their nearest US Consulate to apply for a student visa. Before you go to your appointment, you are required to pay a SEVIS fee. You will need your I-20 when paying the fee as you will need information from the I-20 to input into the fee receipt system. After you pay the SEVIS fee, you need to print out the receipt. To your visa appointment, you need to take your I-20, your passport, SEVIS fee receipt, proof of funding, proof of ties to your home country, and any other forms which your consulate requires. It is extremely important that you are issued the correct visa – M-1. Check the visa placed in your passport before you leave the Consulate; if there is a problem, bring it to the consular’s attention. More information about the visa application process can be found on the US Department of State website.
NOTE: Do not make your travel plans to come to the US until you have received the proper documentation from your embassy.
Preparing to Leave Your Country & Arriving in the US
Once you receive your visa, you are allowed to enter the US up to 30 days before the start date on your I-20. Do not try to enter more than 30 days before that date as you will be refused entry and told to return home.
SPECIAL NOTE: As you are packing to leave your home country, DO NOT PACK YOUR IMMIGRATION DOCUMENTS; you will need to present your passport, and your SEVIS I-20 to the immigration officials. Immigration also reserves the right to request evidence of financial resources, your SEVIS payment receipt, and any other information they deem necessary.
If for any reason a port of entry official feels that the requirements for admission have not been satisfied they may issue form 515-A, Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor form. This form only authorizes a temporary stay. If you receive form 515-A, you should bring it to the ISSS Office when you check in so that the proper documentation can be collected and submitted to immigration. The 515-A form is time sensitive (usually a 30-day compliance). Failure to comply will result in the termination of your temporary and you will be required to leave the US immediately.
If you cannot arrive within 30 days of the “begin date” listed on your I-20, you should request a deferral of your program. The SEVIS system automatically cancels immigration records of those students who do not check in at their program within 30 days of the begin date. (If a student arrives more than 30 days after the “begin date”, your immigration record has been canceled, but the port of entry official allows the student to enter, it does not mean that you are in legal status - - it means that you have to file for reinstatement. This is a real headache for all involved (money & paperwork).
The Arrival-Departure Record (I-94 card) is used to document a traveler's admission into the United States and departure. The I-94 card includes date of arrival, visa classification and the date the authorized stay expires. You must leave by the date entered on your I-94 card, OR the program end date listed on your I-20 immigration document – WHICHEVER IS EARLIER. Previously, the I20 was a paper document inserted into your passport. More recently, the I94 is kept as an electronic record which you can print out at any time by requesting it on Electronic I94 Card.
If you lose your I-94 card, you must request a replacement Electronic I94 Card.
When you leave the US, the information will be provided to the U.S. Immigration system. This information proves that you did not violate U.S. laws by overstaying your period of admission and staying in the country too long. It is evidence that you obeyed U.S. immigration laws and left timely, which is essential if you want to return to the United States at a future date as an immigrant or nonimmigrant.
You are required by immigration rules and regulations to check in at the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) Office when you arrive on campus for your program. You must bring your passport, visa, and I-20 form. If you have dependents that came to the US with you, they are required to check in at the same time. Failure to check in will cause your immigration status to be terminated by the SEVIS system and thus you will be out of status.
You are also required to check in with FIT Aviation, providing them with the same documentation that you presented to the ISSS Office.
If you fall out of legal immigration status you will need to apply for reinstatement as quickly as possible OR leave the US and return with a new I-20 immigration document (this may or may not require a new visa.) There is no guarantee that a reinstatement will be granted. If you apply for reinstatement while staying in the US and the reinstatement is denied, you are required to leave the US immediately. The ISSS Office will mail the Reinstatement packet when it is completed.
Travel during your program
Students (and dependents) may leave the US and return as long as they are within their program dates. Travelers must have a valid passport, valid visa and a travel signature on their I-20 to be eligible to re-enter the US. If an M-1 student is traveling to Canada and/or Mexico ONLY and their visa is expired, they will be allowed to reenter the United States as long as they have been gone for less than 30 days. An M-1 student will not be allowed to reenter on an expired visa if they have visited any of the adjacent islands (Bahamas, Puerto Rico, etc.)
Transfer to another Program
To be eligible to transfer to another school, the student must currently be a full-time student and must intend to be a full-time student at the new school. The student must prove that they have the financial resources required for their education and stay in the US. In addition, the student may only transfer to another school within the first 6 months from the date they were admitted to the United States to begin their program or from the date they changed their nonimmigrant status to become an M-1 student. The M-1 student is not allowed to change their education objective.
USCIS Form I539 must be submitted to USCIS along with:
- Current Form I20 for “M” students
- Form I20 issued by school in which student intends to transfer to
The student may transfer sixty days after filing this application. However, if a transfer of programs is denied after the student transfers, the student will be considered to be out of status; this means that the student will be required to leave the country. The transfer process is quite lengthy and is not advisable.
Extension of Program
An M-1 vocational student is admitted for no more than one year at a time. A student must apply for an extension of their program if it will last for more than a year; this extension should be filed no later than one month before the current end date shown on the M-1 I-20 or the I-94 card – WHICHEVER IS EARLIER. Read the Extension procedures carefully and thoroughly; ask any questions. Complete the Extension forms and attach all documentation required. The ISSS Office will mail the extension packet when it is completed. An M student may receive extensions up to three years for the total program.
Departing the US
The M-1 student (and their dependents) are allowed to stay in the United States for one year OR until the date entered on your I-94 card, WHICHEVER IS EARLIER (unless an application for extension has been properly filed with immigration).
The M-1 student and their dependents are not allowed to accept employment. However, the student may apply for practical training up to 60 days before the completion date of their program. Practical Training must be in the field of the student's study. If approved, the student will be allowed to have one month of practical training for every 4 months of study they have completed. The student is limited to a total of six months practical training time. All questions concerning practical training should be directed to the ISSS Office.
Because M visa holders are not allowed to accept employment (except during practical training), they are not required to file income tax. HOWEVER, ALL M visa holders are required to file Internal Revenue Service (IRS) form 8843. If an M student is engaged in practical training and is receiving any form of renumeration, income tax forms will have to be filed. Information will be provided to all students/scholars at the appropriate time concerning the filing of taxes and form 8843. The ISSS Office purchases income tax preparation software that is free to all international students which makes it very easy to follow to file IRS forms required of non-immigrants.
The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may come with the M-1 student to the United States in M2 non-immigrant status. The M-1 must provide a copy of all dependents passports with their own request for the M-1 I-20 and must also provide financial support documentation ($2500 per dependent; $7500 max) They should go with the M-1 to the US embassy or consulate to apply for the M2 visa at the same time the M-1 is applying for their own visa. Dependents should be well prepared to show their relationship to the student (marriage license; birth certificates). (If the spouse and/or children will follow the M-1 student at a later date, the M2 should provide the US embassy with a copy of the M-1’s Form I-20.) The M2 status is dependent upon on the M-1 status; this means that if the M-1 student changes their status, the M2’s must change also; if M-1 loses their status, the M2’s status is lost also; when the M-1 leaves the US at the end of their program or by the date on their I-94 card – WHICHEVER IS EARLIER, the M2’s must leave also.
Dependents & Study
Your M-2 spouse may not engage in full-time study and your M-2 child may only engage in full-time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade).
All students (and their dependents) are required to keep their passports valid. If you need to renew your passport while in the US, please contact your country’s Embassy for information regarding how to renew your passport as well as locations of your country’s embassies or consulates in the United States.
Difference between M-1’s and F-1’s
The M-1 Vocational Student visa differs from the F-1 Academic Student in that the M-1 student:
a. Cannot change their educational objectives
b. Can only be authorized to reduce course load for a medical reason; no more than 5 months maximum allowed
c. Cannot take online courses or distance learning courses unless they are required to be physically present for class (often called a “blended course”)
d. Can only attend school with extensions for a maximum of 3 years
e. Can transfer schools only in the first 6 months. Permission must be granted permission from the Department of Homeland Security (using the form I-539) prior to the transfer (the transfer process is quite lengthy and is not advisable)
f. Cannot accept employment, except practical training; Practical Training is a max of 6 months
g. Cannot change status to “H” status if basis of “H” was training or education received as M-1 student; nor can a student’s request to change nonimmigrant status be granted to “M” if student is doing it to ultimately qualify for an “H”
h. A student in “M” status also cannot change to “F” status (None of these regulations apply to M2’s.)
i. Can travel to Canada and/or Mexico on an expired visa and return, but not to any of the adjacent islands
Per immigration rules and regulations, all student and exchange visitors are required to report any address changes to the Office of International Student & Scholar Services within 10 days of the move. Failure to report may cause you to be out of legal immigration status.
An M-1 student who’s visa has expired and who needs a new visa to reenter the United States after a temporary absence must apply for a new visa at a US embassy or consulate. It is not possible to renew a visa inside the United States.
Although it is often possible to apply for and obtain a new M-1 visa in a foreign country other than the students own (i.e., in a “third country”), the M visitor may face more stringent requirements than if the student were in his/her own country. In addition to proving eligibility, the M visitor may have to convince the consular officer that there is a legitimate reason for making the visa application outside the visitors own country. This can be time consuming. Be aware that if a new visa is not granted, you will not be allowed back into the US.
Change of Status
M-1 students are not allowed to change their status to F-1 student, and are not eligible for a change to any H status if the training received as an “M” helps you qualify for the “H”. You may apply for a change of status to most other categories of nonimmigrant visas.
Flight schools regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are prohibited from providing flight training to a foreign student unless the Secretary of Homeland Security first determines that the student does not pose a threat to aviation or national security. Flight schools are also required to ensure that each of their employees and contractors that have direct contact with a flight school student receive initial and recurrent security awareness training. On September 20, 2004, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued an interim final rule establishing the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP), which manages these special requirements.