F-1 Immigration Responsibilities

Status is typically based on the purpose for which you entered the US, or for which you remain here. Individuals who come to the US for the purpose of study most often enter the US with an F-1 entry visa and an I-20 form.  If you did this, then you are in F-1 status.  F-1 status is acquired by:

  • Entering the US with an F-1 entry visa and I-20 form; or
  • Entering the US in another legal status, filing a change-of-status (I-539) petition, and receiving approval from USCIS on a form I-797.

Maintaining your F-1 Status

Certain rules apply to students in F-1 status. You maintain your F-1 status by following the rules set by federal laws and regulations for F-1 students. If you violate the rules, then you are “out of status.” Click the plus arrow and read carefully the information below to learn the most important ways of maintaining your F-1 status.

Rule 1: Maintain a valid passport

In most cases, your passport must always be valid for six months into the future. If your passport is approaching the date six months before it expires, you should contact your embassy to ask about renewing it. Click here for a list of countries whose citizens are not required to have the six months validity into the future.

Rule 2: Verify that your I-20 is accurate and valid

  • Make sure all fields in section 1 are correct.
  • Make sure the program level in section 4 is correct.
  • In section 5, the major field of study should be correct, and the expiration date (expected completion of studies) should be a date in the future. If you will not graduate by that date, you will need to process an extension BEFORE the expiration, or you will be “out of status.”

Rule 3: Verify that your I-94 is accurate

Your I-94 is an online document issued when you enter the US. It must be valid for “Duration of Status” (D/S). If your I-94 was issued with an expiration date, you should see an OIPS advisor as soon as possible so we can work with you to have it changed to D/S. Click here to access your I-94 form.

Rule 4: Enroll full-time

The Registrar defines full-time status, and details can be found in the University Catalog. In general:

Undergraduates must carry 12 credit hours in fall and spring semesters.

Graduate students must carry 9 graduate credits in fall and spring semesters. Some exceptions to the 9-credit rule apply for students on assistantship and for those who have completed required coursework and are in the proposal, thesis, or dissertation stage of the degree.

Special rules apply to online courses. F-1 students can count only one online course toward the credits required to be full-time.

There are very few exceptions to the full-time status rule. In every case, you must receive written permission from OIPS before you drop below full-time status. Click here to learn more.

Rule 5: If only one course is needed to complete your program of study, the final course cannot be a fully online course

If only one course is needed to complete your program of study, you must register for a traditional course that takes place on campus. If two courses are needed to complete your program of study, you are allowed to take one fully online course and one traditional course that takes place on campus.

Rule 6: Update your local address

Your local address must always be correct in the University database. You update it in your Patriotweb account. If you move, you must enter your new address within ten days. This address cannot be a post office box. It must be the address where you live. Keeping your address current is one of the most important requirements of maintaining your F-1 status.

After you graduate, the University will disable your ability to update your address on Patriotweb. If you are on F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completing your studies, you submit address updates through an the Employment Update form.

Rule 7: Do not work off-campus without permission

Working on campus is permitted, but during the fall and spring on-campus employment is limited to twenty hours per week. During the school breaks in winter, spring and summer, you may work full-time.

Working off-campus ALWAYS requires written permission, either from an OIPS advisor on your I-20 (p.2) or from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Never work off-campus, even for a few days, until you have the written permission you need.

Rule 8: Update your OPT employer (Post-Completion OPT)

When you first begin work on OPT, you must notify OIPS of your employer so that the information can be uploaded into SEVIS. Thereafter, any time you change employers, you must submit an update to OIPS. If your employment with one employer ends, you must notify OIPS; the employer will be removed from your SEVIS record.

Entering and updating your OPT employer is important for two reasons:

First, the employer information is required to be correct in SEVIS; if you do not update it, you will be “out of status.”

Second, if you do not enter the name of your employer when you first start OPT employment, the field will be blank in SEVIS. If it remains blank for 90 days, your OPT employment authorization will be automatically terminated without notice to you, because SEVP will assume that you have no employer. 90 days is the maximum time an OPT student can remain in the US without an employer.

You enter and update your OPT employer through the Employment Update form.

Rule 9: Do not overstay your F-1 status

After you complete your program, you may apply for practical training or you may decide to enter a new academic program, at Mason or at another school. There is a process to update your SEVIS record for transfer or to begin another degree. Consult with an OIPS advisor for details.

If you do not do one of these things, you must leave the US within sixty days.

If you stop studying without completing your program—for example, if you decide to take a break or if you are suspended—you must leave the US right away. If this should happen, come to see an OIPS advisor for guidance.

If you violate your F-1 status...

If you violate your F-1 status, you may apply to USCIS for reinstatement. This process takes many months and costs several hundred dollars. During the time you are out of status, you may not work on or off campus.

You may also regain your status by travelling outside the US with a new I-20 endorsed for “initial entry,” just as you did when you first acquired F-1 status. Because it is considered a new entry, you must pay the SEVIS fee again. If you are permitted to re-enter with the new I-20, your F-1 status will be valid again. You must once again maintain your F-1 status for a full academic year before you may request practical training.

Students who have violated their F-1 status by working without permission may not apply for reinstatement within the US. The only way for them to regain F-1 status is through travel and re-entry.