In the United States, there are three primary student visa types: F, J, and M. 

Visa Types

  • F-1 Student Visa: for study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute
  • J-1 Exchange Visa: for participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study
  • M-1 Student Visa: for non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States

Valid student visas are required to apply to the Department of Homeland Security for admission into the United States at the port of entry. Students' Form I-20 document (F and M visas) or DS-2019 document (J visas), that are issued by their institution, is what allows them to maintain student status in the United States even if a visa expires during their studies. 

To issue I-20 or DS-2019 documentation for student visas, U.S. institutions must be certified by the Department of Homeland Security SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) (F, M visas) or designated by the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (J visas), respectively. 

Although an institution certified by SEVP to issue I-20s (F, M visas), the institution may not hold national or regional accreditation. Recognition of course credits and degrees by other institutions and by U.S. and international employers is linked to an institution's accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases list all U.S. institutions' accreditation. Note that institutions designated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to place participants in Academic Exchange programs (J visas) must be accredited.

Two separate U.S. government agencies manage international student arrival and status while studying in the United States. The U.S. Department of State is responsible for the initial visa application process and issuance. Once a visa holder arrives in the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security then acts as the responsible agency for granting entry into the country, as well as enforcing immigration regulations that affect international students once they are in the United States.