In order 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 the student's 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. Often, the person is a student at a community college or junior college providing vocational training or technical training and awards associate degrees; a vocational high school; a trade school; or a school of non-academic training other than language training.
A person is admitted into the United States under M-1 status for a fixed time period. When they enter the U.S., the person's I-94 departure card is stamped with a date, unlike students with an F-1 visa. The student 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. The student's stay may not exceed one year unless the student is granted an extension for medical reasons. If a student violates their status by, for example, not maintaining a full-time course of study, the student is not eligible for the thirty-day grace period and will be considered unlawfully present in the U.S.
While studying, student in M-1 status is not allowed to work on-campus or off-campus.
Students in M-1 status must maintain a full course of study. Students at a community college or junior college, the student must take at least 12 credit hours as long as that is considered a full-time student by the educational institution. Post-secondary vocational students usually must take at least 18 hours per week of classroom instruction or, if predominantly a shop-based or laboratory-based curriculum, at least 22 hours per week of instruction.
Students in M-1 status may not change their status to F-1 status, and they may not change their status to any H status if the training received under M-1 status provided the qualifications for the temporary worker position sought.
There is no maximum number of M-1 visas that may be issued each year.
A person in M-1 status is considered unlawfully present in the U.S. if the person's Form I-94 expires, the specified date of the person's admission has passed, or an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered that an alien be excluded, deported, or removed.
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 described 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 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services service centers around the country, which sometimes have varying interpretations of the regulations. An application for Optional Practical Training should include:
- cover letter explaining the student's situation
- Form I-765
- $410 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
- $370 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 Optional Practical Training 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 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requires more information for either application, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services 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.
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