Maintaining Your Status
It is very important for all non-immigrants to maintain their status for the full time that they are in the United States. Maintaining your status means that you are following all the rules. If you fail to follow the rules, even once, you may be considered by the U. S. government to be out of status. Failure to maintain status may result in loss of all benefits and possible removal from the United States (deportation) under government regulations. Maintaining status is the responsibility of the non-immigrant, NOT of the school or its officials.
Although they are closely related, your documents and your status are not the same thing. Regardless of what your documents say, it is your status that is important and that must be maintained. A student who is “in status” is following all immigration laws and regulations. “In status” students have all the rights and privileges accorded their status. “Out of status” students have no rights and privileges and are subject to immediate deportation. They may also accrue penalties including being banned from re-entering the U. S. for long periods of time if their illegality is discovered.
There are hundreds of immigration laws that impact international people in the United States. It is important to know and follow the laws for your status. Following the laws keeps a student “in status” and violating a law can make a student “out of status.” There are five basic requirements for maintaining your status according to your F-1 visa status:
- Be a full-time student
- Keep your immigration documents up-to-date
- Be employed only when, where and for how long you are authorized to be employed
- Keep your address up-to-date
- Carry immigration documents with you
Be a full-time student
This means that F-1 students must pursue a full course of study and make normal progress toward completing their program of study at the school having jurisdiction over their I-20. For undergraduate students, this means taking at least 12 credits per fall and spring semester. For graduate students, it means taking at least 9 credits per fall and spring semester (8 credits if they have a GA or GPSI). For both graduate and undergraduate students, summer semester is optional, unless it is your first or last semester. If summer is your first or last semester, 6 credit hours is full-time in the summer. In addition only one course or up to 3 credit hours towards full-time enrollment can be on-line. The rest must be on-campus courses. There are some exceptions to this law, for example during a student’s first or last semester, but students and their advisors must complete a Reduced Course Load prior to being registered part-time. Additionally, students must be registered prior to the 10th day of classes in order for Immigration Advisors to properly update your records in the SEVIS system.
Keep your immigration documents up-to-date
This law can get quite complicated, so it is important to pay attention to official web and email information regarding your documents. Students should report to International Student Services upon arrival in the U.S. so that the office can copy immigration documents.
• Passport – don’t let your passport expire while you are outside your country. If you are outside your country and your passport will expire within the next six months, read your embassy/consulate web information regarding passport extension procedures.
• Visa – Visas are only used for entering the U.S. After you have entered, you have different documents that tell you what you can do and how long you can stay. If your visa expires while you are inside the U.S., it doesn’t really matter. The only time you have to think about your visa is if you plan to travel outside the U.S. and plan to return. Then you should check to see if you need a new visa in order to re-enter. Some international travelers are exempt from getting U.S. visas. Your visa and your status are not the same.
• Form I-94 – This is your Arrival/Departure record and can be printed AFTER you arrive in the U.S. Here is information detailing how to access your I-94 (PDF). If you have trouble finding your I-94, follow the directions provided here (PDF). Students should print 2 copies of this form AFTER each entry into the U.S. One copy should be kept for your records and the other copy should be brought to ISS. This form will indicate that the student’s stay in the U.S. is valid until “D/S.” D/S means “duration of status” which means that the student can stay and nothing expires early as long as the student maintains their status.
• Form I-20 – If any information changes or needs to be updated on the I-20, the student must contact an Immigration Advisor prior to the change taking effect. There is usually some sort of immigration process required in order to make an update to I-20s.
Be employed only when, where, and for how long you are authorized to be employed
Employment is restricted for F-1 international students. When F-1 students first arrive at an institution, they are generally only permitted to work on campus up to 20 hours per week. Any other employment, like off campus, internships, may not be permitted or will require special application and processing. Please read the instructions on our website regarding employment options, attend employment workshops, and contact an international advisor. Students who engage in unauthorized employment cannot be reinstated to status.
Keep your address up-to-date
Federal regulations require that all changes of physical address by F-1 visa international students be reported within 10 days of the move. UIS students must update their address in their UIS Enterprise System and in SEVIS. View the Address Updates page for detailed instructions.
Carry immigration documents with you
Immigration requires that international students carry their immigration documents with them at all times. Since losing these documents can be quite problematic, most immigration advisors suggest that students carry copies with them daily on campus but carry the originals when they travel out of town.
Important: Violations of status may subject a nonimmigrant to deportation, and some violations will subject them to 3 – 10 year bars to re-entry to the U.S.