Student Visa Questions

What you need to do to maintain your student status.

  • Your eligibility for employment, school transfers, program changes, and more depends on maintaining lawful status. To maintain your student status, you must:
  • Remain enrolled full time at the institution you are authorized to attend.
  • Hold a valid, current Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students (I-20) Form. 
  • Maintain a passport that is valid for at least six months into the future (passport agreements between the U.S. and several countries allow for exceptions to this rule).
  • Have appropriate authorization for any work and not be employed for more than 20 hours per week on campus while classes are in session.

Students who are maintaining status are permitted an annual vacation period during the year if they intend to enroll the following term.

Transferring Between Institutions

If you have maintained your status you may transfer to another college or university as long as you follow the proper procedures, and the new institution is permitted by the USCIS to enroll F-1 students.

Plan ahead. Speak with the international admissions assistant or DSO at the new institution to learn what information and papers may be required from your current institution. Inform your current DSO and advisor that you are transferring. Report to your new DSO as soon as you arrive on your new campus. The new DSO will notify USCIS of your transfer. If you plan to leave the U.S. during the transfer, consult both your current and new DSO.

Changing Status

What happens if your plans change radically and you no longer wish to be a full-time student? Under U.S. law, you cannot remain in the U.S. on a student visa unless you are a student. Before you quit school, learn everything you can about changing to another immigration status. If you violate your current status, you will not be allowed to change to any other status. As a first step, get the advice of your DSOs. If they do not have the expert information you need, they may refer you to an immigration attorney. Whatever you do, do not rush things. Changing to another immigration status usually takes many months. To initiate the process, you must file a petition with the USCIS, and you may not receive a response for several months to more than a year. If you are seeking to change to a status in which employment is permitted, you must not begin employment until you receive an approval notice from the USCIS.

If you change your status while in the U.S. and then leave the country, you will have to obtain a new entry visa under the new status before returning to the U.S. Do not re-enter using your F-1 visa unless you plan to be a full-time student again.

Academic Changes

International students, like domestic students, sometimes find themselves in unusual situations or develop new interests that require a change of major, degree program or university. If you are maintaining status, you may make such changes as long as you follow USCIS procedures. If you are unsure of those procedures, consult a campus DSO well in advance of any change. If you do not, you could find yourself in serious trouble with USCIS.

Travel and Re-entry

Whenever you leave the U.S. be sure you have all the documents you will need to re-enter. Have your Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students (I-20) Form endorsed by a DSO on your campus. Verify that the information on your Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students (I-20) Form is still accurate.

Check your U.S. entry visa (which is stamped in your passport) to be sure that it is still valid for additional entries. If not, get a new entry visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate while you are abroad. (Special circumstances apply if you are traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean and will not be gone for more than 31 days. Consult your DSO).

When you apply for a new entry visa, the visa officer at the U.S. Consulate will ask to see updated financial documentation. Contact the consulate in advance to find out how long it will take to obtain a visa. If you are traveling to a country other than your home country, you may need an entry visa and should contact that country's nearest embassy or consulate for information.

Questions? Email the Office for International Programming at