How to Obtain and Qualify for an M-1 Vocational Student Visa

Qualifying and obtaining an M-1 Vocational Student Visa is a complex and fact specific process and the information below is a general overview. Please consult with an attorney at Theta Law Firm with your specific facts. An attorney is vital to help those interested in studying in the United States, as well as their families, through the process of obtaining an M-1 Visa in a timely fashion that will not disrupt your studies or goals.

Is the M-1 Visa for me?

The M-1 Vocational Student Visa allows an individual having residence in a foreign country to come to the United States in order to study as a full-time student in a vocational or other non-academic program[1]. The M-1 Visa needs to be obtained if you plan to come to the United States and study as a full time student while attending any of the following:

     • Vocational Program
     • Other non-academic and non-language training program

M-1 Visa Eligibility & Application Requirements

The first and perhaps the most important requirement to beginning the M-1 Student Visa process, is locating, applying, and getting into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school. A list of SEVP certified schools can be found here:

The following eligibility requirements must then be fulfilled once you have found, applied, and been accepted to the SEVP school of your choice.

    1. All students need to be proficient in the English language, or taking courses to obtain English language proficiency.
    2. You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the SEVP certified school you choose to attend.
    3. Your finances must be such that you can support yourself during the entire time you are studying in the United States and this will often include being able to obtain insurance coverage.
    4. You must have a residence abroad that you do not intend on deserting either during or after your studies in the United States are complete.
Once you have been accepted into the school that you want to attend, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). You will have to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee (usually $200).

M-1 Visa Filing Procedure

You have found the school where you want to study and it is SEVP certified, now what?

    1. Your United States school that you choose to attend will mail you Form I-20 that you will need to bring with you to your visa interview. Make sure to review the information on the form to make sure that it is correct. Spouses and children under the age of 21 that are accompanying you and intend to reside with you will need their own separate Form I-20's.

    2. Schedule an interview at the United States embassy or consulate in the country where you live (those under 13 or older than 80 usually do not need to interview).

    3. You will need a valid passport for travel to the United States.

    4. Fill out and submit Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (can be accessed through Make sure that you keep the confirmation page that you will have to bring with you to the interview at the embassy or consulate.

    5. You will be required to upload a color photograph of yourself taken within the last six months when submitting Form DS-160. For more information regarding the photograph requirements please go to

    6. Pay the current $160 application fee and any other fees that may apply.

    7. Then make sure you attend your M-1 Visa interview.
There may be additional documentation needed to determine your qualifications. This documentation may include transcripts, diplomas, proof of United States required test scores, and documentation on how you will pay for your school, travel, and living expenses. Contact an attorney at Theta Law Firm to help guide you through the process and advise you if there are any other requirements that you will need to meet.

Length of Stay

You will be allowed to enter the United States no more than 30 days before your school or program start date. You have the ability to stay in the United States for a set duration period to finish the type of study program you applied for with the SEVP certified school, for a total maximum time of three years. If you are outside of the United States and have not been attending classes for five months or more, you will have to apply for a new M-1 visa.

If you need help in renewing your Visa or obtaining a new Visa, an attorney can be extremely helpful in taking you through the application process.

Transferring to Another Program

An M-1 student is allowed to transfer to a different vocational program within the first six months of arriving in the United States. To transfer within the first 6 months the following conditions must be met:

    1. All of your documentation supports that you are indeed an M-1 student visa holder;
    2. You continue to attend your current vocational or other non-academic program full time during the pendency of the transfer;
    3. You intend on studying full-time in the program that you are interested in transferring into;
    4. You are able to financially support yourself in the program you want to transfer into during the entire time you are studying in the United States and this will include being able to obtain insurance coverage; and
    5. You are pursuing the same educational goal in the program you are transferring into as in your original vocational program your intend to transfer out of.
If you have been in the United States for more than 6 months under and M-1 Visa and want to transfer to a different program, you will be denied unless the program experiences a significant situation that you cannot control (for example the program or school shuts down).

If you find yourself in a situation where you want to transfer to a different M-1 eligible vocational or other non-academic program, consult with an attorney at Theta Law Firm. A lawyer can make sure that you follow all the correct steps in transferring to the program you want, to follow the goals you have.

Can I Work With an M-1 Visa?

M-1 Visa students can only work after their course of study has been completed. This means that those with an M-1 Visa can only seek practical training employment after they have finished their program. As an M-1 Visa holder the time you are allowed to work after your program is finished is limited to six month and several requirements have to be met:

  • Talk with your designated school official (DSO) to make sure you have their approval. This is mandatory.
  • The work must relate to your area of study.
  • Can apply to do this work for 12 months at each education level.
  • The DSO will provide you with Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status that shows you have been approved for this work.
  • Then you will have to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization[2] with fee to USCIS. After the paperwork is processed and you are approved, USCIS will send Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document.
  • You cannot work until you have received this document.
  • Again, you are allowed to work only after your studies have concluded and only in a position that is related to your area of study. The amount of time you can work is limited to 6 months.
Family of M-1 Visa Qualifying Applicants

A spouse and any children under the age of 21 may accompany an M-1 student as long as they obtain M-2 status. Your school will have to issue your spouse and any children under the age of 21 a separate and individual Form I-20. Your children are allowed to attend school in the United States while they accompany you. However, neither your children nor your spouse may work in the United States while having M-2 status.

What If I Am An Academic Student?

If you are a student interested in pursuing an academic or language training program - you will not qualify for an M-1 Vocational Student Visa. Instead, the F-1 Visa will be the appropriate avenue to pursue. You may also qualify for and be interested in a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. Please refer to the article concerning F-1 and J-1 Visas. Consult with an attorney at Theta Law Firm if you need assistance determining the right Visa for you.

[1] 8 C.F.R. § 214(m).
[2] Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization may be found at:

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