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Nonimmigrant visas: Student visas and exchange visitors
  • Students may apply for F-1 student visas for academic students or M-1 student visas for vocational students.
  • F-1 and M-1 student visa holders may only work under certain conditions, and employment must relate to the student’s field of study.
  • Individuals participating in an educational or cultural exchange program may qualify for a J-1 visa.

Student visas

Individuals who wish to pursue full-time academic or vocational studies in the U.S. may be eligible for one of two nonimmigrant student categories: The “F” category is for academic students and the “M” category is for vocational students.

  • F-1 student visa: The F-1 visa (academic student) allows an individual to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. The individual must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate, and the school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
  • M-1 student visa: The M-1 visa (vocational student) category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.


F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment depending on certain conditions and restrictions. F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment after they have been studying for one academic year. These three types of employment are:

  • Curricular practical training (CPT);
  • Optional practical training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion); and
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training extension (OPT).

M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.

For both F-1 and M-1 students, any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the designated school official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Exchange visitors

Individuals who wish to participate in an exchange program may be eligible for a “J” category visa for exchange visitors. The J-visa program is for educational and cultural exchange programs. The J-1 classification is authorized for those who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.


Some J-1 nonimmigrants enter the U.S. specifically to work (as a researcher, nanny, etc.), while others do not. Employment is authorized for J-1 nonimmigrants only under the specific terms of the exchange program.

Family of J-1 visa holders

The spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of J-1 visa holders are entitled to J-2 classification. Spouses and children are entitled to work authorization; however, their income may not be used to support the J-1 visa holder. To apply for work authorization as a J-2 nonimmigrant, the spouse or child would file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.