How are J, M, and F US Student Visas Different?


Aarushi Jain
Updated on Jun 03, 2023 12:51 AM IST

Finding the right visa types can be a bit of a headache. Hence, this article is your one-stop solution for all your questions regarding different US student visa types, categories, their eligibility requirements, documents and more. 

How are J, M, and F US Student Visas Different?

Despite increased acceptance of unconventional study abroad destinations, the US continues to see the most number of Indian students for higher education, followed by Australia, Canada, the UK, and Germany. Although there is a common misconception that US student visa restrictions are becoming more stringent, one in every five students in the US comes from India.

If you are one of the few students who have been accepted into your selected course at a US university/college, your next step is to apply for a US student visa. And, while the F1 visa is the most popular student visa to study in the US, M1 and J1 visas also enable one to stay in the US while pursuing higher education. That said, all of them are used for unique purposes.

With a rising number of students considering studying in the US, it would be useful for them to be aware of the differences between J, M, and F US student visas, their eligibility criteria, the documents required and how to apply for a US study visa.

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What is an I-20 Form?

Before we enlighten you with the difference between J, M and F US student visas for international students, it is important to know about the I-20 form as well. The I-20 student visa form is necessary for overseas students who wish to study in the United States on US student visas. 

The I-20 form for a student visa in the USA is a Certificate of Eligibility provided by authorised institutions or universities in the United States to overseas students on an F-1 or M-1 visa. This form verifies that you are a bona fide student enrolled in a college or institution. You can use your I-20 form to pay your I-901 SEVIS fee, apply for a nonimmigrant visa at your nearest US embassy or consulate, and travel to the US.

You will get an I-20 form from the designated school official (DSO) at the college or university where you want to register after being admitted to a US college or university that has been approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP). The I-20 form student visa USA must be delivered to you and signed by the DSO. The DSO will update your details on the I-20 form student visa via SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) if you like. 

Depending on the kind of visa, overseas students may receive one of two I-20 forms:

  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students

  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status – For Vocational Students

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What is the I-901 SEVIS Fee? 

You must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee after being admitted to a US university or college that is approved to get an F-1 or M-1 student visa. You will need to have your I-20 form on hand to make the payment. If you are one of the following, you must pay the SEVIS fee:

  • F-1 or M-1 visa student from a country where a visa is required for entry into the United States.

  • F-1 or M-1 visa student from a visa-free country (before applying for admission at a US port of entry).

  • A non-immigrant in the United States who intends to change his or her nonimmigrant status to F-1 or M-1 status (prior to applying for a change of nonimmigrant status).

  • F-1 or M-1 student out of status for more than five months.

  • F-1 or M-1 student who has been out of the country for more than five months and intends to return to the country for further studies in the same field.

J vs M vs F US Student Visas

The US student visa is a government-issued special passport endorsement for students. Students must be enrolled in a US-qualified educational institution before applying for a US study visa. It is valid for the duration of the student's course of study, programme, or job assignment in the US.

The category or the type of US student visa that will be awarded to the student is determined by the course of study and the type of school. Having said that, there are three different US student visa types available for international students to study in US. So, here are the differences between the J1, M1 and F1 visa:

Differentiating Factor

F 1 Visa

J 1 Visa

M 1 Visa

Used/Issued For

To study in a recognised university or college in the US, or to learn English at an English language institute.

To take part in a university or high school student exchange programme.

To pursue non-academic courses or occupational training in the US.


5 years

18 months

1 year

Application Fees

USD 160

USD 160

USD 160

Stay Back Period 1 year 30 days 30 days
Work Opportunities CPT, OPT, STEM OPT Practical training in your field of study, on- and off-campus employment Practical training upon graduation must be related to the course of study

Let us now dive deep into each one of the above-mentioned US student visa types and understand them in detail:

F 1 Visa: Academic Studies in the US

The most common and popular type of nonimmigrant student visa is an F-1 student visa. Students and researchers who intend to study or do research at a recognised US college, university, high school, private primary school, approved English language school, or other approved academic institutions are granted F-1 visas. Students granted an F-1 student visa are expected to complete their studies within the time frame specified.

To apply for an F-1 US student visa type, students must first receive an I-20 form from their college or university. This type of visa is only issued by US embassies and consulates located outside of the US. An F-1 study visa holder is not permitted to work in the country, except for any training required by a course. The F-1 students are only permitted to work on campus part-time for up to 20 hours a week.


Candidates must meet the following eligibility conditions in order to get an F-1 student visa:

  • A SEVP-approved US university must accept you as an undergraduate student.

  • They must be enrolled in a full-time programme.

  • They must have a strong command of the English language.

  • They must have enough money to support their education and stay in the United States.

  • A valid passport is also required.

Documents Required

Enlisted below is the complete checklist of the documents required before attending the F 1 student visa interview:

  • A copy of the current passport

  • A passport-sized portrait

  • Receipts proving payment of the applicable fees

  • I-120A-B form

  • Academic transcripts from prior colleges one has attended

  • Bank statements demonstrating enough financial resources to live and study in US standardised test scores of English proficiency examinations, such as TOEFL or IELTS

  • Proof of intent to leave the United States after finishing education

J 1 Visa: Academic Studies as an Exchange Visitor

A J 1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those who will be participating in a work and study-focused exchange visitor programme in the US that encourages cultural interchange, particularly for medical or business training.

The participant will be given a DS form by his or her sponsoring organisation or a US government agency, which will be required to apply for a J-1 visa.


To be eligible for a J1 US student visa, the participant must be fluent in English and have adequate medical insurance. All applicants must meet the qualifying requirements and be supported by a government or private sector programme. They must have documentation of cash to meet their expenses in the United States and be able to demonstrate plans to stay in the United States for a particular period of time, including their return to their native country.

Candidates must achieve the following eligibility requirements in order to obtain a J-1 visa to study in the US:

  • They must be between the ages of 15 and 18.

  • They must be housed by their school or a host family.

  • They can study full-time at any university or college in the United States.

  • A documented agreement must exist between your local university and the university in the USA.

  • They do not require any financial assistance and may maintain themselves entirely.

Documents Required

Applicants must provide the following documents to their J-1 visa interview:

  • An international passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the duration of the visit

  • Confirmation page for Form DS-160

  • Payment receipt (DS-160)

  • Photographs of your passport (if the candidate did not upload one with their Form DS-160 application)

  • Certificate of permission for SEVIS and SEVIS fee receipt

  • Form DS-7002

  • Confirmation of Internship Applicant Proof of Financial Capability on Page.

  • Evidence indicating leaving the US at the end of the programme. This could be familial relationships, money, or property that one is unable to leave behind in their home country.

  • Proof of the purpose of travel

Did You Know: After graduation, F1 visa holders are entitled to up to 12 months of OPT (optional practical training). That implies applicants will be able to work for a year after finishing their education. It is a temporary job permit that allows students to obtain practical experience in their subject of study. If students wish to continue working in the USA, they must apply for a work visa. Even if they do not have a job offer or have not filed for OPT, they can stay in the US for up to 60 days after finishing their study.

M 1 Visa: Non-Academic or Vocational Studies

As mentioned earlier, an M 1 US student visa is a non-immigrant student visa for those who desire to study full-time at a non-academic institution or vocational school in the US.

M 1 visa holders are permitted to stay for the duration of their training programme and optional practical training, as well as a 30-day grace period after the completion of their course.

Applicants must produce a signed I-20 form provided by a recognised school official to a US embassy or consulate in their native country. M 1 visa holders are not permitted to work on or off campus during their studies.


To be eligible for an M 1 visa, candidates must be accepted by a vocational institution recognised by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applicants must be sufficiently fluent in English, have sufficient means, have permanent residence in their home country, and intend to depart the US once the course of study is over. M 1 students may stay in the USA for a set period of time but may not stay for more than one year unless granted an extension for medical reasons.

Candidates must meet the following eligibility criteria in order to be eligible for a M 1 visa:

  • Admission to an institution on the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) list.

  • Standardised English language proficiency exam scores such as TOEFL or IELTS.

  • They must be able to demonstrate non-immigrant intent of coming to the US.

  • They must have enough funds to cover their expenses while in the United States.

  • They must provide bank statements or other proof of their financial situation.

Documents Required

Candidates applying for the M 1 student visa must produce a variety of supporting documents to demonstrate that they fit the eligibility requirements. Some of the most essential documents are listed below:

  • A passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the planned stay in the United States

  • Proof of educational credentials

  • Proof of English language proficiency

  • Proof of sufficient financial resources to cover the expenses in the United States

  • Evidence of close ties with the country of origin, such as a job contract or flat leasing agreement

  • A passport-sized portrait

How to Apply for US Student Visa?

Post knowing everything about the different US student visa types in detail and the cost associated with each category, here are the steps that will help aspirants to apply for their US study visa:

Step 1: Complete the Online Visa Application

The first step in applying for a US student visa is to thoroughly fill out the online visa application. nonimmigrant visa online students must print the application form, Form DS-160. They will also be required to provide a photo of themselves when completing the online form DS-160. The photograph must follow the format specified in the Photograph Requirements.

Step 2: Schedule an Interview

After completing the DS-160 form, the applicant must schedule a visa interview at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country where he or she resides. The candidate may schedule the interview at another location in the US. Any visa application may be interviewed by the consular officer.

Age of the Candidate


13 and less

Not Required

14 - 79


80 and older

Not Required

Step 3: Wait for the Appointment

Check the expected wait time for a nonimmigrant visa interview at a U.S. consulate. Consulate or embassy wait times for interview appointments differ depending on location, season, and visa type, so candidates should apply for their visas as soon as possible.

  • For New Students: Students under the F and M visa category can obtain their visas up to 120 days before the commencement date of a course of study. Candidates will not be permitted to enter the United States on their US student visa more than 30 days before the commencement date.

  • For Continuing Students: Students under the F and M visa category can be given at any time as long as the student is currently enrolled at a SEVP-approved school or institution and is registered in SEVIS. Continuing students may enter the US at any time before the commencement of school.

Step 4: Pay the Visa Application Fee

The next step is to pay the non-refundable visa application fee before your scheduled interview. Here is the breakdown of the different costs that the applicant has to bear for different categories of US study visa:

US Student Visa Types


Visa Application Fee or MRV Fee in USD

F 1 student visa



J 1 student visa



M 1 student visa



Note: The accepted modes of payment of the SEVIS fee include credit card and money order/ demand draft. To pay the MRV fee, one may use NEFT online bank transfer, instant money transfer by mobile (IMPS) and/or by cash at counters of Axis Bank/ Citibank.

Also, spouses and dependents, who are coming to the USA on an F-2 or J-2 visa, do not have to pay the SEVIS fee.

Step 5: Gather all Required Documents

After paying the non-refundable visa application fee as per the different US student visa types, candidates are required to gather all the important documents that are required for the visa process like passport, form DS-160 confirmation page, application fee payment receipt, form I 20, academic transcripts, standardised test scores and more.

Step 6: Attend the Visa Interview

A consular officer will interview the candidate to decide whether or not he or she is eligible for a student visa to the US. To get a visa, the applicant must demonstrate that he or she fits the conditions set out by US law. As part of the application procedure, ink-free digital fingerprint scans are taken. They are often taken at the visa interview, however, this varies by region.

The consular official may find that the application requires additional administrative processing following the visa interview. If this is needed, the consular officer will notify the applicant. After the visa is issued, the applicant may be required to pay a visa issuance fee (if applicable to your nationality) and make arrangements for the passport and visa to be returned.

Step 7: Entering the US

Finally, the last step is to enter the USA. A US study visa does not ensure access to the country. A visa enables a foreign national to travel to a US port of entry (usually an airport) and request authorisation to enter the country. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the port of entry can grant or prohibit entrance to the United States. A CBP official will make this choice when you show your passport, visa, and Form I-20 at the point of entry. Once you have been granted entry into the United States, a CBP employee will provide you with an admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record.


Convert Student Visa to Green Card 

Under certain situations, an F-1, M-1, or J-1 student visa holder may apply for a Green Card. The following are possible "entry routes" to becoming a Permanent Resident (Green Card holder):

  • A US employer applies on your behalf for an employment-based Green Card.

  • You marry a US citizen and obtain a Green Card through marriage.

  • You are the winner of the Green Card Lottery.

  • You have refugee status.

  • One of your parents is a citizen of the United States.

Note: The Green Card Lottery is the simplest route to move from studying abroad in the United States to become a lawful resident with Permanent Residency and a work permit. You have a good chance of becoming one of the 55,000 annual Green Card recipients.

In summary, Indian students wanting to pursue higher education in the USA can apply under different US student visa types. There are two types of study visas in the US. The F visa, M visa, and J visa are for study exchange programmes. Students are awarded a study visa for the USA based on the course and institute to which they apply. A visitor (B) visa is required to participate in a short recreational study programme in the USA.

Want to seek help to apply for a student visa to study abroad? Get in touch with our experts at and kickstart your study abroad journey!

Know Which US Student Visa You Should Apply For?


What is the wait time for the US student visas?

The waiting period for visa interview appointments varies according to your location and visa category. On the US Department of State's visa appointment wait times page, you may see the most recent times at your local embassy or consulate. No more than 120 days before the start date of a degree programme can a new student visa be provided. If you are already in the middle of your studies and need to apply for a visa extension, you can do so at any time as long as you are correctly classified in SEVIS as a United States student visa holder. It is recommended that you apply for your visa as soon as you obtain your I-20 or DS-2019 documents from your educational institution or sponsor.

Can my family come to the USA with me?

If you come to the United States on an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa, your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany you on an F-2, M-2, or J-2 visa and stay for the duration of your studies. You must also register your family members with SEVIS (SEVIS Dependent Form), complete the DS-160 form for each individual, and give documentation of your relationship for this to be possible.

What are the different types of US visas issued to Indian students?

The US government offers three types of US student visa: F, J, and M. You must first apply for and be accepted by a U.S. institution of higher education that is approved by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program before you may apply for an F, J, or M student visa (SEVP).

When should one apply for a US student Visa?

Given that appointments are frequently full 2-3 months in advance, it is always highly recommended that candidates or students apply for US student visa around 3 months before their anticipated date of departure to the USA. In addition, visa applications are being scrutinised more closely than in the past.

Can international students work on F1 Visa?

Yes, Indian or foreign students can work in the US on an F-1 student visa. Students will, however, be subject to some F-1 visa requirements and restrictions, such as the fact that they can only work part-time on campus while their academic semester is in session. They can also only work a total of 20 hours each week.

What one can do after completing his/her graduation on an F-1 visa?

You will be given 60 days following the completion of your programme under your F-1 visa. To remain in the US, you must enrol in a university, transfer to another institution to acquire a new I-20 form, or request to modify your visa status. International students can also stay for up to a year and find temporary work in their primary subject of study. After completing their education, individuals must apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

What do you mean by the SEVIS fee for US student visa applicants?

The Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a web-based system operated by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It keeps track of all international and exchange students who come to the United States. SEVIS registration is required for universities/colleges. To begin your US student visa application for the United States, you must pay the SEVIS cost in addition to the visa application fee.

What is the difference between F-1 visa students and M-1 visa students?

F-1 and M-1 students both come to the US with the same basic goal in mind: to successfully finish a programme of study approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). F-1 students, on the other hand, attend more traditional academic programmes, and M-1 students attend vocational programmes.

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