The student visa is one of the most common ways to gain entry to the United States for an extended period – but that doesn’t always mean the process is easy. There are not only different classifications of the word “student” according to the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), but there will be different steps along the way to consider when looking for entry into the country, even on a student basis.


There is no one universal “student visa,” contrary to what you might have heard. Instead, the USCIS establishes several classifications of student visas—including visas for those who are spouses or children of academic or vocational students. Additionally, the distinct types of students traveling to the United States necessitates different types of visas:

Different Types of Students and Student Visas

When most people use the phrase “students,” they’re typically referring to academic students – those students who are in the United States to learn in a classroom setting. And while this is the most common type of student, it doesn’t mean that it’s the only type. Here are a few of the different classifications of students (and those individuals traveling to the U.S. on student visas) according to the USCIS:

Academic students. Academic students are the most common type of students, with the F-1 Visa. For most people looking into entry into the United States for studying purposes, the F-1 Visa is the most likely type of Visa you will hold. However, there are a number of other classifications to consider, including…

Spouses and children. Those attending school in the U.S. in an academic setting will come on the F-1 Visa. But the F-2 refers to those who are spouses and children of the F-1 Visa holder. These individuals are not required to be students themselves, but the F-2 Visa is still related to student activity. There will also be some proof required to verify the relationships as espoused in F-2 Visa applications.

Canadian or Mexican national academic commuter students. The United States holds a special relationship with these two countries when it comes to academic study abroad, which is why the F-3 Visa is allowed for those studying in the U.S. from either Canada or Mexico.

Vocational students. Those taking up work in a vocational/learning endeavor will use the M-1 Visa when coming to the United States. (Similarly, spouses and children of M-1 students would then hold the M-2 Visa when applicable).

Canadian or Mexican national vocational commuter students. Just as was the case with F-type Visas, the M-type visas allow for the special relationship between the U.S. and two other bordering nations in North America.

J-Visas. “J Visas” refer to exchange visitors (and their spouses/children) who have come to the United States on a student exchange basis.

Why does this matter? The type of student you are will determine which visa you’ll apply for. These are generally broken into two types: F and M visas, or academic and vocational student visas. Before moving on with the student visa application process, it’s important to understand where your own student ambitions might classify you based on the type of study you’re seeking in the U.S.

Requirements for a Student Visa in the United States

Achieving a student visa with USCIS requires that individuals meet certain requirements, including the following:

Being enrolled in an academic educational, vocational, or language-training program in the United States.

Being enrolled with a specific institution (a school) approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program. For more information.

Being proficient in English, or at least being enrolled in classes that are designed to build English proficiency.

Maintaining a residence abroad that you have no intention of renouncing or giving up. This establishes the intent to return abroad, which is critical in demonstrating non-immigrant intent.

How do you know whether you fit the criteria? Here are a few common scenarios that might help:

Full-time students at accredited colleges or universities.

This is one of the most common student visa situations. Those who are enrolled on a full-time basis with accredited colleges or universities, elementary schools, seminaries, conservatories, or even academic high schools will have eligibility for student visas. These programs should ultimately lead to a diploma, degree, or certificate, thus demonstrating that the efforts of learning in the United States aren’t supposed to be ongoing, but instead with a demonstrated goal and a deadline of achievement.


Vocational students include nonacademic or vocational programs outside of language training.

Employment Status with a Student Visa

There are specific limitations on employment status with Student Visas that help ensure that those visiting the United States don’t flaunt labor laws through the visa privilege. F-1 students are not allowed to work off-campus during the first “academic year” of studies, but may be allowed to take on-campus work in specific circumstances. After that year, F-1 students can then participate in off-campus employment that meets specific criteria.

For both types of students, the work involved must match their field of study. That is why it’s important to understand that Student Visas are not convenient ways to visit the U.S., but a specific program designed for those with specific learning goals in the United States. For more information on student visas and your eligibility, contact Reeves Immigration Law Group.

Subscribe to Newsletter