Types of US Student Visa

    Updated on: 04 Sep 2023

    us visa types

    Studying in the US is an incredible opportunity to gain world-class education, explore diverse cultures, and experience a transformative journey. Many Indian students understand this and choose the US as the study-abroad site for accomplishing their personal and professional dreams. According to the US embassy, 1,67,582 students from India in the US in the 2020-2021 academic year, and 82,000 US visas were issued in 2022 alone. In 2023 the trend is going high according to reports by numerous individual organizations. 

    Obtaining a student visa is crucial in the process and as the first step, you must have prior learning on different types of US student visas. Depending on your course of study you may be applying for an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa to the US. The requirement and eligibility conditions vary for the US student visa categories which we will see in detail in this blog. 

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    Types of US student visas

    Students across the globe study in the US for various courses based on which the US government categorizes student visas. There are mainly three types of US student visas, namely the F, M, and J visas as summarized in the following table:

    Visa category


    Application fee


    Full-time degree students or intensive English language learners

    350 USD


    International students enrolled in vocational courses

    350 USD


    Students participating in exchange visitor programs

    220 USD


    Let’s dive into the details of each student visa category:

    F-1 Visa

    The F-1 or Academic Student visa is the most popular student visa to the US. 

    • It allows international students to study for full-time courses at various institutions - a recognized university, college, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, etc. 
    • It also allows students to enroll in a language training program. 


    In short, to get an F-1 visa, your program of study must be a degree, diploma, or a certified intensive language course authorized by the US government. 

    Eligibility conditions for F-1 visa

    1. Enrollment in an academic educational program or language training
    2. The school must be recognized by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
    3. Be a full-time student
    4. Proven English proficiency
    5. Have enough funds to support studies in the US
    6. Must have a residence in the home country and an intention to come back after course completion

    Employment conditions for F-1 visa holders

    1. F-1 visa holders are not allowed to take up off-campus work in the first year of study except for special cases like economic hardships
    2. After the first year they can work under three categories: 
      • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
      • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
      • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)
    3. Off-campus work must be related to the field of study
    4. Permission from Designated School Official (DSO) is mandatory for off-campus work


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    M-1 visa

    An M-1 student visa is required for students enrolling in vocational and non-academic programs in the US other than language training. Popular M-1 visa programs in the US include skill and employability-oriented courses in IT, auto mechanics, aviation, healthcare, cosmetology, carpentry, etc. 

    Eligibility conditions for M-1 visa

    1. Full-time enrollment in a vocational course or apprentice program
    2. The school of admission must be a SEVP-recognized one
    3. Have proficiency in English 
    4. Must possess enough funds to self-sponsor studies in the US
    5. Be housed in the home country and have intentions to return after completion of studies

    Employment conditions for M-1 visa holders

    1. Practice is allowed only after course completion
    2. Off-campus work must be related to the area of study
    3. Work permission from the DSO is mandatory


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    J-1 Visa

    J-1 or Exchange Visitor visas are required for students [participating in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The exchange visitor programs are intended to promote mutual understanding and collaboration between people from different countries.

    J-1 for Fulbright: Fulbright fellowships are popular among international scholars to co-research in the US. To participate in Fulbright programs you need a J-1 visa from the sponsoring US institution.

    Eligibility conditions for a J-1 visa

    1. Full-time enrollment to a designated sponsoring organization in the US
    2. The program of enrollment should be listed by the US government


    Programs eligible for J-1 visa

    1. Au Pair
    2. Camp Counselor
    3. College and University Student
    4. Government Visitor
    5. Intern
    6. International Visitor
    7. Physician
    8. Professor
    9. Research Scholar
    10. Secondary School Student
    11. Short-Term Scholar
    12. Specialist
    13. STEM Initiatives
    14. Summer Work Travel
    15. Teacher
    16. Trainee

    Employment conditions for J-1 visa holders

    Employment conditions vary for each exchange program and students need to contact their sponsoring organization for employment terms and conditions. 

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    Dependent visas

    Corresponding to the F-1, M-1, and J-1 visas, dependents of the visa holders are given derivative visas, namely F-2, M-2, and J-2. Dependents can study or work in the US under varying conditions and permission from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

    USCIS: The lawful immigration activities are overlooked by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS is responsible for granting more work hours out of request to F-1 visa holders. It also holds responsibility for work authorization for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) of a maximum of twelve months.

    In conclusion, each visa category has specific requirements, limitations, and opportunities, and it is crucial for prospective students to carefully consider their educational goals, the program of study, and intended activities to determine the most suitable visa option. By understanding the different types of student visas and their respective provisions, international students can confidently navigate the application process and embark on their educational journey in the United States. If you are looking for detailed counseling on your US visa, book your visa counselling session with GyanDhan and get help from our experts who will provide you with personalized guidance on the journey. 

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    Frequently asked questions

    What happens if I stay in the US after my student visa expires?

    If you stay in the US after your visa expires, it will affect your legal stay in the US. Your visa will be considered ‘Out of Status’ once it expires, meaning that your student status will no longer be valid. Once you are caught and deported, you will not be allowed to enter the US again in future. 

    Can I take my family to the US with a student visa? 

    Your family (spouse or children) can accompany you and they are eligible for a dependent visa to the US. The dependent visas to the US are F-2, M-2, and J-2 corresponding to the F-1, M-1, and J-1 student visas. 

    Are the visa interview questions the same for all types of US student visa applicants? 

    The primary objective of the visa interview is assessing your eligibility and verifying the documents. The questions asked in the interview remain the same for all types of US student visas since the objective of the interview is not directly related to the type of study program. To know more refer to the sample F-1 interview questions here and you will get clarity regarding the US visa interview. 

    Why are there different types of US student visas? 

    The objective behind different types of visas for international students to the US is to accommodate diverse educational programs. While the F-1 visa allows students for full-time courses, the M-1 visa is given to students of vocational training programs. A j-1 visa is specifically for participants of international exchange programs. Different categorization helps the US immigration department to filter the applications easily and set guidelines for each type. 

    How many years an F-1 student visa is valid for? 

    An F-1 visa is valid for 5 years from the date of issuance. If your course duration is more than 5 years, your F-1 visa is valid for the whole study period. The validity of your F-1 visa will be specified on form I-20.

    First published date: 31 Jul 2017

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Jainesh Sinha

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