Using any non-immigrant visa category will enable you to enter and stay in the United States for a specified amount of time. The dates on the visa in your passport do not always indicate how long you may remain in the United States. Your length of stay is determined either by an immigration officer on the Form I-94 when you enter the United States or the dates indicated on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. While you are in the United States, it will be your responsibility to know when your visa documents (Form I-20 or DS-2019) will expire and to work with the HIO to apply for any extensions in a timely manner. Regulations regarding employment, permitted length of stay, and spouse’s eligibility to work vary according to the visa category. It is therefore important to understand the regulations pertaining to your visa.
The M-1 visa is a type of student visa reserved for vocational and technical schools. To obtain an M-1 visa for traveling to the United States, a student must present a signed Form I-20 at a United States embassy or consulate in his home country. The I-20 is issued by a designated school official, typically the international student adviser, after the student has fulfilled a school’s admissions requirements and presented proof of financial resources.
M-1 students are admitted into the United States for a fixed time period. When they cross the border, their I-94 departure cards are stamped with a date. They may stay for the length of their training program plus any Optional Practical Training, plus a thirty-day grace period at the end of their training. Their stay may not exceed one year unless they are granted an extension for medical reasons. If a student violates his status by, for example, not maintaining a full course of study, he is not eligible for the grace period.
Students in M-1 status may not work on or off campus while studying without advance permission of the School Principal Designated School Official (PSDO), and they may not change their status to F-1.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
M-1 students are eligible for a relatively short amount of Optional Practical Training: one month for every four months of study (as laid out in Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations). While an F-1 student can simply file an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, an M-1 student must also file an I-539 to extend status. The applications are adjudicated at various United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service centers around the country, which sometimes have varying interpretations of the regulations. An application for OPT should include:
- Cover letter explaining the student’s situation
- Form I-765
- $380 filing fee made out to Department of Homeland Security
- Signed I-20 with OPT request (copies are not accepted)
- Copy of visa and passport photo page
- 2 passport photos
- Copy of original I-20 and original financial documents
- Current bank statement
- Form I-539
- $290 filing fee made out to Department of Homeland Security
- Copy of I-94 card, front and back
It is also advisable to include a copy of each application, since the I-765 and I-539 will be adjudicated separately at the service center. The result of an approved I-765 will be an OPT card (also known as an employment authorization document). The result of an approved I-539 will be a new I-94 departure card, which the student surrenders upon leaving the United States, to prove
that he has left. A student may begin paid work upon receiving the OPT card (and applying for a social security number) even if the I-94 card has not arrived.
If USCIS requires more information for either application, they will send a request for evidence. Occasionally these requests are for items that were sent in originally; nevertheless, it is best to send them in again immediately. Approvals or denials will arrive separately and after different amounts of time.