Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Students and Exchange Visitors

Start date example

Start date example

Academic Students (F1, F2)

Students planning to pursue degrees in full-time academic programs for bachelors, masters or doctoral programs must obtain F-1 visas.   

Non-Academic Students (M1, M2)

The M-1 visa is for students wishing to pursue non-academic or vocational studies. Typically, these programs are of short duration and lead to  professional or vocational certification rather than an academic degree.

Exchange Visitors (J1, J2)

The J-1 visa is for participants in exchange or trainee programs. Typical J applicants include university professors, researchers, post-doctoral fellows and trainees.  
221(e) Foreign Residency Requirement:  Most J visa holders are required to return to their home country for a minimum of two years after completing the terms of their visa.  You can read more about Section 221(e) and exemptions to it here.

Students and exchange visitor rules:

  1. You must have an approved I-20 (for F and M visas) or an approved DS-2019 (for J visas) issued by the school or sponsoring organization in the United States.  Education USA has more information about obtaining an I-20.
  2. If you are earning academic credit for a class at a U.S. school, even if it is only one course, you will need an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa. Some not-for-credit professional certification courses and seminars can be attended with a B1/B2 tourist visa.  If you are uncertain about which visa you require, please email
  3. You must pay your SEVIS fee before your interview. (Dependant visas F-2, J-2 and M-2 are exempt from the SEVIS fee). 
  4. You may not apply for your visa more than 120 days before the program start date on your Form I-20 or DS-2019. Apply as early as you can!
  5. You may not enter the United States on a student visa more than 30 days before the program start date on your Form I-20 or DS-2019.

How to Apply

Student and exchange v
isitors must follow the nonimmigrant visa application process.

Science and technology applicants may require administrative processing.  In some cases, administrative processing can take 6 to 8 weeks, although it is usually faster. Bring supporting documents to minimize the processing time.  Apply as early as possible to avoid travel delays.


Please check out the complete fe
e information.



Frequently Asked Questions for Students and Exchange Visitors