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, unlike students with an F-1 visa. 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, and they may not change their status to F-1.

Optional Practical Training

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 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.