F-1 Visa Status
Once awarded F-1 visa status in the U.S., an international student must be careful to maintain status. The primary ways a student can fall out of status are to fail to enroll in a full-time course load in each subsequent semester and to work illegally. A discussion about employment in F-1 status is accessible on the left-hand menu. The D/S designation means that if a student falls out of status and does not file for reinstatement in a timely fashion the visa expires regardless of the date on the visa sticker. The D/S designation also means that even though the visa sticker expires, the student can stay legally in the U.S. as long as he or she remains enrolled as a full-time student. The visa sticker must be renewed if traveling outside the U.S.
Reinstatement is a petition made to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to forgive the error and restore F-1 status. Applications for reinstatement require adjudication by immigration officials, and can be either approved or denied. If denied, the student will be cited with a number of days of illegal presence, counting from the date when the SEVIS record marked the end of status and including the time spent in adjudication. The quantity of days of illegal presence determines how many years for which the student will be barred from reentering the U.S. If the student shows disposition to comply by leaving the U.S. promptly, he or she will likely be able to exit the U.S., apply for a new visa, and reenter without adverse consequences. If a student discovers he or she has fallen out of status, he/she should report immediately to the Office of International Student Services to initiate the reinstatement process.
The F-1 student should maintain regular contact with ISS in order to insure he or she communicates any change of address, change in course registration, travel plans, campus employment, and other such issues. List of the things for which an F-1 student must see the Designated School Official (DSO) in the ISS office.
There are some valid reasons why a student may need to take a reduced course load, such as medical reasons, unfamiliarity with English or the US education system, or last semester. With a letter from the student's academic adviser or doctor, the Designated School Official (DSO) can authorize a reduced course load in SEVIS. Usually this is permitted only for one semester, and a limited number of authorizations are permitted. The student and his/her academic adviser should consider this a one-time possibility under special circumstances only. Economic problems are not considered valid reasons for a reduced course load, so students cannot skip a semester in order to work. Use the RCL Request Form to request a reduced courseload from the International Student Services Office.
If an F-1 student falls out of status, he or she may be eligible for reinstatement to F-1 status. The student must make an application to USCIS for reinstatement, and abide by the adjudication result. Reinstatements must be done within five months of falling out of status, and the student must explain the reason(s) why he or she let his/her status lapse. USCIS can take one of two actions upon adjudicating the application:
Approval. The student is reinstated to F-1 status. Adjudicating officer updates SEVIS record and DSO prints out a new I-20.
Denial. SEVIS record is terminated and the entry visa is cancelled. Student will be charged with a status violation, which can limit future benefits like a change of status. And student begins to accrue days of unlawful presence. Depending on the number of days of unlawful presence, the student could be barred from re-entering the U.S. for three or even ten years. Often if the student complies in a timely fashion, he/she will be allowed to go home, apply for a new visa, and re-enter the U.S.
An alternative to reinstatement may be to travel out of the country and return on an initial I-20, but this recourse carries a number of risks. The student should first seek advice from the DSO.
An F-1 student has a notation of D/S on his or her I-94, indicating he or she can remain in the U.S. for the duration of status. The date on the student's visa sticker may be subject to reciprocal agreements between his or her country and the U.S. Even if the visa sticker expires, the student remains in status as long as he or she is enrolled full-time and does not work illegally. However, if the student leaves the U.S., he or she will not be able to re-enter on an expired visa. (Some travel exceptions exist for Canada, Mexico and the contiguous islands.)
To renew a visa, the student must return to the U.S. consulate in his or her home country. Usually with a valid I-20, a valid passport and a letter from the DSO, a transcript, and a list of registered courses for the upcoming term, the student is able to renew the F-1 visa in the home country without problems. Applying for a visa renewal in a third country may or may not be possible, but students risk being refused renewal, being stranded outside U.S. borders, and/or deportation from the third country. The ISS Office strongly advises students to inquire of the consulate in the third country where they plan to renew the visa and set up an interview date before leaving the U.S.
If a student needs to extend the program end date on his or her I-20, the DSO can make the change electronically in SEVIS and print out a new I-20. If the extension is due to changes in an academic program, such as a change of major, or having to repeat a course, the DSO will require a letter from the student's academic adviser with an explanation.
REPORTING ADDRESS CHANGES
USCIS requires the report of any change of address within 10 days. This can be done by filing a form AR-11 or by having the DSO enter the change into the SEVIS database. Since the DSO has to update SEVIS in any case, the easiest way is to simply communicate with the DSO prior to the planned move or as soon as possible. The DSO must have the student's actual physical address even if the student receives mail at a campus mailbox. Failure to report a change of address is a cause for deportation under USCIS regulations.
- IF YOU NEED TO DROP A COURSE, WITHDRAW OR TAKE A LEAVE OF ABSENCE. If you drop below a full-time number of credits, you fall out of visa status. Only certain exceptions exist, and authorization by the DSO is imperative.
- IF YOU CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS. Failure to report an address change within ten days is legal grounds for deportation.
- IF YOU NEED TO EXTEND YOUR ACADEMIC PROGRAM BEYOND ITS ORIGINAL END DATE. If you make a change to your degree program, for example. The same is true if you shorten your program. The end date on your I-20 must coincide with your actual graduation date. Any changes must be reported in SEVIS.
- IF YOU PLAN TO TRAVEL OUT OF THE US. You need a travel permission signed by the DSO, and it is best to review all your documentation before you go. Be sure to schedule an appointment with your DSO well in advance, in order to avoid last minute problems.
- IF YOU NEED A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, DRIVERS LICENSE OR STATE ID CARD. All of these processes require a letter and/or other documentation from your DSO.
- IF YOU ARE REGISTERING FOR AN INTERNSHIP, CLINICAL PLACEMENT, FIELD EDUCATION OR OTHER PRACTICAL TRAINING. To be eligible to receive a stipend or salary for this kind of employment, the DSO must authorize you for curricular practical training.
- IF YOU ARE ACCEPTED TO STUDY AT ANOTHER INSTITUTION AND PLAN TO TRANSFER. The transfer process implies a change on your SEVIS record, and must be accomplished between the two schools. This includes applying to a new degree program after graduating from Eastern.
- IF YOU WANT TO BRING FAMILY MEMBERS TO THE US. Family members are eligible for an F-2 visa as dependents of an F-1 student. The DSO must provide documentation for their visa applications.