Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Knowing the rules can be difficult and confusing.  OIPS has created an FAQs web page that addresses the most common immigration questions and refer you to the correct resources (e.g. request forms).  We encourage you to review this page before you meet with an OIPS advisor and before you explore the OIPS Self-Service Center.  It will help you to identify what service(s) you may need form OIPS.  

Documents (I-20/DS-2019, passport, US entry visa)


1. My passport/visa will expire soon.  What should I do?
If your passport is no longer valid for six months into the future, you will need to renew your passport.  Click here for a list of foreign embassies.

If your visa has expired and you are not planning to travel abroad and re-enter the U.S., you do not need to take any action.

If you plan to travel abroad and re-enter the U.S. and your F-1 or J-1 entry visa has expired, or if you changed your status in the U.S. and don’t have an entry visa in your new status, you will need to apply for a new visa while abroad. Click this link for details: http://www.ustraveldocs.com.  In certain situations, some non-immigrants may be able to request re-entry without a valid visa in the passport. This is called “automatic revalidation of expired visa.” Click here to see if you are eligible.

2. My I-20 will expire soon.  What should I do?
You must request an extension of stay at least 60 days before their I-20 expires.  You can request your first extension online by completing the Program Extension Request form.  If you need a second or third extension, you must first meet with an OIPS advisor. Click here to learn more about program extension.

3. My DS-2019 will expire soon. What should I do?
J-1 students must have their program extended before the end date of their program listed on their DS-2019 form. We advise applying for a program extension as soon as possible. It can take up to two weeks to process program extension requests. Click here to learn more about program extensions.

4. I would like to take a semester off.  What should I do?
You need to meet with an OIPS advisor before you take a semester off (leave of absence).  You can meet with an advisor during walk-in hours or you can schedule an appointment.

5. I took a semester off and now I would like to resume my studies.  What should I do?
You will need to complete the "Return from Temporary Leave of Absence" form.  This form is available for download in the OIPS Self-Service Center.

I want to change my major

You will need to submit a Change of Program request:

After your request has been approved, OIPS will issue you a new I-20.

I lost my I-20 or DS-2019.  What should I do?

You will need to request an I-20 or DS-2019 reprint:

OIPS will notify you when your new I-20 or DS-2019 is ready for pick-up.

Full-time Enrollment


1. I want to drop a class.  Is this allowed?
You should NEVER drop below full-time status without the written permission from OIPS.

F-1 students are required to register for a “full course of study” every fall and spring semester. “Full course of study” is usually the same as “full-time” as defined by the Office of the Registrar.

  • Undergraduates: 12 credits
  • Graduate students: 9 credits
  • Graduate students on half-time assistantship: 6 credits
  • Graduate Students in proposal/dissertation stage: consult University Catalog

A student who wishes to drop below a full course of study may do so only if he or she meets one of the conditions listed in federal F-1 regulations and receives written permission from OIPS:

  • Academic reasons
  • Illness or medical condition
  • Final semester of study for degree

Click here to learn how to request a "Reduced Course Load."

2. I want to register for an online class.  How many online classes can I take each semester?
Immigration regulations limit the number of online courses international students in F-1 status can count towards their full-time enrollment (the full-time enrollment requirement is 12 credits for undergraduate students and 9 credits for graduate students).  F-1 students may count only one course or three credits of online coursework towards the full-time requirement.  However, if a F-1 student is taking more than the minimum required credits, she/he may take additional credits online. J-1 students can only register for a fully online course after registering for a minimum of 12 undergraduate or 9 graduate in-person or hybrid courses.  Online courses are marked as "distance education" in the Course Catalog and the venue of the course is marked as "On-line/Internet NET" or "TBA." International students can take as many hybrid courses as they wish.  In a hybrid course the professor and students will meet both on campus and online.

Employment


1. I want to work
F-1 and J-1 students may work on any of Mason's three US campuses (Fairfax, Arlington and SciTech) up to 20 hours per week during spring and fall semesters, and full-time during vacation periods (summer, winter, and spring breaks).

Off-campus employment ALWAYS requires some form of written or documented authorization issued by either the USCIS or OIPS.

2. I need to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN)
You can find the instructions in the OIPS Self-Service Center:

You need a job offer in order to apply for a SSN!

Travel


1. I want to travel to my home country for the summer.  What documents do I need to carry with me?
If you intend to re-enter the United States after traveling to another country, you must present yourself for inspection at the US port of entry with documents to demonstrate that you qualify to re-enter in the status you request.  You should verify all of your documents prior to leaving the US. The documents will not be inspected when you depart the US, only upon re-entry.

  1. Valid and endorsed I-20 or DS-2019;
  2. Valid passport with a valid F-1 or J-1 visa;
  3. Paper I-94 or printout of your electronic I-94 (available at https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/2014/05/how-to-access-your-form-i-94-online

2. What is a travel signature or travel endorsement?
OIPS endorses your I-20 or DS-2019 for re-entry with a signature on page 2 of the I-20 or page 1 of the DS-2019. A travel signature is valid for one year (12 months) and can be used for multiple entries.  If you are on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), you must obtain a travel signature every 6 months.

3. I want to travel to Canada or Mexico.  What documents do I need to carry with me?
In certain situations, some non-immigrants may be able to request re-entry without a valid visa in the passport. This is called “automatic revalidation of expired visa.” Read the information carefully to see if you are eligible.

Here are the specific requirements:

  1. Travel to contiguous territory (Canada and Mexico) and adjacent islands (see below for a list),* and not travel elsewhere;
  2. Travel limited to 30 days or less;
  3. Maintaining your current F or J status and intend to resume that status;
  4. Carry with you:
  5. Not apply for a new visa during your trip;
  6. Not be from a country that is currently designated by the US as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The list is here: http://www.state.gov/j/ct/list/c14151.htm

*Adjacent islands: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, (Cuba*), Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.

Important: You should also check if you need a Canadian entry visa or Mexican entry visa before you travel.  Click here for more information about Canadian visas and click here for more information about Mexican visas.

I need a travel signature.  What should I do?

A travel endorsement or travel signature is valid for 12 months for current F-1 and J-1 students and 6 months for F-1 students on Optional Practical Training (OPT).  You do not need to wait to request a travel signature until you have confirmed your travel plans.  The easiest and fastest way to get a travel signature from OIPS is to visit OIPS during walk-in hours.  Do NOT forget to bring your current I-20 or DS-2019. Click here to learn more.

Final Semester


1. I only have one class left (final semester).  What should I do?
You will need to request a Last Semester of Study Reduced Course Load (RCL). These requests are processed through the Office of the Registrar. Follow the instructions posted on the graduation process web page (law students should follow a different process/see note below) AND complete the online RCL for Last Semester form.  When your degree audit is complete, OIPS will be notified and we can authorize the RCL.

Please note that the process is different for law students.  The Law School requires you to apply for graduation directly through the Law School’s Records Office. Please feel free to fill out the OIPS Reduced Course Load for Last Semester form and submit it now even if you don’t have your graduation form completed yet. Please make sure you check your law school’s academic calendar to see when the graduation forms will be available for students through the Law School’s Records Office on the 3rd floor. Forms are placed in the students’ mailboxes just outside of the office on the date listed in the law school’s academic calendar and need to be filled out and submitted to your Records Office by the deadline listed in your academic calendar.

2. I only have class left (final semester).  Can I take an online class?
If only one course is needed to complete your program of study, the final course cannot be a fully online class:

  • If only one course is needed to complete your program of study: you must take a traditional class (taught on campus)
  • If two courses are needed to complete your program of study: you can take one fully online course and one traditional course (taught on campus), or you can take two traditional classes (taught on campus)

3. I will not be able to graduate on time
F-1 students must request an extension of stay at least 60 days before their I-20 or DS-2019 expires.  You can request your first extension online by completing the Program Extension Request form.  If you need a second or third extension, you must first meet with an OIPS advisor. Click here to learn more about F-1 program extension and click here to learn more about J-1 program extension

After Graduation/Completing your Program


1. I am an F-1 student. How long can I stay in the US after graduation?
After you graduate you have a 60-day grace period. Within this 60-day period you have the following options:

  • Apply for OPT
  • Depart the U.S.
  • Request a new I-20 if you will continue at the George Mason University in a new degree program
  • Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school
  • Apply to change of status to another visa category

2. I am a J-1 student. How long can I stay in the US after I completed my program?
After your program completion date, you have a 30-day grace period to remain in the US as a tourist and finalize departure plans.  During this grace period J-1 students are NOT permitted to work unless you have been authorized for academic training in advance. This grace period simply provides you the opportunity to prepare for departing or traveling within the US, or apply to change to another status. Once you leave the US during your 30-day grace period, you will not be permitted to re-enter in J-1 status. You can re-enter the US in another status, such as a tourist.

3. I want to work in the US after graduation
If you meet the requirements, F-1 students can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).  Click here to learn more about OPT.
If you meet the requirements, J-1 students can apply for Academic Training (AT).  Click here to learn more about AT.