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Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association


22 Jan 2015 10:48 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

Congress enacted limitations on certain foreign students planning to study in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools. The "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996," which took effect on November 30, 1996, places the following restrictions on students seeking F-1 visas who wish to study at public secondary schools. The student (or his or her sponsor) is required to reimburse the public secondary school for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of education for the intended period of study. Proof that such tuition has been paid must be evidenced on the I-20A-B application form for the visa. Waivers are not allowed. This law also limits school attendance to a maximum of 12 months for secondary students under F-1 visas. Overseas advisors should know that this law additionally prohibits attendance in public elementary schools, K-8, or publicly-funded adult education programs by any individuals coming under F-1 status. These restrictions do not apply to students who come to the United States under a J-1 visa, nor do they apply to private schools. Violating the law or failure to reimburse the school district can lead to a student being barred from the United States for five years.

The F-1 foreign student's obligations under U.S. immigration regulations are to:

·         provide evidence that the unsubsidized cost of tuition for any academic study in the United States is paid in order to obtain their visa

·         have sufficient financial resources for the anticipated stay in the United States

·         have a residence abroad to return to upon completion of the program in the United States

·         always maintain lawful immigration status while in the United States by keeping a valid passport, not working without authorization, and leaving the United States upon expiration of the visit or securing an extension of permission to stay if needed.

F-1 non-immigrant students must maintain a full course load while in the United States. They must follow a specific transfer procedure if they change schools. They are eligible for certain types of employment, provided the Designated School Official or DHS grants permission before the employment begins.

Both the F-1 Visa and M-1 Visa are non-immigration student visas which allow international students to study and live full-time in the US. If you want to study more than 18 hours a week at any course of study you will need to secure either an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa. First, however, you will need to determine which type of student visa is right for you.

The F-1 Visa is designed for students who will be attending and academic program or full-time degree program at a university, school, or college which is approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If you will be attending any traditional style of school were you will be studying a traditional type of academic program, such as the arts, humanities, sciences, or technology, you will need the F-1 Visa. You also need the F-1 Visa if you will be attending high school or elementary school in the United States and are not a US Citizen or Green card holder. If you are taking language classes in order to master English in the US, you may also need to apply for the F-1 Visa, depending on where you will be studying English.

The F-1 Visa also gives you more options and a little more flexibility than the M-1 visa. For example, the F-1 Visa is usually granted for four years or more, and allows you to transfer to a university or college more easily. If you have the F-1 Visa, you can also sponsor your unmarried children and spouse as dependents. They can live and stay with you in the US with an F-2 visa while you pursue your studies.

The M-1 Visa is used for vocational and nonacademic courses of studies. If you are engaged in some types of language programs, flight school, technical studies, cooking classes, some types of technical studies, cosmetology programs, religious vocational schools, and other types of degree programs that do not fall into the traditional academic category, you will need to apply for the M-1 Visa. You may also need the M-1 Visa if you are applying for a school which is not approved as a traditional institution. Some non accredited schools, for example, may require you to apply for the M-1 Visa because the school is not approved as a traditional faculty of learning.

Generally, the M-1 Visa is granted for shorter periods of time than the F-1 visa, since the nonacademic and vocational programs offered at most US schools are of shorter duration. In general, you can stay in the US for two years with the M-1 Visa. The M-1 Visa is generally granted for one year at a time and you may apply for extensions after that. There are also more restrictions with the M-1 Visa. For example, you cannot continue on to an academic or university program on your M-1 Visa; you will need to apply for the F-1 visa. As well, when studying in the United States under the M-1 Visa, you must maintain full-time course status. You can only reduce your course studies to part time for medical reasons and only for up to six months. As well, you can only transfer schools within the first six months of your course of studies.



A J-1 visa is known as an exchange visitor, holders of this visa are participating in a program that's aim is to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries (programs can be like student studies, or short term visits, etc.). It is monitored and exchange visitors and programs are accepted into it by department of state. A lot of programs require that the exchange visitor return to their home country for at least two years after the program has ended in order to pass along the cultural learnings. See the state department website for more information: 

An F-1 is a student visa that allows a foreign national to enter into certain levels of study in the U.S., even public high school, providing that they have the necessary funds to pay for school tuition. Attendance is limited to 12 months for a public secondary school, though, so if you wanted to spend your entire high school career in the U.S., you would have to attend a private institution.

Department of State rules for student visa.pdffederal handbook on visas for foreign students. - 1.pdf

federal handbook on visas for foreign students. - 1.pdf


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