Foreigners and Immigrants Studying in the United States

Students from Abroad: Overview & Regulations

Beginning with the Immigration Act of 1924, the United States has always allowed foreign students to travel to the U.S. and reside here while attending accredited higher education programs. These students present an attractive demographic: Most are young adults from hardworking families abroad who are hungry for the sort of knowledge and educational experience to be gained in American universities and colleges.

Access to an American Education: Hope and Danger

Although U.S. law does not permit government financial assistance to foreign students, many such students are among the best and brightest of their class, and they often receive some form of assistance from the college at which they are accepted. They are the hope for their respective countries’ futures.

In fact, the cultural enrichment goes both ways—foreign students contribute their different perspectives to American culture, and likewise they learn about the United States in ways that may help them during their business and professional careers, and further help people living in the students’ home countries to better understand and harmonize with American values.

However, since 9-11 concerns about the dangers from domestic terrorism have led to additional security measures to help safeguard U.S. borders. Unfortunately, several of the 9-11 terrorists had been residing legally in the United States on student visas. This border-tightening measure has had the unwanted effect of making it significantly more difficult for foreign students to enter and remain in the United States for higher education, regardless of their academic qualification, institutional support or country of origin.

Academics and Business People Agree

Although the need for domestic security remains, competitive pressures, academic voices, and market needs have moved legislatures toward a loosening of the restrictions. The general sense is that to remain competitive in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the U.S. must admit more foreign students. Questions are being raised, and the guidelines are increasingly being applied intelligently.

Types of Student Visas for Foreigners

All immigrant higher-education students are issued visas according to one of three types: F, M or J. All three types of  visas are subject to tracking and monitoring by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Importantly, the numbers of requested and processed visa applications in each category have nearly doubled within the past five years.

The three types are:

  • F Visas for academic study
  • M Visas for vocational study
  • J Visas for students for cultural exchange

The F Visa is the most common type for foreign students. It is used for the admission of non-immigrant (i.e. temporary) candidates for college and university programs. It generally permits residency through the duration of the student’s enrollment in a U.S. program. The J Visa is for Fulbright scholars and other advanced and post-graduate academic candidates, and cultural exchanges. And, the M Visa is intended for students in vocational programs, yet this type is rarely used.

In order to be accepted, the student visa applicant must not only show academic credentials and acceptance from the desired college, but must also show financial ability to support himself or herself for a period of twelve months. Also, spouses and children can accompany the student, yet all who enter the U.S. must pass the security checks by DHS and other U.S. agencies before being permitted to reside here.

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