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U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Study in the States

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Use the Study in the States glossary to define key terms throughout the F and M student process in the United States. If you are a current or prospective student, select “students” to see terms that specifically relate to you—from visas, to forms, benefits, and more. School officials should select “schools” to find more information on certification, responsibilities, and how to help their F and M students. You can also sort terms by selecting the letter of the alphabet a term begins with.


A document issued by the Department of State that enables a student or exchange visitor to travel to a U.S. port of entry and request permission to enter the United States. Students need either an F-1 or M‑1 visa to enroll in U.S. programs of study.

Visa-Exempt Country

Certain countries, including Canada and Bermuda, whose citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States and may apply at the U.S. port of entry for F-1, M-1, or J-1 nonimmigrant status. Citizens of these countries must still:

  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee
  • Receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”
  • Maintain status
Visa-Waiver Country

A group of 38 countries who have an agreement with the Department of State allowing their citizens to enter the United States without a visa for 90 days or less for “business, tourism, visiting or pleasure.” If citizens from visa waiver countries want to study in the United States, they need to be accepted to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school and apply for an F or M visa.


People who give time and effort but do not receive any form of payment. F and M students may volunteer as long as they do not receive any form of taxable income. If the position is one for which an employer would otherwise officially hire someone, you may work there only with all necessary employment authorization.