Is M-1 visa really “a worse student visa”?
International students in the US often call M-1 visa “a worse visa”. Why is that so?
In comparison with more popular and more often issued F-1 visa, the M-1 category contains restrictions on employment, maintenance of status, transfer to other schools, and extension of stay. Let’s examine the main differences between these 2 student visas.
First of all, you need to realize that potential students cannot chose between F-1 and M-1 visa; each category is reserved for different education goals. While F-1 students are coming to the US to complete their studies at institutions of higher learning, or to learn English at approved language schools, M-1 students can get involved only in vocational or non-academic studies, other than language training. It means they can study only at community or junior college, post-secondary or business schools, and their study can lead to a diploma, certificate or Associate degree but not Bachelor’s or higher degree. Such institutions can offer, for example, culinary, cosmetology, or emergency medical technician courses.
Both F-1 and M-1 student are admitted to the US for the “duration of status” (D/S) meaning that they may remain in the U.S. to complete the program they selected. However, F-1 student can stay in the US much longer: the student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a course of study leading to an academic degree. A student in M status is admitted for a fixed time period, which is the period necessary to complete the course of study indicated on the Form I-20, plus practical training following completion of the course of study, plus an additional 30 days to depart the United States, but not to exceed a total period of one year.
Both M-1 and F-1 students are required to engage in full time course of study (part time studying is not permitted). However, unlike F-1 students, who can request a reduced course load for academic reasons (including language difficulties), and generally during the final term, M-1 student can only be allowed to reduce course load for a medical reason confirmed by a licensed medical doctor.
Extensions of stay for M-1 students are possible but very limited. Students must apply for an extension of their program if it will last for more than a year; this application for 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. An M student may receive extensions up to three years for the total program, in one year maximum increments. M-1 students are not allowed to continue on to the university level, i.e. change of status from M-1 to F-1 is not possible. In addition, M-1 students cannot seek change of status to H-1B if training or education received as M-1 student would make him/her qualified for H-1B specialty occupation.
While F-1 students may transfer from one school to another or even change the course of study quite freely, M-1 students can only transfer to another educational institution within their first six months of study, and they are not allowed to change their educational objectives at their school. The student may transfer sixty days after filing I-539 application with the USCIS. However, if a transfer of programs is denied by the USCIS after the student transfers, the student will be considered to be out of status and required to leave the country.
In comparison with F-1 students who have many employment options, including on-campus employment, curriculum practical training (both not requiring USCIS’s approval), off-campus employment authorization due to severe economic hardship, pre-completion and post-completion optional practical training, M-1 students may only obtain practical training after completion of study, provided the job is in the same field of study. Per the regulations, M-1 student can only be given one month of practical training “for each four months of full-time study that the M-1 student has completed, not exceeding six months. For example, if the student attended school for 20 months, it would give him/her a total of five months of practical training.
Taking into account the above-mentioned restrictions, we must admit that M-1 visa is issued for shorter periods of time and is more rigid than F-1. The M-1 visa applicant must be aware that he or she must stick to the chosen program and institution, because transfers are restricted, and be ready to depart the US upon its completion. In addition, given the lack of the employment options during the course of study, M-1 students must secure sufficient funds that will allow them to support themselves without taking a job.
This article is intended solely for information purposes and should in no way be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions or are unclear on any of the subject matters addressed or discussed in this article, please consult a licensed legal professional.