Student Visa Questions
Maintaining Student Status
Your eligibility for opportunities such as employment, school transfers and program changes depend on maintaining lawful status. When you enter the US, an immigration inspector asks you to read and sign a statement on the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form. Your signature signifies your agreement to abide by the conditions of F-1 status while in the U.S.
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 Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20.
- Maintain a passport that is valid for at least six months into the future (passport agreements between the US 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.
F-1 students must possess a Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form, from the institution they are attending. The I-20 form is the form F-1 students use to enter the US and to notify the USCIS of a transfer to a new institution or program. Students must complete their course of study by the end date shown on the Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form or request a "program extension" with assistance from a campus designated school official (DSO).
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 US during the transfer, consult both your current and new DSO.
What happens if your plans change radically and you no longer wish to be a full-time student? Under US law, you cannot remain in the US on a student visa unless you are a student. Before you quit school, learn everything you can about changing to another immigration status; inform yourself about what is and what is not possible. 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 DSO's 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 or over 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 US and then leave the country, you will have to obtain a new entry visa under the new status before returning to the US. Do not re-enter using your F-1 visa unless you plan to be a full-time student again.
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 US be sure you have all the documents you will need to re-enter. Have your Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status-for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form endorsed by a DSO on your campus. Verify that the information on your Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) student status-for academic and language student form, also known as the I-20 form is still accurate.
Check your US entry visa (which is stamped in your passport) to be sure that it is still valid for additional entries. If it is not, you will have to get a new entry visa from a US 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 US 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.
For questions or further information, please contact the Office of International Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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