F-1 Visa Basics

This page contains important information about maintaining your F-1 status, along with other important terms and regulations.

Maintaining Lawful F-1 Status
Important terms and regulations

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
Designated School Official (DSO)
Passport
Visa
I-94 record
Form I-20
Identification Documents
Renewing F-1 Visas
Dropping below a full course load

 

Maintaining Lawful F-1 Status

Under United States immigration law, it is your personal responsibility to maintain lawful F-1 student status. Begin by reading the "Instructions to Students" on page two of your I-20. By following those instructions, as well as the guidelines listed below, you should be able to maintain lawful F-1 student status with little difficulty. You must maintain lawful student status if you wish to enjoy the benefits associated with it, such as on-campus employment, practical training, and the ability to re-enter the United States when you travel.

If you follow the guidelines listed below, you should be able to maintain F-1 student status. You should also make every effort to attend mandatory meetings scheduled by the OIIS. These mandatory meetings will provide up-to-date information regarding your visa. You should always read carefully any communication from OIIS and respond promptly to OIIS staff.

 

1. Keep an unexpired passport valid for at least 6 months into the future. Contact your country's consulate in NY or embassy in Washington, D.C. for instructions if you need to extend your passport while in the U.S.

2. Notify the OIIS of your address upon arrival and any time you change addresses. Upon your initial arrival in the U.S. to study at Barnard, you must notify the OIIS of your local address. Thereafter, you must notify the OIIS of any change in address within 10 days of moving. The OIIS is responsible for updating your address electronically in your SEVIS record.

3. Maintain full-time enrollment and normal, full-time progress toward your degree or certificate. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations require that you register during the University's published registration period. Failure to do this will result in violation of your F-1 status. You are expected to maintain full-time registration and make normal progress toward your degree. At Barnard, full-time is defined as being enrolled in 12 or more credits each semester during the academic year.

4. Obtain PRIOR authorization from the OIIS (if eligible) BEFORE dropping below a full course of study, withdrawing from classes, or taking a leave of absence. There are very limited exceptions to the full-time requirement, so you must consult the ISSO in advance of any drop below full-time status, or you will be in violation of your visa requirements.

5. If you leave the US without completing your program of study, if you complete your program early, or if you change to another non-immigrant status, notify the ISSO so that your record in the DHS data base accurately reflects your current situation.

6. Do not accept any employment, either on- or off-campus, without written permission from the OIIS and, if necessary, authorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Working without proper authorization is considered by the DHS as the most serious violation of its regulations. If you refer to your I-94 record, you will see the statement, "Warning: a non-immigrant who accepts unauthorized employment is subject to deportation." Therefore, it is critical that you consult with the OIIS before you accept an offer of employment or begin to work. We will advise you whether it is possible for you to work and assist you with the appropriate procedures. It is illegal to begin to work while waiting for authorization; you must have the appropriate authorization first. Students in F-1 status are allowed to work on-campus for the University for a maximum of 20 hours per week during the academic year (unlimited during vacation periods).

7. Make timely transfers of your F-1 supervision if you enroll at Barnard after attending another school in the United States. DHS regulations specify that you must use the Visa Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019) issued by the school you are attending (or plan to attend) when entering the U.S. Consequently, make sure that you use Barnard's Certificate of Eligibility. You are required to report to the OIIS shortly after your arrival and no later than the beginning of the semester.

8. Obtain extensions, as needed, of your permission to stay in the U.S. before your I-20 expires. If you have valid academic or health reasons for requiring more time to complete your program than that which is authorized on the Barnard I-20, you must request a program extension through the OIIS. Come to the OIIS as soon as you know that you will need an extension and at least 30 days before the completion date noted on your I-20 in order to have enough time to obtain any necessary documents.

9. Once you have completed your studies and any practical training that is authorized, you must leave the U.S. or change to another immigration status within the appropriate timeframe. This means that you are allowed to stay for the period of time to complete a program of study plus academic or practical training and a grace period. Those in F-1 status have a 60-day grace period in which to depart the U.S. or change to another status.

10. Carry a copy of your passport and I-94 record with you at all times. When traveling outside the New York City area, you should bring your most recent I-94 record, I-20, and passport with you.

We encourage you to contact the OIIS if you have any questions about maintaining your F-1 status.

 

Important terms and regulations

  • Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
  • Designated School Official (DSO)
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • I-94 record
  • Form I-20
  • Identification Documents
  • Renewing F-1 Visas
  • Dropping below a full course load

 

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

SEVIS stands for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.  It is a secure internet- based system that allows schools and the U.S. immigration service to exchange data on the visa status of international students.  Current information is transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student’s academic career in the United States.  Barnard must comply with the SEVIS reporting requirements. Failure to comply could result in the loss of the college’s ability to accept international students in the future.

How SEVIS Works

  • After Barnard admits an international student, Barnard issues an I-20 or DS-2019 through SEVIS. The new bar-coded I-20 or DS-2019 form is then sent to you.
  • The student visits the U.S. Consulate abroad, and the consulate confirms that the I-20 or DS-2019 the student is carrying is a valid document.  If everything is in order, the consulate issues the visa.
  • An immigration officer at the airport reports to SEVIS the student’s entry into theUnited States.
  • When the student arrives on campus, she reports to the international student adviser  or  a  designated  school  official  and  registers  online  to  confirm  her intention to enroll in a full course of study.
  • The  college  continues  to  provide  regular  electronic  reports  through  SEVIS throughout your time at Barnard.
  • Finally, SEVIS records the student’s departure from the United States.

Designated School Official (DSO)

A DSO is the school representative who advises you on immigration matters, maintains your SEVIS F-1 record, and acts as the liaison between the student and USCIS. Leigh Ellen Johnson is the Primary Designated School Official (PDSO); Mark Farrell is an additional DSO.

Passport

Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future at all times.  You may apply for a renewal of your passport in your own country during a vacation abroad or through your country’s embassy, consulate or mission in the U.S.   Regardless of your visa type, you should be sure to bring your passport to the international student adviser soon after you arrive so that a copy of the ID page can be made for your file.

Visa

When you go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you in your home country and present a new Form I-20, the consular official will place a visa stamp on a page inside your passport (except Canadian citizens).   This visa gives you permission to apply for entry to the U.S. It indicates the type of visa you have been given for your stay in the U.S. and the expiration date. Also, it will indicate how many times you can enter the U.S. using that visa (i.e., single, two, multiple). The length of time you are authorized to stay in the U.S. is determined by the date on your I-20 or DS-2019.

I-94 record

All non-U.S. citizens are issued an I-94 record when they arrive at a U.S. port of entry.  All international students, regardless of visa type, should retrieve their record each time they enter the country, and keep this record with their Form I-20, passport, and other important documents. It will include your USCIS status, date of entry, and the length of time that your status is valid.  A notation of “D/S” means that your F-1 or J-1 status is valid for the “duration of status” or the time it will take to complete your current degree program as a full-time student.

Form I-20

This is one of the forms used to document your maintenance of F-1 student status. Barnard issues it once you have been accepted and have provided financial documents that show your ability to pay for all your expenses as you pursue your studies.  The Form I-20 is used to obtain your F-1 visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  After your initial entry in the U.S., your Form I-20 ID (student copy) must be properly signed by a DSO in the OIIS on the third page before you leave the United States. Signatures for travel are usually valid for six months.

Identification Documents

Many countries require every person to carry an identity card.  The United States has no such requirement.  There is no national identity card.  You should, however, carry identification with you at all times.  To cash a check or purchase goods with a check usually requires two forms of identification.  In the U.S., people normally use their driver’s license and a major credit card. Often, international students substitute their passport for the driver’s license and their valid Barnard College ID card for a credit card.

Renewing F-1 Visas

When you received your visa stamp inside your passport, an expiration date was also noted. If your visa expires while you are studying in the U.S., there is no need to renew it as long as you are staying in the U.S. However, if you travel abroad, you must plan to renew it.  If you fail to renew your visa while you are abroad, you will be denied re-entry into the U.S.

It is NOT possible to renew your F-1 visa inside the U.S. You may renew your visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country to which you are traveling (preferably your home country because countries other than your own may impose stricter requirements or may be unwilling to renew a visa for a citizen or resident of another country). You will need a new Form I-20 from Barnard and updated financial documentation in order to renew your visa.

If you follow the guidelines below, you should have no problem maintaining your student immigration status. If you have questions about any of the information in this handbook, you should seek the advice of the international student adviser.

Dropping below a full course load

International students must not drop below a full course of study after classes have begun without prior authorization from the international student adviser, who will authorize the reduced course load on SEVIS. “Full time” means 12 credits per semester.

Students who are experiencing medical difficulties can reduce their credit load or take the semester off and not do any coursework. Documentation from a licensed medical doctor or psychologist is required, as well as permission from the relevant Class Dean. Then the international student adviser in the OIIS may authorize a reduced credit load in SEVIS. You must obtain all of these approvals in order to drop below full-time status.