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All on Visa Types for Grad Students in the US: J1, F1, and M1 Visas

Updated: Dec 26, 2023


Table of Contents:


F1 Visa: Features and Application Procedure

J1 Visa: Features and Application Procedure

M1 Visa: Features and Application Procedure

Frequently Asked Questions



Getting a student visa: USA flag


Attending graduate school in the United States is a dream of many people around the world. However, to be able to reside and study there, an international student needs to take care of one additional step while preparing for departure, and today we are going to go deeper into all the nitty gritty of it. Of course you know what I am talking about: getting a graduate student visa.

If you are an international student waiting to move to the United States, or simply wish to get useful information on visas that you could use in your future, this is the right article you were looking for. More specifically, after reading you will know more about the J-1, F-1, and M-1 graduate students visas. For each of these visa types, we will discover their unique features, detailed instructions for the application procedures, and duration limitations. Finally, we will conclude with some FAQ on the topic. Stay tuned to find out more!

F-1 Visa: Main Features

The F-1 visa is the most common choice for academic studies in the US, as it is specifically created for students pursuing full time academic programs. Graduate students seeking a master's or doctoral degree can apply for an F1 visa.

This visa is typically valid for the entire duration of the academic program (with a 60-day grace period allowing students to remain in the United States for 60 days after graduation). However, remember that if you wish to keep staying in the US, you can always apply for the Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is an opportunity for recent graduates to work in a field related to their degree for up to 12 months.

Considering the main characteristics of this visa, it is linked to the institution where the student is admitted and usually does not allow off-campus employment. Furthermore, F1 visa applicants need to prove their intent to return to their home countries after they complete their studies and are required to maintain a full-time course load and make progress towards their degrees to keep their F-1 status.

F-1 Visa: Application Procedure

Here you can find a summary of the application procedure for the F-1 student visa:

  1. Secure admission to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved institution.

  2. Request the I-20 Form (“Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student (F-1) Status”) from your university or institution.

  3. Apply for the F1 visa through a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.

  4. Participate in an interview to demonstrate financial stability, ties to your home country, and details of the program you will be attending in the US.

Of course, this is a general overview. Therefore, keep in mind that your situation may require different procedures from the ones that I have mentioned here. Remember that every individual and country of provenance is unique, and that you should always tailor the information you read based on your personal situation.

J-1 Visa: Main Features

The J-1 visa is also known as the "Exchange Visitor Visa''. It was specifically designed for those individuals who participate in work-and-study-based exchange visitor programs. What does this mean? In practice this visa covers various categories of people, from researchers and visiting professors, to graduate exchange students. Plus, this visa is often valid for one or two semesters, which is the usual duration of an exchange programme.

Regarding the salient characteristics of the J-1 visa, there are three main points to share. Firstly, it requires sponsorship from a university, government program, or an exchange organization. Secondly, it enables an international student to work (and study) in the United States, but typically the training needs to be related to their field of study. Lastly, the J-1 visa is well known for its cultural exchange component. Indeed, this visa often requires the recipient to get involved in sharing their own culture in the US, together with bringing home good practices and cultural experiences learnt during the exchange.

J-1 Visa: Application Procedure

Again, here is a summary of the application procedure for the J-1 visa, which you can personalize based on your needs and situation:

  1. Receive acceptance to a university or program authorized to sponsor J-1 visas.

  2. Obtain a DS-2019 form (“Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student (J-1) Status”) from the sponsoring institution.

  3. Reach out to the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country to initiate your visa application.

  4. Attend an interview and provide the necessary documents, which include a proof of funding, intent to return home, as well as your program details.

M-1 Visa: Main Features

The M-1 visa type can be useful for a specific category of graduate students, those who are pursuing non-academic or vocational studies at an institution in the United States. Overall, it doesn't allow for as much flexibility in terms of work possibilities if compared to the J-1 or F-1 visas. Also, it is more restrictive in terms of what types of learning programs M-1 students are allowed to participate into.

M-1 Visa: Application Procedure

Once again, let's go through the backbone of your visa application procedure:

  1. Apply and get accepted into a vocational institution (it needs to be a SEVP-certified school).

  2. Obtain Form I-20 from your institution.

  3. Apply for the M-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.

  4. Take part in an interview at your consulate. Remember to present all the documentation and proof of financial resources to the visa committee.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if my international student visa application is rejected?

If your student visa application is rejected, the first step is to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate to understand the reason for the rejection. By doing so, you can address any issues with your application and determine if there are any possible ways to correct them. If it is possible to make adjustments to your application, you can consider reapplying with the necessary changes.

If reapplying is not feasible, it is important to explore alternative visa options that may be available to you. This could include looking into different types of visas or seeking out different opportunities for studying abroad. It is also advisable to seek out guidance from an immigration lawyer or advisor to explore potential alternative options and determine the best course of action moving forward. It's important to remember that a visa rejection is not the end of the road, and there are still potential paths to pursue for your academic journey.

How long does it take to get my student visa?

The process for obtaining a student visa typically begins with obtaining acceptance into a U.S. academic institution. The application timeline can vary, but it is recommended to apply for a student visa as soon as you receive the necessary documents from your school to compensate for potential delays or unforeseen circumstances (related to administrative processing, background checks, additional document requests, etc.)

The typical processing time for a student visa varies by country and specific visa type. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months from the time of application submission to visa approval. However, it is important to note that processing times can fluctuate based on the United States' visa workload, the applicant's country of origin, and any compelling circumstances related to the applicant's background. Applicants are advised to monitor the processing time for their specific location and visa type to ensure they allocate enough time for the application process.

How to renew or extend my student visa?

There are different procedures for renewal or extension of your student visa, which depend on the type of student visa you are holding (F-1, J-1, or M-1).

For F-1 students, the visa renewal or extension process typically involves reaching out to the designated school official (DSO) at your educational institution or program of study. The DSO will provide guidance on the required forms and supporting documentation necessary for the renewal or extension application. Deadlines for submitting the application may vary, so it's important to communicate openly and clearly with the DSO to ensure a smooth procedure.

For J-1 visa, it may be required to submit an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This process also involves specific forms and supporting documentation, as well as adhering to deadlines set by USCIS.

M-1 visa holders must also follow United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requirements for renewing or extending their student visa, which may include submitting an application with the necessary forms and documentation within a specified timeframe.

What are some example questions I may be asked at the visa interview?

Some example questions you may be asked at the interview for a graduate student visa include:

  • How do you plan to fund your studies? Do you have one or multiple sources of income? Will you receive a scholarship? Are you considering a loan?

  • Can you provide examples of how your past work experience has prepared you for graduate studies in the United States?

  • Can you give an example of a time when you had to work as part of a team to accomplish a goal?

  • Can you provide an example of when you had to adapt to a new environment or culture, and how you managed to thrive in that situation?

  • Have you ever faced a difficult academic or professional situation and how did you overcome it?

  • In what ways do you plan to contribute to the academic and social community within your graduate program?

  • How do you prioritize and manage your time when facing multiple academic and personal commitments?

  • Can you provide an example of a time when you had to demonstrate leadership skills, either in an academic or professional setting?

  • Why did you decide to continue your studies in the United States as a foreign student? Why not the UK, or Canada or Australia?

  • What are your standardized tests scores and current GPA?


It's time to conclude this article. Today, we have navigated each visa category for graduate students in the United States and understood their unique features. Each has its specific application procedures, durations, work opportunities and extension options. As the regulations surrounding visas can be complex and subject to change, it's essential for students to stay informed and work closely with their designated institutions and advisors to ensure compliance and explore available opportunities during their academic journey in the US. With these words in mind, I wish you the best luck with your visas, and most importantly with your application journey!

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