Maintaining Your Status


I-20. A document issued by a college or university certifying that an international student has been admitted to a program of study and has demonstrated sufficient financial resources to stay in the U.S. The I-20 is officially titled the "Certificate of Eligibility" because with it, you are "eligible" to apply for an F-1 student visa.

I-94. For nonimmigrant visitors entering the United States with a visa, there is a requirement to fill a Form I-94 (a white form, usually stapled in your passport). Form I-94 is a departure record and must be returned to U.S. officials upon exiting the United States.

Visa. A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the US generally must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport. The visa has no bearing on your ability to the stay in the US; it’s only use is for entry into the US. After you enter the U.S., maintenance of your status determines your ability to stay.

Status. Your status is the official U.S. government designation and authorization of your stay in the U.S. as a non-immigrant student.

SEVIS. SEVIS is a web-accessible database that collects, tracks, and monitors information regarding exchange visitors, international students and scholars who enter the US on F, M or J visas. SEVIS is managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Termination. The termination of a SEVIS record invalidates your F-1 status. Terminations are a result of a status violation(s).

Your status as an F-1 student begins the moment you are permitted entry into the US. Before leaving the port of entry, check to make sure this information has been entered in your documents.

Form I-94 Form I-20
I-94 I-20

The officer who reviews your visa and other documents at your port of entry writes your immigration status and the length of time you may remain in the U.S. on your Form I-94 and Form I-20 (shown above). You will probably have “D/S” as the length of stay; it means “duration of status” or until the completion date noted on your Form I-20 #5—providing you continue to maintain the requirements of your status. In most instances, your immigration status and visa category will be the same, F-1, unless you change your status after entering the U.S.

Why is it important to stay in status?

Status violations usually result in the termination of your SEVIS record and notification to relevant government agencies. Students who violate their status risk future denials of visa requests, deportation, and possibly jail. Employment authorization is also contingent on maintaining legal status.

Stay In Legal Status

Maintain a valid I-20:

  • If necessary, request an I-20 extension 30 days before the expiration date on item 5, page 1 of your I-20
  • Request a new I-20 if you change your degree level, major, source of funding, or number of F-2 dependents
  • Request a travel signature from ISSS prior to traveling outside the U.S. Travel signatures are valid for one year (exception for students on OPT). Request travel signatures at least three weeks before your departure. F-2 dependents also require travel signatures.
  • If you decide to study elsewhere in the U.S., request a transfer of your SEVIS record via before beginning studies at your new school.

Note: It is your responsibility to keep all of your I-20s from each of the schools you attend in the U.S. Do not throw any of your I-20s away. When you travel, bring all I-20s with you.

Maintain full-time enrollment:

F-1 students must be enrolled full-time each fall and spring semester (if your program start date is in the summer, you must also be full-time). Enrollment in summer sessions is not required, unless a student begins a program of study in the summer.

Exceptions to full-time enrollment:

There are some exceptions to full-time enrollment requirement. All exceptions must be authorized by ISSS before a drop below full-time. See the section Reducing Your Course Load for more information.

Note: Dropping below full-time without authorization from ISSS is a violation of your F-1 status.

Attend to grace periods:

Be aware of the grace periods associated with your status:

  • You have a 60-day grace period following the completion of your degree program and following the completion of Optional Practical Training (if applicable).
  • If you are dismissed from the university, you have a 21-day grace period beginning the day you are dismissed. Meet with an ISSS advisor as soon as possible.
  • If you receive authorization from ISSS to withdraw from all classes, you have a 15-day grace period, beginning on the date of the withdrawal, during which you must depart the U.S.
  • If you withdraw from all classes without first receiving authorization from ISSS, you have no grace period and must depart the U.S. immediately.

Work only with authorization:

F-1 students must have permission before working. There are only two work categories for F-1 students, they are 1) on-campus and 2) off-campus with prior approval.

  • F-1 students are automatically eligible to work on campus for up to 20 hours per week total while school is in session. During vacation periods (spring, summer, and winter breaks), you may work full-time on campus.
  • To work off-campus, you must apply for and receive authorization before beginning to work. See the sections on CPT and OPT for more information.
  • F-2 dependents may not work.

Keep your address updated:

We are required to have your correct local address on file at all times. Update your address within 10 days of any move, even if the move is only temporary (for example, for a summer internship).

Maintain the validity of your passport:

Keep your passport valid at all times. If your passport will expire soon, contact your embassy. Once you have updated your passport, submit a copy of your new passport page to ISSS.