The M-1 visa is similar to the F-1 student visa. The primary difference is that the M-1 is for vocational or technical study for a two-year program. It is not designed to allow people to stay here long term. F-1 visas may start off as a two-year visa for community college, but it allows for the transfer to a four-year university.
In order to apply for an M-1 visa if you are outside of the United States, a student must obtain a signed Form I-20 and present it to a United States embassy or consulate in his home country. The I-20 is issued by a designated school official (DSO) -- generally the international student adviser -- after the student has fulfilled a school's admissions requirements and presented proof of financial resources. Check your local consulate or embassy for visa processing times as they vary throughout the world.
ADVANTAGES OF THE M – 1 VISA OVER THE F-1
M-1 visa allows students to do a month of practical training –– for pay –– for every four months of study you have completed. Thus, you could work for six months after your two-year course of study is over. It also allows you to apply for Social Security number. Some M-1 visa holders have had success staying in the country by transferring to a J-1 visa after their M-1 expires, while others have changed their status to other types of non-immigrant visas. You may not, however, change to an F student status or an H-1b status if the position you are seeking is based on the skills you obtained while studying in the M-1 status.
HOW NOT TO LOSE OR VIOLATE YOUR M-1 STATUS
The most common way of losing your M-1 status is to fail classes or otherwise stop being a full-time student. Some students believe they are not allowed to travel to other countries while in the status. That is not true, but it is important that you do not go for a vacation so long that you miss a quarter or semester of school.
Also note, that once your training is completed, you must depart the country within 30 days.
APPLYING FOR EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION ON M-1 STATUS
Our office highly recommends you use an immigration attorney to take this step. The problem we have seen if that foreign students cannot quite grasp the fact that even small errors in the application process can have devastating and long-term consequences to your immigration goals in the future. Ours is a highly punitive system that often lacks common sense or compassion. Nevertheless, we offer these tips if you are going to apply for Optional Practical Training without seeking adequate legal assistance:
- Submit and pay for the Form I-538, Certification by Designated School Official.
- Submit and pay for the Form I-20I-D signed by the Designated School Official.
- Submit and pay for the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
- Submit and pay for the Form I-539 to extend status.
- Include an explanation that proposed employment is for the purpose of practical training and will be related to your studies.
- Include a declaration that the same type of training is not available in your country of residence.
- Include a copy of your visa, I-94 and passport photo page along with two current passport photos.
- Submit financial and bank statements that show you have enough money to last during the requested time.
- You should send your application to the USCIS no more than 60 days before your student status expires and no later than 15 days after your studies are completed.