Maintaining Visa Status
Congratulations, USCIS has approved your F-1 Student Visa. Now you are in charge of fully maintaining your F1 international status. During this time you may want to change schools upon completion of your program of study, enroll in additional programs, travel, bring your relatives over from your home country, or take a vacation. You need to stay informed about the rules governing these processes in order to be aware of your rights and responsibilities. Below are some guidelines to help you maintain visa status.
- SEVIS Record
- Full-time enrollment
- Length of Study
- MLOA (Medical Leave of Absence)
- Travel Outside the U.S.
- Change of Address
- Completion of Studies
- Academic Failure
- Academic Reinstatement
- Enrollment at the beginning of every session (excluding authorized break periods)
- Address changes within 10 days of the change
- Change in sources of financial support
- Change in course load
- Change in program of study
- Change in academic status
- Intent to travel outside the United States
- Application for change of immigration status
- Need to extend program
- Intent to transfer
- Change in dependent status
In order to maintain F-1 student visa status you need to be enrolled in full time studies at an institution approved by USCIS for attendance by foreign students, such as BIR. The definition of full-time studies varies depending on the type of institution you are attending. Should unforeseen circumstances arise which force you to decrease course load, or drop a class, you first should discuss the change with your school’s DSO to learn of the impact the change in class load would have on your legal status of foreign student. Each term you need to insure that you are registered for classes in your school, so that the DSO will re-register you in SEVIS. Should the DSO fail to re-register you in SEVIS, you will immediately lose your legal status regardless of the expiration date on your Form I-20.
You may stay legally in the United States as long as you are a full time student. BIR has a maximum 28 month length of study, which means that you can stay legally in the U.S. for 28 months even if the expiration date on your F-1 visa or study completion date on your original Form I-20 has expired. However, your F-1 needs to be issued for “Duration of Status” (abbreviated in your passport, Form I-94, Form I-20 card as "D/S"). At the time when your F-1 Visa is extended beyond the original expiration date, you should obtain a new Form I-20 with the new expiration date from your school’s DSO. This will help you keep track of your new expiration date and insure that your information is properly updated in the SEVIS database. However, if you depart the U.S. with an expired visa page in your passport, or without an F-1 visa page (in case you changed status to F-1 while in the U.S.) you will need to obtain a new F-1 Visa before returning to America and resuming your studies. A student visa to enter the U.S. can be issued only at an Embassy or Consulate abroad.
An F-1 student at an academic institution is considered to be in status during the annual (or summer) vacation if the student is eligible and intends to register for the next term. A student attending a school on a quarter or trimester calendar who takes only one vacation a year during any one of the quarters or trimesters instead of during the summer is considered to be in status during that vacation, if the student has completed the equivalent of an academic year prior to taking the vacation.
In circumstances where a medical condition requires absence from classes you will need to fill out the required paperwork. BIR provides an MLOA form for this purpose.
When you enter the U.S. on a student visa you can legally reside in the U.S. as long as you are a full time student in a USCIS approved institution. If you plan on traveling outside the U.S. make sure you are aware of the following:
- You need a Form I-20 with current information that is signed by the DSO on pages one and three allowing travel outside of the United States
- Your visa and passport need to still be valid at the time you reenter the U.S. (this means that the expiration date on your visa has not passed at the time of reentry)
- You cannot reenter the U.S. during the grace period granted after completing a program of study (unless the student has traveled to Canada, Mexico, or a contiguous island)
- An authorized travel abroad period, in which you stay in contact with school, is the most common vacation period. A five month travel period abroad applies to those who have serious reasons (medical condition, surgery, etc.)
If you move and change your mailing address while awaiting USCIS approval of your application to change status to F-1 foreign student, you must notify the DSO and USCIS within ten days of filing the Change of Address form. This is essential, even after you have received F-1 foreign student status. Failing to do so may result in academic problems and potentially lead to a loss of F-1 legal status.See AR-11 (Change of Address form)
A foreign student who has completed a course of study and any authorized practical training following completion of studies is allowed an additional 60-day period to prepare for departure from the United States or to transfer to a different academic institution approved by USCIS. A foreign student authorized by the DSO to withdraw from classes will be allowed 15-day period for departure from the United States. However, an F-1 student who fails to maintain a full course of study without the approval of the DSO or otherwise fails to maintain status is not eligible for an additional period for departure. Even if the foreign student overstays his departure period and falls out of status, under certain circumstances he may still apply for reinstatement of F-1 status.
Lack of attendance, academic failure or other types of academic, disciplinary and other violations of the school’s policies may jeopardize your standing as a student in a school and result in expulsion. You need to be familiar with the policies of the school you are attending to insure that you are always in compliance with them. Expulsion from the school which has issued you the most current Form I-20 would cause you to lose the status of Foreign Student and the right to legally remain in the United States. Under such circumstances, the student is expected to depart the United States immediately. Under certain circumstances student may apply for reinstatement of F-1 status.
If you have lost Foreign Student status due to academic or disciplinary violations within your control, the Foreign Student status can not be reinstated. You can apply for Foreign Student status reinstatement within 5 months after the loss of status if the violation resulted from circumstances outside your control (medical, closure of institution, natural disaster, etc.) or if the loss of status resulted from the error or neglect on the part of school’s DSO. The application to reinstate Foreign Student is sent directly to the local District Director of USCIS and includes Form I-539, Form I-20 and the DSO’s recommendation for reinstatement. If you find yourself in the situation which merits application for reinstatement you should contact the DSO of the school where you are intending to pursue education to learn about and begin the process.