The F-1 student visa is the most common visa used by international students studying in the US. Over 385,000 F-1 visas were issued in 2010, so you are not alone! As a student on an F-1 visa in the US, you are primarily responsible for ensuring that you follow the rules of your visa status. Key points to remember are:
- Know the regulations on working in the US: With an F-1 visa, you may only work on-campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session. All other employment, if allowed, requires prior authorization. Working off-campus without authorization is a serious violation of your visa status and puts you at risk for deportation. With the F-1 visa, you may be entitled to Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) both of which require prior authorization. We discuss these options further during orientation.
- Study full-time: As an undergraduate student, you must enroll in a minimum of 12 credit hours each semester, and as a graduate student, you must enroll in 9 credit hours, unless you are enrolled in our MBA program, in which the minimum is 6 credit hours per 8-week term. The first semester is from August to December; the second semester is January to May. (If you are enrolled in the minimum number of credit hours, you are restricted to one online course each semester.) Enrollment in our summer break classes is optional.
- Make normal progress towards completing your academic program: A specific program end date is reported on your I-20 (item #5) and you need to complete your program by that date. Federal law gives limited and specific reasons for legally extending this date.
- Obtain travel authorization signatures before leaving the US: On page three of the I-20, the DSO signs to authorize re-entry to the US. A new travel signature is recommended every 6 months and is required every 12 months.
- Report any address or legal name changes to International Student Services: Federal law requires reporting any name or address change within 10 days of the change. This reporting is required even during the OPT work authorization period.
- Keep a valid I-20: Know your academic program completion date on your I-20 (item #5). As you approach your I-20 expiration date, speak to International Student Services about your options after the completion of your program. Failure to extend your I-20 or change to another visa type after your academic program ends means you are out of status with immigration.
- Keep a valid passport: Be aware of your passport expiration date. Request a renewal six months before its expiration by contacting your country's embassy. If your valid visa is in your old passport, travel with both passports or have your visa transferred.
- After the program end date, do not stay in the US for more than the 60 day grace period:
You need a new status to stay more than 60 days beyond the program end date listed (item #5) on your I-20.
If International Student Services gets constructive knowledge that you are working illegally or not maintaining your status, federal law requires that we report that to the US government in SEVIS.
Keys to Success
Friends, family, and faculty advisors have good intentions and try to advise students, but they are not always dependable sources of information about immigration rules. Following wrong advice could have very severe consequences for your legal status.
If you have questions about your visa status, talk to us! Immigration laws are complex and are under constant revision. School policies and environment also factor into maintaining federal compliance. What is appropriate in one school may not be appropriate in another.