Your Rights in the U.S. While in Vocational School, on M-1 Visa

Here's what M-1 vocational students in the U.S. need to know about what they can and cannot do per the terms of their visa.

Planning to come to the U.S. for a vocational study program, on an M-1 visa? Don't forget that you'll need to abide by the terms of that visa in order to complete your stay and qualify for future visas to enter the United States with. Obviously that means complying with the basics and attending your program rather than, say, taking a job. But what are the limits of what you're allowed to do? Here are some important benefits or possibilities while in the U.S. on your M-1 visa.

Transferring Schools on an M-1 Visa

If you begin a program of vocational study in the U.S. and decide it's is not the school or program for you, act quickly. M-1 visa holders can freely transfer only during their first six months of school. After that, you may transfer only if you can show that:

  • you've maintained your nonimmigrant student status for the past six months
  • you are unable to continue at this school due to circumstances beyond your control
  • you are still capable of supporting yourself financially, and
  • you plan to be a full-time student at the new school.

For example, if your school closes, this might be a “circumstance beyond your control” that USCIS would recognize. You can transfer only to another vocational program, not to an academic program requiring an F visa.

Your first step would be to apply to and be accepted by a new school, which must send you a new Student and Exchange Visitor Information Systems (SEVIS) record Form I-20. Next, you must inform your current designated school official (DSO) of your intent to transfer. Finally, you need to put together:

  • Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
  • Filing fee ($370, as of early 2018). Send a check or money order, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; or fill out Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, to pay by credit card. Do not send cash.
  • Your new Form I-20.
  • Copies of your current and prior Form I-20.
  • Copy of your I-94 card or online I-94 Arrival Departure Document (and those of your dependent family members, if any).
  • If your transfer is submitted after six months of study, a written statement explaining why the reasons for your transfer are beyond your control, that you have maintained valid student status for the previous six months, and that you can still support yourself financially. Include any proof, such as a letter from a professor or school official confirming any changes in program offerings.

Submit all this per the instructions on the I-539 page of the USCIS website. If approved, you will receive an approval notice and a new Form I-20, endorsed by USCIS.

If USCIS doesn’t send you a decision within 60 days, you may take your chances and transfer schools while you wait. However, if USCIS ultimately denies your transfer application, you will automatically fall out of status and either have to apply for reinstatement or face possible removal proceedings in Immigration Court .

Extending Your Stay on an M-1 Visa

M-1 vocational students are initially allowed to stay in the U.S. for the length of the vocational program, as shown on your SEVIS Form I-20, up to a maximum of one year. In addition, you are allowed a 30-day grace period, in which to prepare for departure from the United States.
If your vocational program will extend beyond the date indicated on your I-20 and I-94, you can apply for an extension, by submitting:
  • USCIS Form I-539.
  • Filing fee ($370, as of early 2018). Send a check or money order, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; or fill out Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, to pay by credit card. Do not send cash.
  • Form I-94 (available online); and those of y
  • our dependent family members, if applicable).
  • Copy of SEVIS Form I-20.
  • Documentation showing that you will be able to pay for your studies and your, as well as any family member's, stay in the U.S. until the end of your vocational program.
Submit all this per the instructions on the I-539 page of the USCIS website.

Brief Employment After Completion of M-1 Studies

As an M visa holder, you are not allowed to work on or off campus while you are still completing your study program. Your spouse and children are similarly not allowed to work.

After you have successfully completed your studies, however, you can be approved for a period of paid (or unpaid) practical training, up to six months. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) calculates the number of months based on how long you have been studying: You will get one month of work permission for every four months of full-time study.

Make sure you’ll be applying at the right time. You can’t apply earlier than 60 days before the end of your studies; but you can’t apply later than 30 days after the end of your studies. Then, you'll need to pull together or prepare the items described below. The forms are available for free download from the USCIS website.

  • SEVIS Form I-20 ID, endorsed by your designated student officer (DSO).
  • USCIS Form I-539, Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status.
  • USCIS Form I-765.
  • Two photos (passport-style). Print your name in pencil on the back of the photos.
  • Fee (as of early 2018, $410 for Form I-765 and $370 for Form I-539. Send a check or money order, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; or fill out Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, to pay by credit card. Do not send cash.

Submit all this per the instructions on the I-539 page of the USCIS website. Once USCIS approves your application, you will receive a plastic work permit card with your photo on it and an expiration date. This will be good for a maximum of six months. You are not allowed to work until you receive this card.

Taking a Vacation in the U.S. Following Completion of M-1 Studies

If you like, you can ask to stay longer than your grace period allows, in order to be a tourist in the United States. by applying for what is called a “Change of Status” to tourist, or visitor status. First, see A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?

To apply, you must fill out Form I-539, per the instructions provided, and submit it to USCIS before the end of your grace period. When approved, you will receive a new Form I-94 showing the date by which you must leave the United States.

Because you are changing status, not receiving an actual visa, this will be good for the length of your stay only. If you leave and need to return, even before the expiration of your permitted stay, you will need to visit a U.S. consulate and reapply for an entry visa. In most cases, U.S. immigration authorities allow B-2 visitor stays of no more than six months, although technically the legal maximum is one year.

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