Maintaining Your F1 Visa Status
Congratulations! You’ve been issued your F1 visa and you are an official student in the USA. With this victory comes big responsibility. Now that you are in the US, you must maintain your F1 visa.
To remain in legal F1 visa status, you should follow these steps very carefully:
- Check in with your International Office
- Meet with your DSO as soon as you arrive in the US
- Keep your passport valid
- Maintain full-time enrollment
- Extend your I-20 as needed
- Apply for a new I-20 as needed
- Obtain special permission to work
- Carry your passport and your I-94 card with you at all times
- Change your status or depart the US in a timely manner
Check in with your International Office within 30 days of your arrival
You’ll need to make sure your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records are up to date and your international student office can assist you with this. You don’t want to run into any issues with law enforcement or government officials during your stay so ensure you also keep your address up to date during your time in the US.
Meet with your designated school official (DSO) as soon as you arrive in the US
It’s very important that you meet with your DSO upon entering the US. They have important information concerning the legal requirements that you have while you are staying in the US. Think of your DSO as a counselor. You can go to them with any questions or changes during the course of your time studying abroad.
Keep your passport valid
You will need your passport in order to gain entry to the US. Your passport should be valid for at least six months into the future. If you need to, your passport can be renewed by your home country’s consulate or embassy.
Maintain full-time enrollment
Full-time enrollment may differ depending on your student status. Usually, to be considered full-time in an undergraduate program, you will need to enroll in at least 12 credit hours each semester during the academic year. This equates to four 3 credit hour courses per semester. On the other hand, graduate students will need to do a little more research. Remaining legal in F1 status will require you to check with your program frequently to see if you are meeting the required amount of credit hours.
Extend your I-20 as needed
Sometimes program completion can take longer than expected. Fortunately, in most cases, you can extend your I-20 if you need more time to complete your studies. To ensure you can maintain your F1 visa you will just need to contact your International Office at least 30 days prior to the end date in Section 3 of your Form I-20.
Apply for a new I-20 as needed
If you are planning to start a new program, be sure to apply for a new I-20. Before you start the new program, you must apply for a new I-20 at least 60 days before the completion of your first program. You may be required to show evidence of funding.
Obtain special permission to work
Working off-campus without prior approval from your international student office and the Department of Homeland Security is a serious violation of your F1 visa regulations and it could result in deportation. However, all F1 students are allowed to work part-time on-campus. All you have to do is complete an I-9 form with your International Office.
Carry your passport and your I-94 card with you at all times
While in the US you could run into law enforcement. You’ll need to carry your passport and I-94 card with you to prove your legal F1 visa status.
Change your status or depart the US in a timely manner
After you complete your program, you will have 60 days to depart the US. However, you may be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), or to change your immigration status. You should speak with your DSO about both of these options if you are considering extending your stay in the US. You’ll want to make sure to do this prior to your program completion date.
Retaining your legal F1 visa status is extremely important to remain in the United States as an international student. It’s important to take these steps seriously in order to maintain your F1 status. It’s also important to stay up-to-date on new US immigration policies that might take place during your stay in the US.