Understanding F, M, J Student Visas and if they allow you to work in the US

To study in any university or school in the US, one needs to apply for a US student visa. This is a necessity for any student, regardless of the duration of their course. In general, there are three different types of non-immigrant visas available for students who are pursuing an education in the US. These include:

  • F visa
  • M visa
  • J visa

Here are a few details about each type of visa, and which type allows the students to work as well. Go through these to equip yourself with the desired knowledge before taking the plunge.

F Visa

This visa is handed out to international students who will be pursuing an academic degree in a renowned university in the US. Besides, it is also granted to those who intend to study English at any university or a language institute. Further, the F visa is of three types: 

  • F1 visa — issued to full-time students.
  • F2 visa — issued to the dependents of F-1 visa holders, which includes the spouse and children (unmarried and below 21 years of age).
  • F3 visa — issued for border commuters who attend part-time or full-time school in the US.

Only those with an F1 visa are considered eligible for working while studying. However, they have a restriction of working on-campus only for 20 hours a week or less. If students wish to work off-campus and for more hours, it is a necessity that they have prior authorization from USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) or CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training). This remains credible for a period of 12 months, wherein the student cannot stay unemployed for more than 90 days.

M VisaThis visa is allocated to international students who wish to pursue vocational or non-academic study or training at any US institute. M visa is of three types: 

  • M1 visa — issued to students who intend to engage in vocational or non-academic studies.
  • M2 visa — issued to dependents of M1 visa holders (similar to F2 visa).
  • M3 visa — issued to border commuters (similar to F3 visa) for vocational or non-academic studies.

However, the students with an M1 visa are admitted to a specific US institute only for a fixed period, which includes the training period plus any OPT. They are not permitted to work either on-campus or off-campus during the course of their education. Additionally, these students are allowed to reside in the US only for 1 year, unless in certain severe medical issues; and are not eligible to change their visas to an F1 visa whatsoever.

Moreover, F2 and M2 visa holders are required to obtain an appropriate work visa in case they wish to seek employment in the US while studying.

J Visa

This visa is for international students who intend to participate in any US educational program promoting cultural exchange. It is a requirement that these students fulfil all the required criteria for the respective program and be sponsored by any government program or private sector. The validity period is only for a semester, or two. J visa is of two types: 

  • J1 Visa — issued to exchange students participating in relevant exchange programs
  • J2 Visa — issued to the dependents of J1 visa holders (similar to F2 visa).

Students with a J1 visa are required to return back to their home country after the completion of the exchange program, for a minimum period of 2 years. J2 visa holders can submit form I-765 and request the USCIS for work authorization.