Nonimmigrants Who Are Allowed to Study in the US

Foreign nationals ("aliens" or non-US citizens) come to the US on temporary or nonimmigrant visas for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they come to visit family or to take a vacation, and sometimes to work. Even though you're here on a valid visa, however, doesn't mean that you can take advantage of all the things that the US has to offer.

For example, unless you're here on a student visa, your ability to go to school and study while in the US may be limited. Exactly which nonimmigrants are allowed to study while in the US? That's a complicated question. The answer depends on several things, like the kind of visa involved, and whether it's the visa holder or his wife or his child who wants to study. Fortunately, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is one of the agencies in charge of enforcing US immigration laws, has a detailed chart that shows the information you may need.

The chart breaks down most of the various types of nonimmigrant visas and shows whether the visa holder, his spouse, and his children can attend school in the US. It also shows what types of schooling are available, such as elementary school, high school, and post-secondary education, like college.

Many nonimmigrant visas allow you and your family to study in the US, but some don't. For example, foreign nationals in the US on a transit (C) visa generally can't attend school while they're in the US. On the other hand, nonimmigrant artists and athletes, as well as their spouses and minor children, can study in the US. Likewise, fiancés of US citizens generally can go to school.

If you have a nonimmigrant visa, or if you're thinking of applying for one, and you plan on attending school while in the US, you need to look at the ICE chart carefully. If you're still uncertain, talk to an experienced immigration lawyer. After all, you don't want to pay tuition or other education expenses just to find out later that you're not allowed to go to school here and possibly lose your money. Or, worse still, you would violate the terms of your visa and risk being denied a visa in the future.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I came to the US on a visa based upon my engagement to a US citizen, and I started to take college courses. My fiancĂ© broke-up with me and the wedding is off. Is there any way I can stay in the US and finish school?
  • My husband has a visa as an official of our native country's government, and we've been here for three years. My children have been in elementary school the whole time we've been here. He's been recalled home by the government for an indefinite period. Is it possible for me to stay here with our children so that they can finish school?
  • I'm here on a visitor's visa for short-term work I'm doing for a US company. Can I take English classes at a vocational school while I'm here?
  • If I'm already in the US on one type of visa, and I decide I'd like to go to school here, can I apply for a different type of visa while I'm in the US if I'll need to stay here legally for school purposes?
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