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 US. Review this information carefully and contact International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) 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 US and have benefits and restrictions specified in the immigration regulations for the F-1 visa category. You gain status either by entering the US with F-1 documents (described below) or, for people already in the US in a different status, by applying to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status.
Period of Authorized Stay
Your admission to the US is for "duration of status," that is, for 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 (or exchange program), plus an optional period of practical training following completion of studies, plus a 60-days "grace period" to prepare to depart the US or change to another status. Your length of authorized stay is not related to your F-1 visa expiration date. The F-1 visa is specifically for entry into the US. The F-1 visa might expire before your status expires, and your status might end before your visa expires.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a US government database that allows schools and federal immigration agencies to exchange data on the status of international students. Information is transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student's academic career in the US.
An electronic record is created in SEVIS for you after you are admitted and confirm enrollment at WWU. This allows the WWU to issue an I-20 or DS-2019, which you need to gain F-1 or J-1 status. When you apply for a student visa and arrive at a US port of entry, the consular officer or immigration official may consult SEVIS in addition to your supporting documents to verify eligibility for F-1 or J-1 status. International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) will continue to provide electronic reports throughout your academic career, noting information such as registration, address changes, academic program changes, degree completion, and immigration status violations.
It is important to understand the F-1 and J-1 student immigration regulations in order to maintain status while you are in the US. For more information, please contact ISSS.
Federal law requires you to carry "registration" documents at all times, including your I-20 and passport with I-94 card attached or F-1 admission stamp (depending on what you received upon your last entry to the US). Please see this overview of documents related to your F-1 status. For day-to-day purposes, we suggest that these documents be kept in a secure location such as a bank safe deposit box, and you carry photocopies. However, if you are traveling outside the Bellingham 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.
Events That Require You to Update Your I-20
Many types of updates must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security through SEVIS and must be changed on your I-20. Notify ISSS of any of these 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. ISSS 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.
Full-time Registration Requirements and Exceptions
In general, F-1 students must be registered full-time. This is defined as 12 or more credits each quarter for undergraduate students and 8 or more 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 ISSS. Part-time studies could jeopardize your stay in the US and make you ineligible for F-1 benefits.
There are some exceptions to the full-time requirement.
Dependents (Spouse and Children)
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact ISSS for procedures to invite a dependent to join you in the US. Immigration regulations do not permit F-2 dependents to be employed in the US. The regulations also restrict full-time study for F-2 dependents, with two exceptions:
- An F-2 spouse and child may enroll in courses that are avocational or recreational in nature. Enrollment in a degree program would not be considered as avocational or recreational.
- An F-2 child may engage in full-time study if the study is in kindergarten (age 5) through high school (age 18).
An F-2 spouse or F-2 child desiring to engage in full-time study (other than as noted above) must apply to USCIS to obtain a change of status to F-1.
Please see our Spouses and Children page for resources for dependents.
Change of Address
Any change of address must be reported to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days. Update your local address through your Web4U account and ISSS will update the address in your SEVIS record. If you are on OPT, email your ISSS advisor with your new local address. Please note that your local US address must be your physical address, not a PO Box. To update your permanent foreign address, which must be a non-U.S. address, email firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and student ID number.
Loss of F-1 Status
If you violate immigration regulations you may be able to regain valid F-1 status either through a reinstatement application to USCIS or through travel and reentry with a new I-20/new SEVIS record. The appropriate option will depend on your individual circumstances. Consult your ISSS advisor for more information. A scheduled appointment with your ISSS advisor is recommended as drop-in advising will not allow sufficient time to discuss this topic.
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. Within this 60-day period you have the following options:
- Depart the US. Once you leave the US (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies you are not eligible to re-enter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the States and preparation to depart the US.
- Request a new I-20 if you will continue at the WWU in a new degree program. If you are an undergraduate and will begin graduate studies, your new I-20 will be issued by Graduate School.
- Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
- Apply to change status to another visa category. ISSS advisors cannot assist with change of status applications. If you need additional assistance, we recommend you contact an immigration attorney.
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 ISSS advisor in this situation.