Maintaining Your Legal Status
Duration of status
An F-1 student is admitted to the U.S. for a period known as “Duration of Status.” This is notated in your passport and I-94 as “D/S.” Duration of Status refers to the time you enrolled in a full course of study and any authorized employment after you complete your academic program.
You are required to keep your passport valid six months into the future at all times. If you know your passport will expire soon, contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate to inquire about passport renewal.
Your F-1 student visa is only used to enter the U.S. Once you have entered the U.S., the visa serves no purpose. As long as you are otherwise maintaining status, you are allowed to remain in the U.S. with an expired visa.
If you depart the country with an expired visa, you will need to renew your visa before reentering the U.S. If you have another visa type (B1/B2), make sure to always enter the U.S. with your F-1 visa. If you enter with another visa type, which would be reflected on your I-94, you will not be permitted to study.
The I-94 is your lawful record of admission to the United States. If someone requests your admission information, this is the form you would provide. Each time you enter the U.S., you are issued a new I-94 admission number. If you enter via air or sea, you will receive and electronic I-94. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will also stamp your passport with the notation “D/S” for “Duration of Status” and “F1” indicating your visa type.
If your I-94 says anything other than “D/S” and “F1,” speak with your Designated School Official (DSO) immediately.
The Form I-20 is given to you once you have met the academic and financial qualifications for the school in which you are admitted. This is an important document and you should keep it in a safe place. You need your I-20 each time you enter the U.S. You also will need it when you apply for a driver’s license or a Social Security number.
You are given the normal time to complete your degree. This is notated on the start and end date on page 1. Be aware of the end, specifically. If the end date is approaching and you are unable to complete your program of study, you need to apply for a program extension before your I-20 expires. If your I-20 expires and you have not applied for a program extension, you will be considered out of status.
Each semester (fall/spring), you are required to enroll full-time. See the chart below for the minimum amount of credits you are required to enroll in each semester.
|Academic level||Credits required per semester|
If you enroll less than full-time without an approved reduced course load, you are subject to SEVIS record termination, putting you out of status. You are also required to maintain your full-time enrollment for the entire semester. If you need to drop or withdraw from a class, speak with your DSO first.
Online course restriction
Only three (credits) of distance education (online) courses will count toward full-time enrollment each semester. See the chart below detailing the minimum number of in-person courses required each semester.
|Academic level||Minimum number of in-person credits each semester|
If you are enrolled in less than the required minimum on in-person classes, your SEVIS record will be terminated.
According to USCIS, unlawful presence is the period of time when you are in the United States without being admitted or paroled or when you are not in a “period of stay authorized by the Secretary.” You may be barred from reentering the United States for:
- 3 years, if you depart the United States after having accrued more than 180 days but less than 1 year of unlawful presence during a single stay and before the commencement of removal proceedings
- 10 years, if you depart the United States after having accrued one year or more of unlawful presence during a single stay, regardless of whether you leave before, during, or after removal proceedings
- Permanently, if you re-enter or try to reenter the United States without being admitted or paroled after having accrued more than one year of unlawful presence in the aggregate during one or more stays in the United States.
Normal academic progress
You are required to make normal academic progress toward degree completion. Normal progress means enrolling full-time and maintaining a satisfactory grade point average (GPA) each term of a 2.0 for undergraduate students and a 3.0 for graduate students. Students who fail to make normal academic progress may be found ineligible for F-1 benefits such as travel signatures or I-20 extensions.
Upon completion of your academic program you are granted a 60-day grace period. During this grace period, you cannot depart the country and re-enter using the same I-20. During these 60 days, you may do the following:
- Prepare to depart the country
- Change your visa type
- Apply for work authorization (OPT), if you have not done so already
- Transfer to another SEVP-approved school
Loss of status
If your SEVIS record is terminated, you need to regain valid immigration status through reinstatement or travel and reentry. For a list of termination reasons, visit Study in the States’ Termination Reasons.
In some cases, your international student advisor may suggest you contact an immigration attorney to better assist you. If you would like to contact an immigration attorney, see the below suggestions for what to look for:
- Are they a member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators and American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)?
- Can they communicate complex concepts in simple terms?
- What is their response time?
- Are they knowledgeable about policy updates?