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It is your responsibility to understand and comply with the terms of your immigration status during your stay in the United States. A violation of the immigration regulations (for example, failure to maintain a full-time credit load or unauthorized employment) could jeopardize your F-1 status and legal stay in the U.S. Review this information carefully and contact ISS if you have questions.
What is F-1 “Status”?
“Status” is your nonresident category officially granted by an immigration official. To be in F-1 “status” means that you are legally in the U.S. and have benefits and restrictions specified in the immigration regulations for the F-1 visa category. You gain F-1 status either by entering the U.S. with F-1 documents or, for people already in the U.S. in a different status, by applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a change of status.
Period of authorized stay
Your admission to the U.S. is for “duration of status,” meaning the length of your F-1 status.
F-1 status covers the period when:
- You are a full-time registered student making normal progress toward your degree,
- You are participating in optional practical training following completion of studies (if you apply for OPT),
- You are in your 60-day “grace period” to prepare to depart the U.S. or change to another status; the grace period starts when you complete your degree or your OPT period.
Your length of authorized stay within the U.S. is not related to your F-1 visa expiration date. Your length of authorized stay depends on you following the F-1 rules.
Federal law requires you to carry “registration documents” at all times, including your I-20 and passport. We suggest that these documents be kept in a secure location such as a bank safe deposit box, and you should carry photocopies. However, if you are traveling outside the Seattle area you should carry the original documents with you. If you are traveling by air, train, bus, or ship, you may be required to produce these documents before boarding. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location in the event your documents are lost or stolen.
Your passport must be valid at all times. Keep your passport and other important documents in a safe place, such as a bank safe deposit box. Report a lost or stolen passport to the police because your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. To renew or replace your passport, contact your country’s consulate in the U.S.
The visa is the stamp that the U.S. consular officer places on a page in your passport. The visa permits you to apply for admission into the U.S. as an F-1 student, and does not need to remain valid while you are in the U.S. The F-1 visa is specifically for entry into the U.S. After you are in the U.S., the F-1 visa might expire before your status expires, or your status might end before your visa expires.
If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. consulate. Exceptions to this rule exist for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. For more information, visit the Travel and Visas section.
I-20 Certificate of Eligibility
Issued by UW, this document allows you to apply for an F-1 visa if you are outside the U.S., apply for F-1 status within the U.S., enter and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, and prove your eligibility for various F-1 benefits. The I-20 indicates the institution in which you are permitted to study, your program of study, and the dates of eligibility. The I-20 must remain valid at all times. Allowing the I-20 to expire before you complete your academic program is a violation of F-1 status.
The I-20 is a printout from your Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.
I-94 Arrival & Departure Record
The I-94 is the record of your entry to the U.S. Most I-94 records are now electronic and can be accessed online.
You might need a printout of your electronic I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a Washington State ID card or a Social Security Number. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record on the I-94 Website.
Events That Require You to Update Your I-20
Many kinds of updates must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security through SEVIS and must be changed on your I-20. Notify ISS of the following changes and request an updated I-20. Keep every I-20 for your permanent record, even after you graduate. Do not discard the old ones, even from previous schools. ISS files are archived and destroyed after several years, so it is your responsibility to keep your I-20s in case you need them to apply for future immigration benefits.
If you are unable to complete your course of study before the completion date noted in item 5 on your I-20, you must request an extended I-20 before your current I-20 expires. For more information and instructions, review Program Extension information.
You must register full-time at the UW since the UW issued your I-20 and oversees your SEVIS record. If you decide to transfer to another school, contact ISS prior to completing your final quarter at UW. For information about transferring your SEVIS record to the new school, visit School Transfer.
Change of Level
If you will complete your current program of study and plan to continue at the University of Washington in another program (for example, change from a Master’s degree program to a Ph.D. program), your I-20 must be updated. For more information, review Change of Level information.
Change of Major
If you are accepted into a major or if you change your major (for example, pre-major to History or History to Biology), you will be issued a new I-20.
Change of Funding
If there is a substantial change in the source or amount of your funding, report this change to ISS and a new I-20 will be issued to you. For example, if you receive a Research or Teaching Assistantship through your department, but your I-20 indicates that you use personal funds to pay for expenses, you should request a new I-20. For more information, review Change of Funding information.
The name on your I-20 should match the name on your passport. If you change any part of your legal name—first/given name, middle name, or last/family name—on your passport, this change should be reflected on your I-20. Conversely, if you want a different name on your I-20, ISS will wait for you to change your passport first, before updating the I-20. Note that SEVIS is a separate database from the UW database. For instructions on changing your name in the UW database, visit: Name Change Policy.
Full-time Registration Requirements and Exceptions
In general, F-1 students must be registered full-time. This is defined as at least:
- 12 credits each quarter for undergraduate students
- 10 credits each quarter for graduate students
Only one online class may count towards the minimum credit amount each quarter.
Do not register for fewer than the required number of credits or withdraw from a course without first receiving permission from ISS. Part-time studies could jeopardize your stay in the U.S. and make you ineligible for F-1 benefits.
For more information and exceptions to full-time enrollment, review the Full-Time Enrollment and Exceptions information.
Making Normal Progress
To maintain status, an F-1 student is also required to “make normal progress.” Making normal progress includes, but is not limited to, enrolling in the proper courses required for degree completion, maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and continually meeting all institutional enrollment requirements.
“Employment” is any work performed or services provided (including self-employment) in exchange for money or other benefit or compensation (for example, free room and board in exchange for babysitting). Unauthorized employment is taken very seriously by U.S. immigration officials; familiarize yourself with your F-1 employment eligibility options and always contact ISS before accepting any work that you are not sure is authorized.
Dependents (Spouse and Children)
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact ISS for procedures to invite a dependent to join you in the U.S. Immigration regulations do not permit F-2 dependents to be employed in the U.S. F-2 dependents can study part-time in an academic or vocational curriculum at a SEVP-certified school. F-2 dependents can also study in avocational or recreational programs–hobbies. F-2 dependents may enroll full-time in kindergarten through 12th grade.
An F-2 dependent who wants to pursue full-time study must obtain F-1 status to begin the full-time program.
For more information on adding an F-2 dependent, review the Spouses and Children webpage.
Change of Address
Any change of address must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days. Update your local address through your MyUW account, and DHS will automatically be notified of the change. If you are on OPT, submit your address change through your MyISSS portal. Please note that your local US address must be your physical address, not a P.O. Box. To update your permanent foreign address, which must be a non-U.S. address, please submit a request through MyISSS.
Graduation or Completion of Your Program
The end of your academic program affects your F-1 status. After you graduate or complete your program, you have a 60-day grace period.
Review the ISS Final Quarter Checklist for more information on your options during your grace period, including eligibility for work authorization, travel, commencement, inviting family members to visit the U.S., and other related issues.
If you do not complete your educational objective (for example, if you withdraw from your program), you are not eligible for the 60-day grace period. Contact your ISS adviser in this situation.
Loss of F-1 Status
If you violate the immigration regulations you will lose your F-1 status.
However, students may be able to regain valid F-1 status either through a reinstatement application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or through travel and reentry with a new I-20/new SEVIS record. The appropriate option will depend on your individual circumstances; review the reinstatement and reentry procedures and consult your ISS adviser as soon as possible for more information. A scheduled appointment with your ISS adviser is required because drop-in advising will not allow sufficient time to discuss this topic. In addition, we strongly recommend that students in this situation consult with an experienced immigration attorney.