Immigration Information

This page contains general information for F-1 international students. To the left are links to other valuable immigration related information for international students on special topics.

The focus of this section is on the specific obligations the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) says F-1 students must follow in order to maintain their non-immigrant status and qualify for other benefits such as practical training, change of status, etc.

Immigration Documents

The following documents are very important and must be valid at all times:

  • Passport (should be valid for a minimum of 6 months into the future)
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student (F-1) Status (BCIS SEVIS Form I-20)
  • Departure Record (BCIS Form I-94; white card usually stapled in passport)

Forms I-20 and DS2019 (formerly IAP-66) issued prior to January 30, 2003 will remain valid for visa issuance, admission to the US, or change of status prior to August 1, 2003. By August 1, 2003, all F-1, F-2, J-1 and J-2 students, scholars, and their dependents must have a SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019.

Please keep the originals in a safe place. We recommend that you make photocopies of these documents and store them in a location separate from the actual documents. If the date on your I-20 will be expiring, if any information on your I-20 is not valid, or if you are contemplating a change of degree level or major, please visit the ISS and apply for a new SEVIS I-20 or before you leave the United States for travel abroad or apply for any immigration benefit.

Under the current immigration regulations, the I-20 end date must be the average length of time a student needs to complete a similar program in the same discipline. This means that when ISS issues you a new SEVIS I-20 you will have no grace period, and you must generally complete your degree by the end date on your SEVIS I-20. If you feel that you cannot complete your program in the time we allow you, you may file for an extension of stay with ISS. This extension must be filed and approved in advance of the end date on your I-20 and their must be a valid reason for the extension.

Failure to have your I-20 undated in a timely manner, or to secure the necessary approvals, may result in a loss of your immigration status in the United States. If any of your immigration documents (passport, I-94, or I-20) are damaged, lost, or stolen, you must have them replaced as quickly as possible. You should contact the ISS if you have any questions about the documents or if you need to have them replaced. Please bring the above-mentioned documents with you each time you visit the ISS.

Full Time Enrollment

The Bureau of Citizenship & Immigration Services) BCIS regulations require that all students on temporary visas pursue their studies on a full-time basis at the institution they have been authorized to attend. Undergraduate students (including those in pre-master’s status) must successfully complete at least twelve credit hours and graduate students must complete at least eight credit hours each semester (excluding an approved annual vacation). See an ISS counselor for details on complying with this and other BCIS requirements. Fore more details about this topic and possible exceptions click here.

Checking in at the ISS and SEVIS Reporting Requirements

All non-immigrant international students must check in at the ISS complete a data sheet, and show their immigration documents before registering for classes. This is required under federal law so we can register you in the SEVIS system.

The new regulations require that Lewis University International Student Services Office report information to BCIS through the SEVIS system within prescribed periods. Within 21 days of a change in information as follows, Lewis University must update SEVIS with current information including:

  • A change in the name, address or curriculum of the school
  • Any student who has failed to maintain status or complete his or her program
  • Name change for student and dependents
  • Addresses and address changes for student and dependents: The student must notify the International Student Advisor within 10 days of an address change and the International Student Advisor must notify SEVIS within 21 days of notification. This must be the physical location where the student resides, rather than a mailing address.
  • Any student who graduated prior to the program end date on the I-20
  • Disciplinary action taken by the school as a result of conviction of a crime
  • Any other notification request made by SEVIS relating to the current status of the student

The school must also report the following information each semester no later than 30 days after the deadline for registering for classes:

  • Student's academic status (i.e., whether the student has enrolled, dropped below a full course of study without prior authorization by the International Student Advisor or failed to enroll);
  • The current address of each enrolled student; and
  • The start date of the student's next semester.

A school’s compliance with the reporting requirements does not exempt the student from other reporting requirements as a result of other laws or regulations. For example, students who are from some specific countries are required to undergo “special registration,” which has a special address reporting requirement even though address data is reported to BCIS through SEVIS, these students are still required to carry out the address reporting as required through the “special registration” process. Countries from which students are required to undergo “special registration currently include: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Name and Address Changes that Must be Reported

Students must report address changes to the DSO within 10 days of changing address. The final rules allow a students mailing address to be reported on SEVIS, particularly where the physical address on campus is not a mailing address. The school is still required to maintain the physical address of the student. So, it is important that you give the ISS both your mailing and your physical address. In the future the SEVIS system will require both addresses. The school must keep a record of both mailing and local (the place where the student actually lives) addresses.

Reporting to the DSO does not exempt non-immigrant F-1 students from other types of addresses that must be reported, such as non-immigrant students who are required to report under the National Security Entry-Exit System (NYSEERS) in addition to the SEVIS address reporting requirement.


Transferring F-1 students must obtain a transfer clearance form from their previous school in the United States and must complete transfer procedures as provided in the federal regulations within fifteen days of the first day of class. F-1 students must notify the INS through the ISS of any change in program, including changes in level and field of study.For more information about this topic click on the link to the left.

Length of Time You May Remain in the USA

You may study in your present program until you complete all program requirements or until the expiration date in Item #11 on your BCIS Form I-20, whichever occurs first.If you need more time to complete your studies than allowed by your Form I-20, you must contact the ISS before the expiration date to request an extension.If you complete your program before the end date indicated on your Form I-20, the Form I-20 is only valid if you have applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) to follow the completion of your program.If you have been granted OPT you should still ensure that your I-20 does not expire.

The date you officially complete your studies is very important because BCIS regulations state that your lawful F-1 status automatically ends sixty days after you complete your program unless you take some action to remain lawfully in the U. S.Different programs have different dates of completion.Please see below for specific information concerning official dates of program completion.

Undergraduate Students and Graduate Students Who Are Not in Thesis or Dissertation Programs - You will officially complete your program when you complete all program requirements. Generally, if you complete programs requirements during the following:

Spring semester Your date of program completion will be the date of the May graduation ceremony
Fall semester Your date of program completion will be the last day of exams for Fall Semester
Summer semester Your date of program completion will be the last day of exams for the Spring Semester
Accelerated Programs See the ISS

Graduate Students in Thesis or Dissertation Programs
- Regardless of when you participate in graduation ceremonies, you officially complete your studies when you submit the final version of your thesis or dissertation, and Lewis University certifies that you have successfully completed all degree requirements. Please note that all students who will complete and submit their thesis/dissertation during the summer must be registered for academic credit during the summer session.

Please consult with staff at the ISS regarding your option at least one semester before you complete your studies.Upon completion of your program, you will have sixty days to choose one of the following options:

  1. Begin a new program of study at Lewis University or at another college or university
  2. Apply for up to twelve months of “optional practical training” employment
  3. Apply for a change to a different immigration status
  4. Depart the country

You may remain in the United States and still maintain F-1 status during holidays and vacation periods observed by Lewis University, including during summer vacation, provided you are eligible and intend to register for the next academic semester and all of your immigration documents remain valid.You are still considered to be maintaining F-1 status in the United States, even if the F-1 visa stamp in your passport expires, provided all of your other documentation is valid.If you have travel plans outside the United States, please see the following section for visa requirements.

Extension of Stay

An F-1 student who is unable to complete the course of study by the end date on the I-20 may be granted an extension by the DSO if the student has continually maintained status and the delays are caused by“compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major or research topic, unexpected research problems, or documented illnesses.Delays caused by academic problems or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extensions.”

Note: Students must request an extension of stay before the end date of the program as noted on Form I-20. Extensions of stay may be granted at any time prior to the end date listed of the student’s original Form I-20.

Changes of Program

If there is a significant change in your program of study, (i.e. change of major, change of funding, change of degree level) you must contact the ISS immediately to obtain a new Form I-20 to reflect any modifications to your program.


We would encourage you to contact the ISS anytime you plan to travel outside of the U.S. In addition, anytime you travel outside the U.S. and return to Lewis University, you should bring your passport, Form I-20 and Form I-94 to the ISS so that we may update your file.BCIS requires that we maintain current copies of your passport and visa documents.If you have been on a Study Abroad program or you have interrupted your studies for any reason, you may need a new Form I-20 to re-enter the U.S.Please refer to the appropriate sections of this handout for more information.

Travel Within the U. S. - You may travel within the U. S. provided you maintain your lawful F-1 status and have a valid passport, Form I-20 and Form I-94 in your possession.

Travel Outside the U. S. before Completion of Studies - You may leave the U. S. at any time.You are permitted to return in the same status if you have a valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp and valid Form I-20 that has been signed and endorsed on the reverse side by a Designated School Official (DSO) at the ISS.Only a Designated School Official at the ISS is authorized to sign your Form I-20.If you travel to Canada, Mexico, or certain islands near the U. S. for fewer than 30 days, you may be eligible to re-enter the U.S. even if the F-1 visa stamp in your passport has expired.You should consult with the ISS before making any trips outside the country.There are now some restrictions in place which prohibit students from certain countries from making use of the “automatic revalidation” provisions.Additionally, if a student goes to Canada or Mexico to apply for a visa stamp from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate and is denied, s/he will not be allowed to re-enter the United States under the “automatic revalidation” provisions.

Procedures for returning to Lewis University are distinct from those for returning to attend a different school.If you are returning to Lewis University, the ISS must sign the back of your Form I-20 before you leave the U. S.If you wish to attend a different school upon your return to the U. S., you should notify ISS of your intention.You must obtain a new Form I-20 from your new school and use that form to re-enter the U. S.

Please be aware that if you apply for a new visa and have an I-20 issued after September 1, 2004, you will be subject to the $200 SEVIS fee which must be paid in advance prior to your visa interview and is in addition to the regular visa fees.

Travel Outside the U. S. after Completion of Studies - The date you officially complete your studies (see “Completion of Studies” section above) is very important to your ability to travel and re-enter the U. S.If you attempt to return to the U. S. using your current BCIS Form I-20, you may be denied the right to re-enter the country unless you have been authorized to engage in “Optional Practical Training” employment. BCIS regulations require that if you depart the U. S. after completion of studies, you must present the following documents to the BCIS Inspector upon your arrival back in the U.S.:

  1. A valid Employment Authorization card (BCIS Form I-688) and
  2. Your BCIS Form I-20 which has been endorsed within the last six months by the ISS for travel

In addition, we recommend that, if you do have a job, you present a letter from your Optional Practical Training employer verifying your employment.

International Students who wish to Study Abroad

If you decide to participate in a Study Abroad program while at Lewis University, please contact the ISS.In some cases, you will need a new Form I-20 to return to the United States.Any absence from the United States for a period of 5 months or more may affect your eligibility for Optional Practical Training.Please discuss this with your ISS advisor before finalizing your plans or leaving the United States.

Dependents and other Family Members

If you are married and/or have children, you may be eligible to have your spouse (husband or wife) and/or children visit you temporarily or join you for the duration of your studies.You must, however, provide evidence that there are funds available to support them while they are here.Each family member must now be issued their own Form I-20.Please be aware that there are restrictions on full time study by F-2 dependents.Please contact the ISS for more information.If other members of your family (parents, siblings, etc.) wish to visit you temporarily, the ISS will be pleased to issue a Letter of Invitation to assist with their application for a tourist visa.

All dependent F-2 and J-2 non-immigrants must be issued their own I-20 or DS-2019.

The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services has published a final rule that changes the regulations governing enrollment for F-2 dependents. The final rule took effect on January 1,2003.Under this rule, the F-2 spouse of an F-1 student may not engage in full time study, and the F-2 child may only engage in full time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through 12th grade). The F-2 spouse and child may engage in study that is vocational or recreational in nature.Full time study is defined as 12 credit hours for undergraduate students and 8 credit hours for graduate students.

An F-2 spouse or child who was enrolled on a full time basis prior to January 1, 2003, will be allowed to continue study but must file for a change of nonimmigrant classification to F-1, J-1, or M-1 status on or before March 11, 2003.An F-2 spouse or F-2 child violates his or her nonimmigrant status by engaging in full time study.

If you are an F-2 dependent and are going to be a full-time student on or after Spring 2003 (12 hours for undergraduate students and 8 hours for graduate students), you will need to apply to the BCIS for a change of status to F-1 before March 11, 2003. It can take up to 240 days for the BCIS to approve a change of status so it is important that you apply early.The ISS can help you prepare an application for a change of non-immigrant status.The ISS web page has information about this process.

The F-2 spouse and minor children will each be issued an individual I-20 (F-2 dependent I-20).In addition, current information will be transmitted electronically into SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) throughout your stay in the United States as F-2. Please let the ISS know of a change of your immigration status, address or name within 10 days or you will be considered “out of status” by the BCIS.

Children in elementary and secondary school are permitted full time study. “Avocational” or “recreational” study is allowed at the university level, but full time, matriculated study requires a change to F-1 status for dependent spouses and children.

Waiver of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)

International students on non-immigrant visas are advised that under the new immigration regulations,FERPA is waived to authorize and require an educational institution to report information concerning any F, J or M nonimmigrant that would normally be protected by FERPA.

Failure to Comply with Responsibilities

The immigration laws of this country provide for severe penalties if you fail to comply with your immigration responsibilities.You should work closely with the ISS staff to make certain that you comply with all F-1 regulations.Additional information is available from the ISS.The staff of this office is always pleased to provide you with information, counseling, and assistance so that you may achieve your educational goals while at Lewis University. We are happy to help you in any way we can to understand and comply with all federal immigration rules.


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