There are several topics of importance for F-1 visa holders. Click on each of the topics listed below to learn more.
SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) web-based system that maintains accurate and current information on international students in F-1 and J-1 visa status, as well as their dependents (F-2/J-2). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via the internet to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State (DOS). Schools must report the students' and visitor scholars' status throughout their stay in the United States. All students in F-1 visa status must have a SEVIS-generated Form I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status" issued by an educational institution where they study. All exchange visitors in J-1 status must have a SEVIS-generated Form DS-2019 "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status" provided to the applicant by the program sponsor. The main requirements of the visa status are printed on the page two of the form.
All prospective students planning to come to the United States on F-1/J-1 visas must obtain a SEVIS-generated Form I-20/DS-2019 before applying to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate for their visa. The I-20/DS-2019 must be submitted with the visa application. The consular officer will verify the I-20/DS-2019 record electronically through SEVIS. All students/exchange visitors entering the United States initially, or applicants for changing status to F-1/J-1, must pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee to the Department of Homeland Security before their visa application is processed. See SEVIS-901 Fee for further information on the payment procedures. The form I-20/DS-2019 must be valid during your stay here and reflect your current academic status. You must attend the school specified on this form. For initial admission, students/exchange visitors must attend the school specified on the form I-20/DS-2019 and the visa stamp in the passport.
All students entering the U.S. on an F-1 visa will note that the Forms I-94 and I-20 bear a notation of "D/S" (duration of status). Duration of status means the period during which the student "is pursuing a full course of study at an educational institution approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for attendance by foreign students, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies, plus 60 days to prepare for departure from the United States. The student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a [full] course of study." [8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(l)].
What this means for you
- If your F-1 visa has expired, but your I-20 is still valid, and you are either studying full-time at the university which issued your I-20 and in the major and academic level listed on your I-20, or you are currently engaged in Optional Practical Training, or you are in your 60-day grace period, you may remain in the U.S. even if your F-1 visa has expired.
Students in F-1 status have a 60-day grace period following either the completion of the academic program or the completion of Optional Practical Training. During this 60-day grace period, you may either
- Start a new academic program at UA. (You should receive an I-20 for your new academic program within your grace period)
- Transfer to another university.
- Apply for Post-Completion OPT if you just completed your academic program and are eligible.
- Change to another non-immigration visa status.
- Depart the U.S.
F-1 students who remain in the U.S. past the end of the 60-day grace period without taking one of the steps listed above are in violation of their immigration status and are "overstaying" their visa
During the 60-day grace period, students may apply to move to another educational level, transfer schools or change to another non-immigrant visa status.
It is extremely important that international students keep their immigration documents valid, up-to-date, and in a safe and secure place.
Your passport must be valid at all times. If your passport is nearing its expiration date, you should contact your country's embassy to renew your passport. If you will travel outside of the U.S. and will reenter the U.S., your passport must be valid for at least six (6) months from your date of reentry.
If you renew your passport but your F-1 visa is stamped in your expired passport, your embassy should return your old passport to you. When reentering the U.S. you should carry both passports with you.
Customs and Boarder Protection have automated the I-94 and I-94W process for all travelers applying for admission at U.S. ports of entry. Air and sea travelers no longer need to complete paper form I-94. I-94 Questions and Answers. You may also want to make a copy of the I-94 printed from the CBP.dhs.gov website for your personal records. This form will be very important if you must speak to a US government official (Social security, Bureau of Motor Vehicle)
Once you are admitted to the United States in F-1 status, you must meet certain obligations in order to maintain valid status. To maintain valid status, you must:
- Keep your passport valid at all times, unless exempt from the passport requirement
- Attend the school listed on your current I-20. If you want to attend a school other than the one listed on your I-20, you will need to transfer your SEVIS record to the new school.
- Maintain enrollment in a full course of study. A full course of study is defined as nine (9) credit hours for graduate students, and twelve (12) credit hours for undergraduate students. There are a few exceptions, which you should read about here.
- If you cannot complete your program in the time listed on your I-20, you should follow the procedures for requesting an extension of your academic program. Requests for an extension of your academic program must be submitted no later than 30 days before end date listed on your I-20.
- If you will study at a different school, you should follow the procedures to properly transfer your SEVIS record to the new school.
- Limit employment on-campus employment to 20 hours per week in the fall and spring semesters and 30 hours per week in the summer sessions.
- Do not engage in off-campus employment without prior authorization. Read more about employment authorization here.
- If you move to a new residence, report your new address to the Office of International Programs within ten (10) days of moving. The international student advisors in the Office of International Programs are required to report this information to SEVIS. Report a change of residence to SEVIS within 10 days of the change. Click here to download the Change of Address Form.
Failure to comply with any of these requirements is a violation of your F-1 visa status and can result in the termination of your SEVIS record.
Full Course of Study
International students in F-1 visa status are required to be full-time students for BOTH Fall and Spring semesters each year. Undergraduate students (Bachelor's, Post-Baccalaureate) must enroll in at least twelve (12) credit hours per semester to maintain full time status. Graduate students (Master's, Ph. D.) must enroll in at least nine (9) credit hours per semester to be considered full-time. Registration during the summer session is not required unless it is the student's first or final semester.
Reduced Course Load
Exceptions to these regulations are made for students who are:
- Experiencing initial difficulties with the English language or reading requirements, unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods, or improper course level placement. Students need to complete theReduced Course Load Form and receive approval from the Office of International Programs beforegoing below full time.
- Master's/Ph.D. degree students who have completed all course work and are enrolled only for thesis/dissertation work. In this case, the number of hours of registration must be approved by the Office of International Programs. Students need to complete the Reduced Course Load Form and receive approval from the Office of International Programs before going below full time.
- Encountering serious health problems that must be verified by a physician or hospital for permission to withdraw or drop below full-time status. Students need to complete the Reduced Course Load Form and submit it to the Office of International Programs along with a letter from the physician, and receive approval from the Office of International Programs before going below full time. Medical reduced course load authorizations are approved on a case-by-case basis.
- In the final term of their academic programs and need less than the minimum full-time load to complete that program. Students need to complete the Reduced Course Load Form and receive approval from the Office of International Programs before going below full time.
- On authorized practical training following completion of studies.
- Students engaged in part-time curricular practical training are required to enroll concurrently or be otherwise certifiable as exempt from the full-time course requirement.
Your registration status is crucial. You must be registered as a full-time student or meet any of the exceptions indicated above. Any time your registration falls below the minimum requirement for full-time status, you should submit a "Reduced Course Load Request" to the Office of International Programs, with the exception of students on Post-Completion OPT. Your academic adviser or department must complete and sign this form, indicating the reason you will not register full-time. You will then submit it to the Office of International Programs for approval. Do not register below full-time or drop your classes until you receive an approval from the OIP.
International students may take online classes or distance learning classes (classes that do not require physical presence in a classroom, on campus, and/or for tests/exams) but only one class, up to three credit hours, will be counted towards full-time enrollment per semester. If a student needs only one course to finish his or her program of study, it cannot be taken through online/distance education. Please contact an immigration adviser in the Office of International Programs if you have any questions regarding enrollment in online/distance learning classes.
If you intend to travel within the U.S. during your stay, there are no special documents necessary. However, be sure to carry your passport, visa and I-20 so you will have legal identifying documents in your possession should any problems arise.
If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Adjacent Islands, and have an expired F-1 visa you may be able to reenter the U.S. with an expired visa. This is know as Automatic Visa Revalidation. You are eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation unless the following apply to you:
You applied for a new visa and it has not been issued
You applied for a new visa and were denied
You have a terminated SEVIS record indicating that you are out of status
You have been out the United States for more than thirty days
You are a citizen of one of the following countries:
When traveling outside of the U.S.A., you should be sure that you have a travel signature on page. 3 of your I-20. the travel signature is valid for one year, unless you are on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), then the signature is valid for only six (6) months. To request a travel signature, complete the Travel Signature Request Formand drop it off in the Office of International Programs a least two business days before traveling. Please note that during peak times, such as the beginning or end of the semester, the processing time may be longer.
To apply for a visitor visa to Mexico, contact the nearest Mexican consulate
If you have any questions about your travel plans, contact the Office of International Programs at 330-972-6349 to schedule an appointment with an international student adviser.
All students traveling outside of the U.S. for a temporary period (five months or less) must have a valid I-20 with the Designated School Official's signature for reentry. Your passport must also be valid for at least six months past your date of reentry. If your visa is expired, you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad before returning to the U.S., as you will not be permitted entry to the U.S. without a valid visa. It is recommended that you apply for a new visa in your home country, or country of legal residence. It is not recommended that you go to Canada to renew your visa unless you are a Canadian citizen or resident.
To request a travel signature, complete the Travel Signature Request Form and drop it off in the Office of International Programs a least two business days before traveling. Please note that during peak times, such as the beginning or end of the semester, the processing time may be longer.
Students who are outside of the United States for more than five months will need to receive a new, initial I-20 and apply for a new F-1 visa. The student's admission status and financial support will have to be verified before a new form can be prepared.
If you have any questions about your travel plans, contact the Office of International Programs at 330-972-6349 to schedule an appointment with an international student adviser.
An F-1 student may accept employment at the institution he or she is authorized to attend without prior approval from USCIS, provided the student is enrolled in a full course of study and the employment will not displace a U.S. resident. On-campus employment primarily means work performed on the school's premises. It includes employment with on-location commercial firms that provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria. It does not include employment on the school's premises for a commercial firm that is not providing on-campus services for students, for example, at a construction site for a new school building. It may also include work at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school. In the case of off-campus locations, the educational affiliation must be associated with the school's established curriculum or related to a contractually-funded project at the post-graduate level. The employment must be an integral part of the student educational program.
On-campus employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session (fall and spring semesters), and 30 hours per week during the summer sessions and vacation periods for students who are eligible and intend to register for the subsequent academic term.
On-campus employment over the intervening summer is not permitted after completion of a course or courses of study (except employment authorized for practical training), unless the student has been issued an I-20 to begin a new program. If the new I-20 is from a different school, the student may engage in on-campus work on the campus of the new school before classes begin or on-campus at the old school until the new school's classes begin.
Curricular Practical Training is defined as "alternate work study, internship, cooperative education or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school." [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(i)]
- For Credit CPT may be mandatory or elective. The training program must be listed in the school's catalog with the assigned number of credits and name of the faculty member teaching the course clearly defined. A student enrolled in such a course may work out the details of their specific projects within the establish course objectives under the supervision of the instructor.
- Non-Credit CPT is usually offered in certain types of educational programs, such as hotel management, nursing, law, engineering, and teaching. A student in such a program is routinely required to undertake such non-credit internships. Students are often not remunerated for their participation in these programs. Non-credit internships or practicums that are required for graduation are recognized as Curricular Practical Training.
At The University of Akron, Curricular Practical Training is arranged jointly through the Career Center and the Office of International Programs. For more detailed information, download the CPT application.
F-1 students may engage in practical training prior to completion of their course of study. Temporary employment as Optional Practical Training may be authorized under one of the following conditions:
- During the student's annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled, and is eligible and intends to register for the next term.
- While school is in session, provided that practical training does not exceed 20 hours a week.
- After completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent), if the student is in a Bachelor's, Master's or Doctoral degree program.
- After completion of the course of study.
Optional Practical Training is limited to 12 months. Thus, if a student uses three months of such training during his/her vacation, that student will be entitled to only nine months of practical training upon completion of the course of study.
Part-time optional practical training (20 hours per week or less) during the course of study shall be deducted from the twelve-month total at one-half of the full time rate. Authorization to engage in Optional Practical Training employment is terminated when the student transfers to another school.
For more detailed information about Optional Practical Training, download the OPT Packet. If you have questions about OPT after reading the OPT Packet, call the OIP at 330-972-6349 to make an appointment with an international student adviser.
Students who have completed a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree program in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields may be eligible for a one-time 17-month extension of post-completion OPT. The application for the STEM extension can be filed within 90 days prior to the completion of the initial 12-month OPT. Download the STEM OPT Packet for more information.
It is possible for F-1 students to work part-time off-campus due to economic hardship. This type of employment authorization is for F-1 students who have been in F-1 status for one full academic year, are in good academic standing, and have encountered severe and documented economic hardship since arriving in the United States.
Employment authorized under this interim rule is limited to no more than 20 hours per week when school is in session and 40 hours per week during holidays or school vacation. The employment is automatically terminated whenever the student fails to maintain status. This new rule also mandates that the student make a good faith effort to pursue employment on campus.
"Severe Economic Hardship" is defined as "unforeseen economic circumstances beyond the student's control; substantial fluctuation in the value of currency or exchange rates; inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs; unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support; medical bills; or other substantial and unexpected expenses". Download the Economic Hardship Packet for more information.