F-1 Students: How to Maintain Status

F-1 Visa

New Students MUST Check in at ISS!

Newly Arriving International Students MUST check in to the ISS Office no later than 30 days after the start date on your I-20 or DS-2019. If you do not check in at ISS, you may lose your valid immigration status in the U.S.

To check in, come to ISS at Rm-119 Blackburn bldg and bring with you:

  • your passport,
  • I-94 card and
  • I-20 or DS-2019.

How to Maintain Your F-1 Immigration Status in the U.S.

(click here for J-1 student status requirements)

  1. Report to ISS within 30 days of I-20 start date
  2. Always enroll FULL-TIME during the academic year
  3. Update your local address within 10 days of moving
  4. Keep your immigration documents VALID and CURRENT:
    Apply for an EXTENSION at ISS BEFORE the "completion of studies" date in Item 5 of your I-20
    Be sure your I-20 states the correct degree program and level in Item 4
    If you plan to transfer to another school, come in to ISS to discuss the immigration status transfer.
  5. NEVER work off-campus without PRIOR authorization
  6. Notify ISS when you leave the U.S. or change visa status
  7. If you TRAVEL outside the United States, be SURE to have the proper re-entry documents


1. Report to ISS within 30 days of I-20 start date
It is REQUIRED BY LAW that you come to the International Students and Scholars Office when you first arrive at Howard whether it is your first time in the U.S. or if you are transferring from another U.S. institution. If you are transferring to Howard, you must complete the transfer procedures at ISS within 15 days after classes start. ISS will register you in the SEVIS database as having completed the transfer process.

2. Always Enroll Full Time
F-1 students must maintain full-time student status every semester. For undergraduate students, full-time means you must register and complete at least 12 credits each semester; as a graduate student, for immigration purposes, there is no minimum credit requirement, you must simply be registered (for graduate students, "in absentia" registration DOES count as full time enrollment). Graduate students DO have academic requirements for minimum credits dependent on your particular program, so you must discuss dropping courses with an academic advisore. Please talk to ISS staff BEFORE you drop below full time enrollment or take a leave of absence.

3. Update your Local Address
The immigration regulations require you to update your local residential address within 10 days of moving within the U.S. You must do this by updating your local address in "Just the Facts" AND notifying ISS.

4. Keep your Immigration Documents VALID and CURRENT
You should make photocopies of your immigration documents and keep the copies and originals in a safe place. Photocopy:

  • the passport pages with your personal information and picture
  • the passport page containing the U.S. visa stamp
  • both sides of your I-94 Form
  • your I-20, pages 1-3
  • Keep your passport valid
    You should keep your passport valid for at least six months in to the future while you are studying in the U.S. Consult your country's consulate or embassy in the U.S. to renew your passport. You can find the contact information for your consulate at: http://travel.state.gov.

  • F-1 Extension
    The end date of your immigration status is written on your I-20 as the "completion of studies" date, in item #5 (not the end date of your visa stamp).* If you are unable to complete your course of study by that time, you must apply for an extension BEFORE the I-20 completion date. If you do not complete the extension before that date, you will be out of status. Pick up an F-1 Program Extension packet from ISS to begin the process.

  • Change of Degree Program or Level
    If you are changing degree levels within Howard University, the graduate school or the professional school who admitted you will produce a new I-20 for you once you have been admitted and have provided financial support statements to them.

  • Discuss Transfer Plans with an ISS advisor
    If you plan to transfer to another school or to go on to another school after you graduate from Howard, ISS will need to complete the immigration transfer procedure. Come in to ISS to discuss the transfer process.

5. Never Work Off-campus Without Prior Authorization
Employment opportunities for international students in the U.S. are restricted by law. In general there are two types of employment: on-campus and off-campus employment.

  • On-campus Employment: Enrolled F-1 students are permitted to work on campus for 20 hours per week during academic year and 40 hours per week during summer and winter breaks.
  • Off-campus Employment: Off-campus employment is any type of work or services performed in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food or any other benefit that is not on the Howard campus. A work permit is required BEFORE any off-campus work is allowed. See the staff in ISS for advice and assistance.

6. Notify ISS When You Leave the U.S. or Change Visa Status
When you finish your program and leave the U.S. permanently or you change to another visa status (for instance if an employer plans to do an H1B visa application for you after you graduate or finish your OPT), come to ISS or email us to notify us of your plans.

7. Traveling outside of the United States

Re-entering the U.S. after a Temporary Absence

To re-enter the U.S., you need to have the following documents:

  • valid passport (except Canadians unless entering from outside the Western Hemisphere)
  • valid F-1 or F-2 visa stamp (except Canadians)
  • current I-20 with a valid signature (see I-20 Endorsement)
  • proof of financial support (bank statements and/or scholarship, financial aid or TA/RA letter)
  • proof of enrollment (certificate of enrollment or transcript). You can obtain a certificate of enrollment from the registrar’s office.

Traveling to Canada

Before traveling to Canada, come to ISS to check visa requirements and to pick up a Canadian visitor visa application if one is required (or on the web at http://cicnet.ci.gc.ca). You can re-enter the U.S. from Canada with an expired U.S. visa stamp if ALL of the following apply to you:

  • You have a valid passport with an expired non-immigrant visa stamp, a valid I-20 or DS-2019, and you keep your I-94 card when leaving the U.S. and entering Canada
  • Your visit to Canada will be less than 30 days
  • You do NOT apply for a U.S. visa stamp while in Canada
  • You are NOT a national of one of the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Cuba, or North Korea.

Renewing Your Visa Stamp

If you or your dependents need to renew your visa stamps in order to re-enter the U.S., you must apply in person to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Applicants are normally required to submit the following documentation:

  • valid passport
  • current passport-size photographs
  • valid Form I-20 (complete three-page form)
  • proof of financial support (bank statements and/or scholarship, financial aid or TA/RA letter)
  • proof of enrollment (certificate of enrollment or transcript). You can download a certificate of enrollment from [INSERT HU ENROLLMENT FORM HERE].

I-20 Travel Endorsement

You need to have a valid signature from ISS staff on your I-20 in order to re-enter the U.S. The signature is valid for 12 months.

I-20 Travel Endorsement for Canadians or students on OPT

Canadians and students on Optional Practical Training need a signature from ISS staff within the last six months to be valid for re-entry to the U.S..

Other Immigration Issues

F-2 Dependents

The spouse or child of an F-1 student enters the U.S. in F-2 status. Any s tudent wishing to bring a spouse and/or child to the U.S. should visit ISS to have the necessary documents prepared. People in F-2 status are not eligible for employment and may not enroll in a course of study. For traveling and re-entering the U.S., F-2 dependents need all the same documents as the F-1 would need as outlined above including an I-20 that is produced with the F-2's biographical information.

**Notes on Visa Stamps and Immigration Status

Visa Stamp

The visa stamp in your passport was obtained at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and is used for entering the U.S. The visa stamp functions as a key to enter the U.S. Once you are here in the U.S., you do not need to keep your visa stamp current. It is only when you are leaving the U.S. and need to return that you must be sure that you have a valid U.S. visa stamp to re-enter the U.S. [Note: Canadian citizens are not required to have a passport (if entering the U.S. from within the Western hemisphere) or visa stamp, but they must show their I-20 and proof of Canadian citizenship at the U.S. port of entry.]

Immigration Status

Immigration status is granted at the U.S. port of entry (or by application to change status through an immigration service center) and is stated on your I-94 card by the port of entry officer (or immigration service center). Most of you have F-1 student status. In most situations your visa type and immigration status are the same, unless you have changed your immigration status after entering the U.S. For instance, some F-1 students have changed their status to F-2 (the dependent of F-1 student) or to another temporary immigration status. If you do change your status within the U.S., the next time you travel out of the U.S., you would need to go to a U.S. consulate, apply for and obtain a new visa stamp which matches your new immigration status. To maintain your legal status in the U.S., check your I-20 (not the visa stamp in your passport). For F-1 students, the "completion of studies" date under item 5 on your I-20 Form is the end date of your immigration status.

Relief for F-1 students affected by the "H1B Cap Gap":

A new regulation for F-1 OPT work authorization

Download this information as a handout here.

Changes were made to the F-1 OPT regulations in April of 2008 addressing some of the most difficult work authorization issues for F-1 students caused by the H1B “Cap Gap.” The details are described below.

Automatic extension of work authorization through start of approved H1B for F-1 students on OPT in ALL fields:

The work authorization and status of F-1 students whose OPT runs out before the start of a pending H1B visa status will be extended “automatically.” This extension will cover F-1 students on OPT with jobs in ALL fields, not only the students with degrees in certain fields. If a student on F-1 OPT has a valid H1B application pending (or approved) and the OPT ends, the student is eligible for this automatic extension as long as that H1B application was filed with a “change of status” and not with “consular notification.” Check with your employer about whether they filed your H1B with a change of status. To obtain this “automatic” extension, the student will have to notify their school that they are eligible for the extension and request a new I-20 showing the extension.

F-1 OPT extension of 17 months for students in certain fields:

F-1 students on OPT who have received a degree in the fields listed below, referred to as “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), will have an opportunity to apply for a one time 17-month extension of their regular 12 month OPT period. You will NOT apply for 29 months up front. The 17 month extension will allow students to have continuous work authorization at least through October 1st of any given following year, in case they do not get an H1B visa in their first year after graduating. Students who timely file an application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.


FIRST: Students graduating now with degrees in these fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT as usual.

THEN, once you are within 3 months of the end date of your first 12 months of OPT, if you meet the following criteria, you can apply through ISS office for your 17 month extension of your OPT. You will do this by filling out the OPT 17 month extension application. The USCIS will only allow you to apply for this extension once you are within 3 months of the end date of your first period of OPT.


“STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics):

  • Actuarial Science
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Science Technologies
  • Medical Scientist (MS, PhD)


E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. More information is available at the USCIS web page on E-Verify.

Students on OPT now required to report employer information:

While you are on your 12 month OPT period, you will have to report to the school not only address changes but ALSO your employer name and address and any changes in employment. If you receive the 17 month extension of OPT, during that period you will also have to report the name and address of your employer, any changes in your employer AND your will have to complete our OPT report form every six months even if there has been no change in your employment.

LIMIT on total days of unemployment allowed:

The regulation adds a new requirement that F-1 students on OPT may not remain unemployed for more than a total of 90 days out of a 12 month OPT period, or 120 days out of a 29 month OPT period. The days of unemployment will start on the start date of your OPT card, or the day the OPT is approved (whichever is later) if you are not employed. For students whose OPT was approved before April 8, 2008, days of unemployment prior to April 8, 2008 do NOT count toward the 90 day limit. Days of unemployment after April 8, 2008 DO COUNT TOWARDS THE LIMIT.

Employment MAY be unpaid in the regular 12 month period of OPT:

For regular post-completion OPT, the employment does NOT have to paid employment. Therefore, you will be considered employed if you are doing unpaid research for a faculty member in your field of study or you are interning or volunteering in a position directly related to your academic field, or you are even self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”). You have to be engaged in any of these have for AT LEAST 20 hours per week to count as “employment” for the purposes of OPT. If you will work in an unpaid position for a faculty member, we suggest you get a letter from that faculty member simply stating that you will be doing research for them and have them include the start and end date of that employment. You should keep that letter in a file with your other immigration documents.

The employment For the 17-month STEM extension, employment must be traditional paid employment of at least 20 hours per week.


Other aspects of the new regulation:

Can apply for OPT in 60 day grace period:

The regulation also extends the filing period of Post-completion OPT through the 60 day grace period—previously OPT applications had to be filed by the graduation date. Although it is now legal to apply during this period, we recommend that students continue to apply PRIOR to graduation.