Arriving and Being in the US

When you arrive at the airport, you will be asked to give Passport Control your passport and I-20, all of which the CBP officer will stamp.  

To get your salary released, your academic advisor at the Cultural Division will need these immigration documents sent by fax, email or regular mail to them. 

Orientation at School

Orientation is mandatory for all F-1/J-1 international students, because one requirement for the school to register you in SEVIS is to have documentation that you attended the orientation with regard to your immigration information.  It is imperative that you arrive to your location of study before the orientation so you can attend it.  Also, on the first day of school, don’t forget to bring your I-20, passport and I-94 to the campus, so they can photocopy the stamps for their records, as they are required to do by SEVP.

Maintaining Your Status with DHS

In order to maintain F-1 visa status while studying in the United States, you must adhere to the following regulations:

Attend the SEVIS orientation

Every school is required to advise all F-1 students of their responsibilities, grace periods, and other important information before the student begins their program.  Each student is required to attend the SEVIS orientation held by his/her school at the beginning of his/her first term. Even if you are a transfer student and attended the orientation at your previous school, your school cannot register you in SEVIS without having given you this orientation.

Maintain a Full Course of Study

Most schools and SEVIS regulations require that a student register for and attend 12 credits during fall and spring for undergraduates. F-1 students are not required to register for classes during the summer. If you have a legitimate reason for taking less than the full course load during the academic year, you can receive permission from your university to enroll in a lower number of credit hours. You must make sure your university’s International Student Office is aware of your situation as there may be special forms you need to file in such cases. If at any time during the semester you need to drop a course, which will result in less than the minimum number of credit hours, you should discuss the matter with your International Student Advisor before taking any action.  The International Student Advisor can enter a notation in SEVIS one time to allow for a reduced course load, wherein you will still be “in status,” though you won’t be full-time.  

Register for Classes On Time

You are required to register for all classes at the beginning of each registration period or alternatively, at the beginning of the semester. Your school has to register you in SEVIS each semester shortly after the semester begins. If you are not registered for a full load of courses by the time they make those updates, you will be considered out-of-status by the DHS and will need to file for reinstatement. 

Notification of Information Changes

You must report any changes related to your name, address, major, dependent status, or transfer to another school to your university’s international student office. 

Know the Policies for Extending your Degree Program

If you cannot complete your degree program by the end date listed in section 5 of your I-20, you will need to apply for an extension PRIOR to the end date. You should make an appointment to meet with your International Student Advisor on campus well in advance of the I-20 end date in order to prepare your application for the extension. If you do not apply for an extension before the end date on your I-20, you will be considered out-of-status by the DHS and will need to file for reinstatement.

Obey the law

You are required to abide by all local, state, and federal laws while living and studying in the United States. Engaging in criminal activity of any nature will jeopardize your status and may result in a cancellation of your visa.  

Know the Policies on Grace Periods

Defined as the maximum amount of time a student has to exit the US, you successfully complete your program (ESL or degree requirements), you have 60 days with which you can transfer your SEVIS record to another school or travel. If you withdraw from all classes for personal reasons, you can remain for or transfer in only 15 days. After an administrative dismissal, expulsion, or suspension, you must leave immediately.

Coming and Going

All F-1 or J-1 visa holders who have left the US and wish to return must make sure they have a passport which is valid for at least 6 months. You must carry your I-20 or DS-2019 with you, and the I-20 must have a travel signature by an International Student Advisor at your university on the third page before you leave the United States. Failure to have your I-20 signed before departure could result in being denied entry upon your return. You should also be sure to carry copies of any old I-20s, your financial support letter from your sponsor and a transcript or course registration printout demonstrating your enrollment for the current term.

Transferring from One School to Another

Before deciding to transfer schools, you must first determine if you meet the transfer eligibility requirements. You will need to discuss your transfer plans with your Academic Advisor to make sure the new institution is approved and properly accredited.

If you are an F-1 visa holder maintaining good status, you should know that you are not allowed to remain in the US when transferring schools unless you will be enrolled in classes at the new university within five months of transferring out of your current school or within five months of the program completion date on your current I-20, whichever date is earlier.

What Do I Need to Do in Order to Transfer?

First, you must inform your current school of your intent to transfer and tell your International Student Advisor the name of the new university. Once your International Student Advisor receives this information from you, your SEVIS record will be updated to show that you are transferring out. The new institution where you intend to transfer will be indicated, along with a release date for your record.

Your current school will remain responsible for your SEVIS record until you complete the term or reach the release date. The transfer school will be granted full access to your SEVIS record starting from the day of the release. After the release date, your new university’s International Student Office can issue a new SEVIS Form I-20. At this point, you must contact the International Student Office at your previous school within 15 days of the program start date listed on the new I-20. They will update your record and inform SEVIS that you are enrolled in classes within the required 30 days.

Please note that you may cancel your transfer request at any time prior to the release date.

For comprehensive instructions on how to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa, please visit the US Department of State website at

Before Arriving to the USUS Immigration Terms