Maintaining F-1 Status | International Education | SUNY ESF | College of Environmental Science and Forestry
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Maintaining F-1 Status

What is SEVIS?

SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Web-based system for maintaining information on international students and exchange visitors in the United States. The Office of International Education (OIE) serves as the “Designated School Officials (DSO)” which means that we have access to SEVIS and student records in compliance with Federal immigration.

SEVIS monitors your name, date of birth, country of birth/citizenship, address, email address, phone number, program dates, major/minor, course load, funding, employment authorization, entry and exit from the USA, etc. You must notify OIE of any change to these categories within 10 days of the change. Your SEVIS record is your part of your permanent immigration record in the USA.  It can never be erased, so it is important to always follow the regulations in order to maintain your status.  Falling out of status as a student could affect your eligibility for all future visa applications.

SEVIS Registration

During the first week of every semester, you are required to report to OIE for SEVIS registration.  During this registration with OIE staff, all of your immigration documents are reviewed and your SEVIS record is “registered.” Failure to submit your SEVIS registration will result in the termination of your SEVIS record.

Student Responsibilities

  • Keep your immigration documents in a safe and secure place.
  • Keep your passport and other immigration documents up-to-date at all times.
  • Inform OIE immediately if you lose any of your documents.
  • Bring any new immigration documents to OIE so that a copy can be made for your file.
  • Be knowledgeable of, and abide by, all immigration regulations relating to your status, including deadlines.

Passport

  • Your passport must be valid at all times.
  • If your passport will expire while you are in the USA, contact your country’s nearest embassy for information on how to renew your passport.
  • If you are traveling outside of the USA, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date of reentry.  (There are some exceptions to this, so if you are unsure, check with OIE.)

I-20

  • You must keep your I-20 up-to-date at all times.
  • You must request an updated I-20 from OIE within 10 days of the change if:
  • You declare or change your major, and/or add a second major or minor
  • There is a change in your funding or name.
  • If you will not complete your program in the time given on your I-20, you must request an extension at least 30 days before your I-20 expires*. (*Extensions are only considered when approved by OIE.)

I-94: Arrival/Departure Record

Your I-94 is your record of entry and departure from the USA.  All students entering the USA through an airport will not receive a paper I-94.  Instead, you will receive an entry stamp in your passport that should be notated with “F-1 D/S.”  After entering the USA, you should visit www.cbp.gov/i94 to print a copy of your electronic I-94.  If you enter the USA at a land crossing, you might receive a paper I-94 that will be stapled in your passport.

Duration of Status (D/S)

You were given the annotation D/S on your entry stamp and electronic I-94.  This means that you are permitted to remain in the USA even if your visa has expired as long as you are maintaining valid F-1 status and are either:

  • Engaged in a full-course of study
  • Engaged in authorized practical training (employment authorization)
  • In your “grace period” (see below)

Full-Time Enrollment Requirement

You are required to enroll full-time in the fall and spring semesters.  Full-time enrollment is considered to be:

  • Undergraduate students: 12 credits
  • Graduate students without assistantship: 12 credits
  • Graduate students with assistantship/fellowship: 9 credits
  • Graduate students who require additional English language instruction: 9 graduate-level credits + 3 credits undergrad ESL
  • Graduate students who require additional English language instruction and have an assistantship/fellowship: 6 graduate-level credits + 3 credits undergrad ESL
  • Graduate students who have met all academic requirements: 1 research credit & file a Certificate of Full-Time Status every semester you meet the eligibility requirements

You must continue to make normal progress towards your degree during your program. Enrollment is not required during the summer or winter breaks which are considered vacation periods. For the summer, graduate students will be considered full time if registered for at least one credit of thesis/dissertation research, professional experience, or independent study and their major professor verifies in writing that they are working full time on the completion of degree requirements.

Online/Distance Courses: No more than the equivalent of 1 on-line/distance education class or 3 credits per session may count towards the "full course of study" requirement each semester. For example, if you are required to take 12 credits in a semester to maintain full-time status, only 3 of the required 12 credits can be from an online course. You may however exceed the 12 credit requirement by taking additional online courses as long as you are taking at least 9 credits in class (not online).

Reduced Course Load (RCL)

There are only a few reasons why F-1 students would be permitted to drop below full-time enrollment without falling out of status. 

  • Academic or English Language Difficulties (1 semester only – usually only first semester)
  • Medical Condition (Up to 12 months)
  • Last semester of study

A RCL will only be approved in accordance with OIE policy and in coordination with your Academic Adviser and Dean of the Graduate School.  All RCL requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For more information please email OIE at oie@esf.edu.

Traveling Outside of the USA

Before traveling outside of the USA, verify the following:

  • Your passport is valid for at least 6 months from the date of your reentry
  • Your visa is still valid (not applicable for Canadian citizens)
    • If your visa has expired, you will need to renew your visa for reentry to the USA unless you qualify for “Automatic Visa Revalidation.”
  • Page 2 of your I-20 has been signed within one year of the date of your reentry by a DSO in the OIE.  This is called a “travel signature.”  Travel signatures are valid for one year only.
    • If you need to renew your visa before your reentry to the USA, you will need a brand new travel signature even if the previous signature is still valid.
    • Upon reentry to the USA, you must bring your new I-94 to the OIE to be verified and copied for your file. If you got a new visa or passport, you must bring these as well.
    • More info here.

Renewing your F-1 Visa (Not Applicable for Canadian Citizens)

If you are traveling outside of the USA and are not traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the “adjacent islands” or do not qualify for Automatic Visa Revalidation, you will  need to renew your F-1 visa for reentry to the USA.  Please note that it is highly recommended that you only apply for a visa in your home country or country of legal permanent residence.  It is not recommended to try to renew your visa in Canada.

In order to renew your visa, be sure to:

  • Make sure that your I-20 is up-to-date and gives accurate information about your current program and funding.
  • Get a new travel signature on your I-20 regardless if the previous signature is still valid.
  • Bring proof of your current studies and progress towards your degree (transcripts, class schedule, letter from academic adviser, etc.)
  • Bring proof of financial support (financial aid letter, bank statement, etc.)
  • Follow the procedures of the US Embassy/Consulate in regard to your nonimmigrant visa application very carefully to avoid delays/denials.

Upon reentry to the USA, it is extremely important that you report to OIE so that your new visa and I-94 can be verified and copied for your file.

Automatic Visa Revalidation

If your visa is expired and you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the “adjacent islands,” and will be outside of the USA for less than 30 days, you can reenter the USA using your expired F-1 visa unless:

  • You applied for a new visa and it has not been issued
  • You applied for a new visa and were denied
  • You have a terminated SEVIS record indicating that you are out of status
  • You have been out the United States for more than 30 days
  • You are a citizen of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria

If you plan to travel using Automatic Visa Revalidation, it is recommended that you meet with OIE before departing the USA.

On-Campus and Off-Campus Employment

F-1 international students in good status are permitted to work on campus up to 20 hours per week.  No additional authorization from OIE is needed to work on-campus. On-campus is defined as both SUNY-ESF and Syracuse University. Employment may be increased to full-time (40+ hours) per week during the College winter, spring, and summer breaks when class is not in session (individual vacation days such as Martin Luther King Day and Thanksgiving break do not qualify). More info here.

F-1 international students are not permitted under any circumstance to work off-campus without prior authorization. Working off-campus without authorization is a major violation of your immigration status. There are three options for off-campus employment authorization: Economic Hardship Employment, Curricular Practical Training, and Optional Practical Training.

Taxes

You are required to complete the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8843 every year, regardless of if you have worked in the USA.  If you have worked or have a taxable financial aid award, you will also need to file the 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ.  If you are employed on-campus, you will receive a tax packet from Accounting with instructions on how to complete your taxes.  If you worked off campus (CPT or OPT), you should receive a wage statement (W-2) from your employer and will need to use that to file your own taxes.  The deadline to file all tax forms each year is April 15. More info here.

Grace Period

F-1 students have 60 days from the date of their program completion or final day of authorized practical training to prepare to depart the USA. During your grace period you can:

  • Prepare to depart and depart the USA
  • Begin a new academic program (i.e. graduate school)
  • Apply for Optional Practical Training (if you just completed your academic program)

During your grace period, you cannot work, study, or leave and reenter the USA with the same I-20.

Appointments with OIE

If you ever have a question about your status, need to comply with reporting requirements, or need assistance, you are encouraged to make an appointment with OIE. OIE does not work for the US Government. Contact us at oie@esf.edu.

***It is the responsibility of an international student to abide by U.S. immigration regulations and to maintain valid non-immigrant student status. ***

***The Office of International Education reserves the right to a one-week time frame for reviewing and processing of any submitted requests. Student should anticipate OIE to take the full week and should expect to submit documents early in order to avoid potential complications.***