Immigration Info for F-1 Students
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Immigration Info for F-1 Students
Maintaining Legal Status
It is your responsibility to maintain your legal status as an F-1 student. Your legal F-1 status was conferred upon you at the time of your entry to the United States. You presented your I-20 and you F-1 visa to the USCIS at the port of entry. The USCIS officer stamped your I-20 and returned it to you and stamped an I-94 card and gave it to you. By signing the I-20 and entering into the U.S., you agreed to uphold the laws and regulations governing F-1 students in the United States. These laws state that you must do the following at all times to maintain your legal status:
- Report to the Center for International Students for Initial Registration in SEVIS upon arriving at the school.
- For initial school attendance, the school listed on your visa and I-20 must be the same, and this is the school you must plan on attending.
- Maintain full-time student status. Always enroll FULL-TIME during the academic year. During the last semester before you earn your degree, you may take less than a full course of study if that is all you need to graduate.
- Full time undergraduate = 12 credit hours minimum per semester
- Full time graduate = 9 credit hours minimum per semester
- Make normal progress toward your degree by completing studies before the date of completion on your I-20.
- If you are unable to finish all degree requirements before the completion date on your I-20, you must apply for a PROGRAM EXTENSION at the CIS at least 30 days before the I-20 expires.
- Keep your I-20 valid by following proper procedures for CHANGE IN EDUCATIONAL LEVELS (undergraduate to graduate) or PROGRAMS OF STUDY (change of major).
- Keep your I-20 valid by following proper procedures for TRANSFER OF SCHOOLS.
- Attend the school that issued the I-20 for at least one semester before transferring to another school.
- If transferring to another school, be sure to follow proper SEVIS transfer procedures.
- Abide by the F-1 grace period rules.
- Leave the U.S within 60 days after completing a full course of study UNLESS you have followed procedures for applying for practical training, moving educational levels, or school transfer.
- Report a change of address to the Center for International Students within 10 days of the change so SEVIS can be updated
- Abide by rules requiring disclosure of information and prohibition on criminal activity
- Abide by any special requirements, such as Special Registration requirements
- DO NOT WORK ILLEGALLY!! You may not work off-campus without the permission of the USCIS. You may work on campus.
It is very important that you maintain legal status while you are studying in the United States. You are responsible for the maintenance of your passport and should make sure that your passport and your dependents' passports are valid at all times. To extend your passport, you will need to contact your own embassy. Be sure to contact your embassy at least 6 months prior to the expiration date of the passport so that you will have time to process the extension. Visit http://www.embassy.org/ for contact information on your embassy.
I-94 Departure/Arrival Card & I-20
When you arrived in the United States, a USCIS officer gave you an I-94 card, which you should keep in your passport with your I-20. These documents are proof of your F-1 status, and you will need them for such purposes as applying for work permits, banking, extending your permission to stay in the United States and reentry to this country. You should keep copy of all previous I-20s permanently.
Note: It is also advisable, after your arrival, to photocopy the identification pages of your passport, your visa stamp, I-94 Departure/Arrival card, and your I-20 and keep them separately from the originals. These are used when applying for replacements, should the originals ever be lost or stolen. The Center for International Students (CIS) at Truman State University requires that all F-1 students check in at the CIS promptly on arrival so we can photocopy these documents for our files.
Change of Status
Change to F-1 student status is permitted for individuals in some nonimmigrant visa categories. Those who may not apply for a change of status to F-1 include the visa types of C, D, K, and M. Also, some J-1 visitors who are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement (212e) and have not had that requirement waived are also not eligible for a change of status. J-1 physicians admitted to receive graduate medical education or training are also not permitted to change status to F-1 in the U.S. If you are unsure if you are eligible for a change of status, contact the CIS for more information.
To apply for a change to F-1 status in the U.S., you must provide the following items to the USCIS.
- Completed Form I-539 http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-539.pdf
- Original I-20 signed by the student and International Student Advisor where required
- Photocopy of I-94
- Photocopy of current immigration status documents, visa stamp, and passport ID pages.
- Photocopy of financial support documents.
- Letter requesting change of status
- SEVIS fee receipt
The USCIS will examine all of the documents you submitted related to your financial ability to pursue the intended course of study, including the cost estimate provided by the institution and the amount and source of funding available to you. If the USCIS is not satisfied that you have the required financial resources, your application for change of nonimmigrant status may be denied.
Reinstatement to Legal Status
Reinstatement is a process in which you apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be restored to legal student status after a violation. Reinstatement is for individuals who, through no fault of their own or through circumstances beyond their control, have violated the terms of their immigration status and can show that not being reinstated would cause a significant hardship. The student also has to verify that they have not worked illegally. Students have the best chance of approval if applying within five months of violating status.
You should apply for reinstatement if:
- You have failed to extend your program before the I-20 expiration date.
- You withdrew from classes without prior approval or did not enroll for a semester.
- You did not carry a full course of study and did not obtain prior approval from the international student advisor.
- You did not attend school during a required semester (unless you were excused for medical reasons before to the beginning of the semester).
- You failed to attend the school you were authorized by the USCIS to attend.
- You did not notify USCIS of a transfer or change of educational levels in a timely manner.
- You remained in the US beyond the time authorized on your I-20 did not request an extension of stay.
- You violated the immigration regulations in any other manner.
Prepare the following materials to complete the Reinstatement Application.
- Letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) explaining why you are out of status, and stating that you are eligible to apply for reinstatement. The letter must show how falling out of status was beyond your control and how failing to be reinstated would cause severe hardship.
- I-539 marked "Reinstatement"
- Application fee made out to the Department of Homeland Security
- New proof of financial support
- Transcripts of all schools attended in the U.S.
- Copies of your passport and visa
- Copies of all previous I-20s
- Copies of your I-94 (Front and Back)
- SEVIS Update I-20/DS-2019 Request Form
You will need to schedule an appointment to meet with the International Student Advisor to discuss your reinstatement application. The CIS will then prepare a new I-20, read and critique your application, and ask you to return to the CIS in 3-5 days to sign your new I-20 and take your application to be mailed. It will take the USCIS 60 to 120 days to decide the case. The CIS will contact you when your documents are returned.
Alternative to Reinstatement
If you are not eligible, or are a poor candidate for reinstatement, you may consider obtaining a new I-20 marked "Initial Attendance" and then using that new I-20 to travel outside of the U.S. and re-enter. This is not the same as reinstatement and does not correct, or wipe out previous mistakes. However, it does allow a student to regain lawful student status. By making a new entry, you are in effect starting all over again. This has implications, in that it means that you have to maintain status for a period of one full academic year after the new entry, before regaining any eligibility for practical training or other off-campus work authorization. The travel alternative may be right for students who need to be restored to F-1 status so that they can take up an assistantship or other on-campus employment. For these individuals, the speed of the travel option outweighs applying for conventional reinstatement even for people who are excellent candidates for reinstatement.
Which should you choose?
It depends on your circumstances as to which approach to follow. To discuss your situation more fully, you are urged to schedule an appointment with the International Student Advisor. Keep in mind the following things: How close is your date of completion? Do you need to be in F-1 status right away for an assistantship or on-campus employment or because you are an athlete? How strong is your case for reinstatement?
For more information, visit the CIS and pick up a Reinstatement Application Packet.
Extension of Stay
The expiration date in Section 5 of your I-20 must always be in the future to maintain a valid stay in the United States as an F-1 student. If for some valid academic reason you cannot complete your degree by the expiration date in your current I-20, you must apply for an Extension of Stay. Failure to apply for an Extension of Stay prior to the expiration on your I-20 will result in a violation of your legal student status.
- You must apply to the International Student Advisor for the extension before the program completion date on your current I-20.
- You must have continuously maintained legal student status during your academic career.
- The delay in completion is caused by compelling academic or medical reasons.
To request an Extension of Stay, the following must be provided to the International Student Advisor
- I-20 request form (available at the CIS)
- A letter from the Academic Advisor explaining the need for the extension and recommending an extension
The CIS will process the request and you should return in 3-5 days to pick up your new I-20.
- You must begin classes at the new school or program within five moths of transferring out of the current school or within five months of the program completion date on your current I-20.
- If you are an F-1 student authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT), you must begin classes within five months of transferring out of the school that recommended OPT or within five months of the date the OPT ends.
- You must be maintaining legal student status at your current school. If you did not pursue a full course of study at the school you were last authorized to attend, you are not eligible for school transfer and must apply for reinstatement. See the section on reinstatement for more information.
- You must complete the SEVIS transfer process below and be eligible for a SEVIS I-20 at the new school.
- Review the Transfer Information and follow the instructions provided.
- The International Student Advisor will enter a "release date" into SEVIS. This date is when the SEVIS record will be transferred to the new school and the date must be after the end of the current semester but no later than 60 days after the end.
- Once the SEVIS release date has been reached, the new school will have access to the student's record and can issue a transfer Form I-20. The I-20 will specify "transfer" in item 3 (reason for issuance) until the student has registered at the new school.
- The student is required to contact the new Designated School Official (DSO) within fifteen days of the program start date listed on the I-20. The DSO must register the student in SEVIS at the new school. The DSO must complete this registration no later than 30 days following the close of class registration. The student's SEVIS record will change from "initial" to "active" at the new school and transfer will be complete with the issuance of a new I-20.
ANOTHER OPTION: Transfer by Travel and Reentry
Transfer notification to the USCIS can also take place through the process of travel abroad and reentry on the new I-20.
- An F-1 student must first notify the school they are currently attending of intent to transfer.
- The student obtains a new I-20 from the school they expect to attend.
- The student completes the Student Certification (Signature and Date) portion of the I-20 and travels outside the United States.
- The student reenters the United States on a valid visa and passport and presents the new I-20 to the USCIS Official at the Port of Entry.
- The USCIS Official at the Port of Entry stamps and returns pages 3 & 4 of the I-20 to the student and the student attaches them to their old I-20.
- The USCIS Official at the Port of Entry retains pages 1 & 2 of the I-20 and sends it to the USCIS Data Processing Center for a record update.
- The USCIS Official at the Port of Entry gives the student a new I-94 with a current stamp.
Occasionally, USCIS Officers at the Ports of Entry on the Canadian Border must be asked to stamp the I-20 and issue a new I-94. Be sure this is done or you have not officially transferred schools.
Note: The SEVIS (Immigration) Transfer process is completely separate from the academic transfer process and must be completed correctly in order to maintain legal student status in the United States.
For more information, visit the CIS.
Change of Level (Undergraduate to Graduate)
A change of level from undergraduate to graduate study must be reported to the CIS for SEVIS update prior to the start of the semester by completing the SEVIS Update/I-20 or DS-2019 Request Form. A change of level SEVIS update will print a new I-20. You should return to the CIS in 3-5 days following your request to pick up and sign your new I-20.
Note: You should retain all I-20's issued to you PERMANENTLY.
Change of Major
Changes in major should be immediately reported to the CIS for SEVIS update by completing the SEVIS Update/I-20 or DS-2019 Request Form. A change of major SEVIS update will print a new I-20. You should return to the CIS in 3-5 days following your request to pick up and sign your new I-20.
Note: You should retain all I-20's issued to you PERMANENTLY.
"I found it very relaxing to get away from the hustle and bustle of a big city and get the chance to enjoy all of the aspects of a smaller town. This town is a wonderful place to enhance your college experience."
– Bethany Williams (’13), Communication Major