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Students and Exchange Visitors
Form I-20 or DS-2019 (State Dept.)

Form I-20 or DS-2019.

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.   
  2. Education USA has more information about obtaining an I-20.

  3. 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
  4. You must pay your SEVIS fee before your interview. (Dependant visas F-2, J-2 and M-2 are exempt from the SEVIS fee).  
  5. 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!
  6. 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 visitors must follow the nonimmigrant visa application process.

It is important to find out what role accreditation plays in your field, since it may affect your professional future, as well as the quality of your education. Department of Education’s website has a database of all accredited post secondary institutions and programs that includes who they are accredited by. The database is updated every three months and includes if a school loses or resigns their accreditation.  You can search one school at a time or download the entire list from -  

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.

Complete fee information is available here.


Student Resources

What NOT to Bring