Obtaining an "M-1 Vocational Student Visa" in California

Foreigners with M-1 visas may come into the U.S. to attend vocational schools in California. The two main requirements for getting an M-1 visa are

  1. being accepted to a vocational/technical school, and
  2. having sufficient funds to study full-time.

M-1 visas cost a total of $360. Foreigners with M-1 visas must take a full course load and are not allowed to have a job. They have only thirty (30) days to stay in the U.S. after their training ends. 

In this article, our California immigration lawyers answer frequently-asked-questions about M-1 vocational student visas in California. Click on a topic to jump to that section. 

For information on academic student visas, go to our article on F-1 academic student visas.

There is no cap on the amount of vocational student M-1 visas the U.S. can issue to international students.

1. Can I get an M-1 visa in California?

M-1 visas may be issued to non-citizens who meet these five prerequisites:

  1. The foreigner is not a U.S. citizen;
  2. The foreigner has already been accepted by a vocational school pre-approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
  3. The foreigner intends to leave the U.S. after the vocational program ends.
  4. The foreigner has connections to his/her home country, such as financial assets, parents, spouses, and/or children.
  5. The foreigner has enough money to cover his/her room and board, tuition, and other living expenses while in the U.S.

Note that M-1 visa students are required to maintain a full course load and achieve the diploma, associates degree, or certificate applicable to their training.1

2. Which California schools take M-1 visa students?

Several junior colleges, community colleges, and career institutes in California welcome M-1 visa students through SEVP. A sampling of SEVP-approved schools in Los Angeles include:

International students flock to Los Angeles especially to study acting and other aspects of film production. See a full list of California SEVP vocational schools.2

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3. How do I apply for an M-1 visa?

The first step is for the foreigner to get accepted to a SEVP-approved vocational school. Part of this process is showing the school that the foreigner has health insurance and enough money to support him/herself.

The second stop is for the foreigner to complete an I-20 form. An I-20 form is simply a certificate of eligibility to apply for an M-1 visa.

The third step is to complete the formal M-1 visa application--the DS-160 form.

Finally, the foreigner will attend a visa interview and bring supporting documentation, including:

  • a passport
  • a travel itinerary
  • dates of the last five (5) occasions the foreigner traveled to the U.S. (if applicable)
  • a résumé

Note that there is no cap on the number of foreigners who can get M-1 visas in any one year.3

4. How much does it cost to get an M-1 visa?

The SEVP fee comes to $200, and the M-1 visa fee comes to $160.4

M-1 visa holders are not allowed to be employed while attending vocational school.

5. How long does it take to get an M-1 visa?

It can take as little as three months, but the time frame may last up to a year.5

6. Can I transfer schools on an M-1 visa?

M-1 students may transfer schools within six (6) months of either:

  • coming to the U.S., or
  • switching to M-1 status from another non-immigrant visa status.

Note that M-1 transfer students are held to the same academic and financial requirements as before the transfer.6

7. Can I work while on an M-1 visa?

No. But in some cases, M-1 visa holders can take part in an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program after school ends.7

8. How long are M-1 visas good for?

M-1 visas expire 30 days after the vocational program ends. However, students who violate their visa terms waive the 30-day grace period and must leave the U.S. right away.8

Call a California immigration attorney...

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Call our California immigration attorneys at (855) LAWFIRM for a FREE consultation.

If you are a non-citizen who would like to come to California for vocational training, contact our Los Angeles immigration attorneys at (855) LAWFIRM for a free consultation. We can help you through the M-1 visa application process.

Go to our California visa main page.

Also see our article on M-1 visas in Nevada.

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