Differences Between F1, J1, and M1

What Type of Program is this Visa for?

F1: F1 visas are granted to foreign individuals in an academic or English Language program which often involves a core academic curriculum. F1 visas are the most common form of international student visas since it involves a more traditional educational program.

M1: M1 visas are granted to foreign individuals in a non-academic or vocational program, usually without a core academic curriculum. This visa is granted for one year or as long as the M1 holder is enrolled as a full-time student in a vocational program plus thirty days to prepare to leave the country. The M1 visa and Form I-20 can be extended for a maximum of three years. Examples of vocational programs (but not limited to) are cooking classes, technical courses, mechanical classes, flight school, and cosmetology.

J1: J1 visas, or also known as exchange visitor visas, are granted to foreign individuals who intend to participate in an approved program for (but not limited to; teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating specialized skills, receiving training, or receiving graduate medical education or training). These programs include study and work-related exchange programs that the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs approve. Typically, a student in possession of a J1 visa is sponsored by an educational or nonprofit institution.

What is the Vacation Eligibility?

F1: F1 visa holders are eligible for annual vacation only after they complete at least one full academic year at a SEVP-certified school and once every year after that. Annual vacation is an authorized break in a student’s studies that is taken once per academic year and lasts for one term. Furthermore, the F1 student must intend to register for classes in the academic term following their annual vacation. During annual vacation, students can take as many or as few courses as they want. The F1 student is not required to take any classes during their annual vacation. The annual vacation is frequently taken during the summer term but can be taken during another academic term, usually determined by the school’s calendar. Annual vacation is different from a typical school break which occurs when the school closes for a period of time, generally during a U.S. holiday or break from classes such as spring or winter break.

M1: M1 visa holders are not eligible for annual vacation. However, M1 students may travel abroad while the school is not in session, such as weekends, holidays, or time between terms. To travel abroad while school is not in session, the M1 student must continue to maintain their status, which includes staying enrolled in and attending a full course of study.

J1: J1 visa holders are generally eligible for annual vacation but with numerous exceptions. First and foremost, the J1 visa holder must notify their Program Sponsor well in advance to avoid any significant issues. The primary restriction regarding travel outside the United States for J1 visa holders is that they may not travel outside the United States for more than thirty days without being considered to have “abandoned their program.” Furthermore, before leaving the country, the J1 visa holder must ensure that they have a valid travel signature from an O.I.A. advisor or their program sponsor on the DS-2019. The J1 visa holder will not be able to re-enter the United States without one. These vacation restrictions only apply during the J1 visa holder’s program, not after their program has ended.

What is the Flexibility of Major or Course of Study Change?

F1: F1 visa holders may change their educational objective or course of study, also known as a major, when attending an undergraduate college or university. United States regulations do not require government adjudication to change or add academic majors. However, if the F1 student does decide to change their major, they are responsible for maintaining an accurate and updated SEVIS I-20 (Form I-20). This means that the F1 student must notify their international student advisor of a change in major so that a new SEVIS I-20 may be processed and updated. Some schools such as N.Y.U. (providing the major is at the same degree level and campus) do not require the student to apply for a new Form I-20 manually and have O.G.S. automatically send an updated Form I-20 in the case of changing majors or course of study once the program information is updated in the school’s student portal.

M1: An M1 visa holder is generally not permitted to change their course of study. However, certain circumstances may allow the M1 student to transfer to another SEVP-certified school to pursue the same learning objective. This is only permitted within the first six months after arrival into the United States. The M1 holder must receive approval from U.S.C.I.S. by submitting a Form I-539, “Application to extend/change Nonimmigrant Status.”

J1: J1 visa holders may transfer to a different program so long as they have a new program sponsor since the visa is entirely dependent on having a sponsor. Furthermore, the M1 holder’s Form DS-2019 must indicate the new program sponsor.  A prospective J1 visa holder must fall under any of the fifteen categories/occupations to obtain J1 status: Au pair, camp counselor, college or university student, government visitor, intern, international visitor, physician, professor, research scholar, secondary school student, short term scholar, specialist, summer work travel, teacher, or trainee. 

Are there Requirements for Transferring Schools?

F1: F1 visa holders can transfer anytime during their program or begin a new program after completing one. If the F1 student is currently enrolled in a program of study, they must alert the current D.S.O. (designated school officer). The current D.S.O. and D.S.O. at the new school will work with the F1 student to choose a transfer release date. This is the date when the D.S.O. at the transfer-in school takes responsibility for the F1 student’s S.E.V.I.S. record. It is then imperative that the F1 student obtain a new Form I-20 as soon as possible.

M1: M1 visa holders can only transfer within the first six months after arrival and must apply to the U.S.C.I.S. for transfer by filing Form I-539, “Application to extend/change nonimmigrant status.”

J1: If a J1 visa holder is enrolled in a college or university, the J1 student may transfer to another institution in the United States to continue their J1 program. The research or teaching objective of the J1 holder’s stay must remain the same and has to fit within the description of their “Subject/Field Code Remarks” as indicated in box four on the DS-2019 Form issued by the college or university. There is no limit for the number of transfers, but the current J1 program sponsor must approve each transfer. The intent to transfer must be communicated to both the current and new J1 sponsor so the transfer may be executed.

What are the Options for Working?

F1: F1 visa holders can participate in up to four types of work, including on-campus, off-campus for economic hardship, curricular practical training (C.P.T.), and optional practical training (O.P.T.). See article regarding different F1 practical training overview.

M1: M1 visa holders may participate in only one type of work which is practical training (P.T.), one month for every four months of their program. This type of work permission allows students to get on-the-job training that is not available in their home country. Eligible students may have up to six months of practical training after they complete their program. The D.S.O. recommends the practical training with S.E.V.I.S., but it is ultimately up to the student who must apply for the work permit with U.S.C.I.S. using Form I-767.

J1: Certain J1 visa holders will be allowed to work in the United States, but it largely depends on which fifteen J1 categories the visa holder participates in. For example, suppose a J1 holder comes to the United States under the au pair program. In that case, the J1 holder will be allowed to work as a live-in nanny in a private home that has been pre-approved by the program while taking courses at a nearby accredited academic institution. Employment for J1 holders is only authorized under the terms of the enrolled program. J1 visa holders will need to check with their sponsoring agency for more information on any restrictions that may apply to working in the United States. The J1 visa holder may only work for their J1 sponsor, no one else.

When must the F1/M1/J1 Visa Holder Depart the United States?

F1: F1 visa holders have 60 days to depart the United States after completing their academic program (the program end date on Form I-20). If the F1 student wishes to extend their stay in the United States, they must talk to their D.S.O. to transfer to another school, change education level, or apply to change status to another visa.

M1: M1 visa holders have 30 days after completing their program (the program end date on Form I-20) to leave the United States. The latest possible date an M1 student may remain in the United States is the “admit until” date on their Form I-94, “Arrival/ Departure Record.”

J1: The departure period for J1 visa holders largely depends on the program they are participating in. The maximum period that certain J1 visas may be approved for is no more than five years. Also, some J1 programs allow 30 days after their program completion to leave the United States. The J1 visa holder must check with the program they are participating in to know the exact limits on how long they can stay in the United States after their program completion.