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The M-1 visa is a type of student visa reserved for vocational and technical schools. To obtain an M-1 visa for traveling to the United States, a student must present a signed Form I-20 at a United States embassy or consulate in their home country. The I-20 is issued by a designated school official, typically the international student adviser, after the student has fulfilled a school's admissions requirements and presented proof of financial resources.
M-1 students are admitted into the United States for a fixed time period. When they cross the border, their I-94 departure cards are stamped with a date, unlike students with an F-1 visa. They may stay for the length of their training program plus any Optional Practical Training, plus a thirty-day grace period at the end of their training. Their stay may not exceed one year unless they are granted an extension for medical reasons. If a student violates their status by, for example, not maintaining a full course of study, they are not eligible for the grace period.
Students in M-1 status may not work on or off campus while studying, and they may not change their status to F-1.
Optional Practical Training
M-1 students are eligible for a relatively short amount of Optional Practical Training: one month for every four months of study (as laid out in Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations). While an F-1 student can simply file an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, an M-1 student must also file an I-539 to extend status. The applications are adjudicated at various USCIS service centers around the country, which sometimes have varying interpretations of the regulations. An application for OPT should include:
- cover letter explaining the student's situation
- Form I-765
- $380 filing fee made out to Department of Homeland Security
- signed I-20 with OPT request (copies are not accepted)
- copy of visa and passport photo page
- 2 passport photos
- copy of original I-20 and original financial documents
- current bank statement
- Form I-539
- $290 filing fee made out to Department of Homeland Security
- copy of I-94 card, front and back
It is also advisable to include a copy of each application, since the I-765 and I-539 will be adjudicated separately at the service center. The result of an approved I-765 will be an OPT card (also known as an employment authorization document). The result of an approved I-539 will be a new I-94 departure card, which the student surrenders upon leaving the United States, to prove that he has left. A student may begin paid work upon receiving the OPT card (and applying for a social security number) even if the I-94 card has not arrived.
If USCIS requires more information for either application, they will send a request for evidence. Occasionally these requests are for items that were sent in originally; nevertheless, it is best to send them in again immediately. Approvals or denials will arrive separately and after different amounts of time.