International Student FAQ
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 U.S. and have benefits and restrictions specified in the immigration regulations for the F-1 visa category. You gain status either by entering the U.S. with F-1 documents (described below) or, for people already in the U.S. in a different status, by applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a change of status. Your admission to the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. The F-1 visa might expire before your status expires, and your status might end before your visa expires.
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 U.S.). The sections below contain an overview of the 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 should carry photocopies. However, if you are traveling outside the Lakeland 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.
Once You're On Campus...
As a new first-year or transfer student coming to Florida Southern College you will need to make an appointment to meet with the Director of the Evett L. Simmons Center for Multicultural Appreciation upon your arrival. You will need to bring four documents: your passport, visa, I-20, and I-94.
Students are expected to notify the Director of the Multicultural Center if they intend to do any of the following: Leave the country, change majors/degrees, transfer out of the institution, attend below full-time, change their address, change their name, or any other reason listed by the Department of Homeland Security. Please see the sections below for more information.
Keep your passport and other important documents in a safe place, such as a bank safe-deposit box. Report a lost or stolen passport to the police because your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. To renew or replace your passport, contact your country’s consulate in the U.S. Renew your passport by contacting your home country’s consulate or embassy for instructions. Please provide Simmons Multicultural Center a copy of your new passport. We suggest that your passport is valid for up to 6 months into the future.
The visa is the stamp that the U.S. consular officer placed on a page in your passport. The visa permitted you to apply for admission into the U.S. as an F-1 student, and need not remain valid while you are in the U.S. (Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa.) Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. consulate. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. Exceptions to this rule exist for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands.
I-20 Certificate of Eligibility
Issued by FSC, this document allows you to apply for an F-1 visa if you are outside the U.S, apply for F-1 status within the U.S., enter and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, and prove your eligibility for various F-1 benefits. The I-20 indicates the institution in which you are permitted to study, your program of study, and the dates of eligibility. The I-20 must remain valid at all times. Request an I-20 extension prior to its expiration date. Allowing the I-20 to expire before you complete your academic program is a violation of F-1 status.
The I-20 is a printout from your SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) record. SEVIS is an internet-based 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 U.S. Each student has a unique SEVIS ID number, which is printed on your I-20 in the top right corner.
Events That Require You to Update Your I-20
Many kinds of updates must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security through SEVIS and must be changed on your I-20. Notify director of the Simmons Multicultural Center of 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. Files can be 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.
I-94 Arrival & Departure Record
When you enter the U.S. you are issued either an admission stamp in your passport or Form I-94, a small white card usually stapled to the passport opposite the visa stamp. In summer of 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) transitioned to electronic arrival/departure records for air and sea ports of entry. For most travelers arriving by air or sea, a paper I-94 card will not be issued. Instead, the CBP official will issue an admission stamp in the passport. Travelers at land borders will continue to receive paper I-94 cards.
You might receive either a paper I-94 card or an F-1 admission stamp in your passport (no card), depending on where you arrive. The admission stamp or I-94 card records the date and place you entered the U.S., your immigration status (for example, F-1 or F-2), and authorized period of stay (indicated by “D/S”, meaning “duration of status”). Be sure to check the stamp to make sure it is correct. If you receive a paper I-94 card, keep it stapled in your passport. A $330 fee is required to replace a lost, stolen or damaged paper I-94 card. Consult the director of the Simmons Multicultural Center if you lose your I-94 card.
You might need a printout of your electronic I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a State ID card or a Social Security Number. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record at CBP.gov/I94.
Full Course of Study
Undergraduate students must register for twelve (12) hours every Fall and Spring semester to be considered full-time. Some automatic exceptions apply for students taking thesis credit or those holding assistantships. Please check with the Director of the Simmons Multicultural Center regarding your specific situation. If you plan on registering less than full time please contact the Simmons Multicultural Center before the semester begins, or before dropping below full time. Failure to do so may result in the termination of your visa status. Courses taken as “audit” do not count toward course of study requirements. Similarly, courses receiving a “W” grade do not count toward the full-time registration requirements.
- Students may take as many online courses as permitted by their department each semester. However, please note:
- F-1 students may only count one online or distance education course toward full-time registration in any given term.
- Students can never only be registered for online classes in a required semester of registration. Course registration must also include on-campus classes at FSC, which requires in-person attendance.
Graduate and Doctoral
Master’s and EdD students must be registered for 6 hours. DPT students must be full-time in their program (10-18 hours).
- International students are not required to enroll in courses during summer semesters unless it is their first or last semester at FSC.
- Doctoral or master’s students who are working on their thesis or dissertation do not need to register for summer courses if it’s their final semester and they will be uploading their thesis that summer.
- Doctoral or master’s students registered in either the thesis or dissertation course during fall and spring semesters are considered full-time enrolled for immigration purposes. Also, please note that this policy is for immigration purposes. Other entities, such as loan processing agencies, housing, scholarship committees, etc., may have different registration requirements.
I-20 Certificate of Eligibility
You must contact the Simmons Multicultural Center if you need to reduce your course load below full-time or from a program. The director of the Simmons Multicultural Center can authorize you to drop a course and have part-time enrollment for an academic reason. These are the reasons allowed by the F-1 regulations:
- Initial difficulty with the English language
- Initial difficulty with reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
- Improper course level placement
For J-1 Regulations these are the reasons allowed:
- It is your final quarter of study- for degree students who are in their last quarter that require only one or two courses to graduate. You must apply for RCL before your final quarter begins. RCL does not affect your eligibility for OPT or CPT. You can only be approved for one final quarter RCL. Submit the drop below full time registration request to OIA about 2 weeks before your final quarter begins. Finishing early? If you are finishing your program earlier than the end date on your I-20, you must also submit the verification of Completion form so your I-20 can be shortened to reflect the change. Visit our FAQ’s for additional info.
- Medical Condition- If you have a documentable medical reason that prevents you from attending class, you can apply for an RCL based on the medical condition. Requires a note from a licensed physician or mental health care provider. (template below) The note need not contain diagnostic information, but must provide details about your RCL. Medical RCL allows you to stay in the U.S. or travel abroad. You can be enrolled in zero courses or part-time courses. You must apply for medical RCL on a quarterly basis with a complete application. You are limited to four quarters of medical RCL per academic program. Medical RCLs are meant to cover a break in studies which means you are going to return to studies after the break. If you are in your final quarter of enrollment and have and approved medical RCL, you will need to take at least one course. Contact Simmons center for more information.
- The academic difficulties explained earlier.
The Director of the Simmons Multicultural Center can only authorize an academic RCL in coordination with your academic adviser or course professor/instructor. Staff at the Simmons Multicultural Center are not academic advisers; we do not have expert knowledge about your course curriculum or performance in your course. We require information from an academic adviser or course professor/instructor to assess your eligibility for part-time enrollment.
- You must request the RCL and receive approval from the Director of the Simmons Multicultural Center adviser by the end of the quarter in which you want to drop the course.
- An academic RCL is only allowed one semester per degree level.
- You will receive a new I-20 if the Director of the Simmons Multicultural Center approves your RCL request.
Transient Student Permission
Students intending to enroll in an institution as a transient (non-degree) student must fill out a Transient Permission Application from the Registrar’s Office. Submission of an application is not a guarantee of approval. In addition to filling out a transient application, students must also notify the Director of the Simmons Center.
If you intend to travel, your I-20 or DS-2019 must have a valid signature from the Simmons Multicultural Center in order to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad. This travel endorsement stays valid for one year. Exception: Travel endorsements during F-1 post-completion OPT/STEM are only valid for 6 months.
When you return to the U.S. after a temporary absence, you must present your passport, evidence of finances, a valid F-1 visa, and a copy of your transcript and current course schedule. If returning from Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands (except Cuba) after a visit of less than 30 days solely in those countries, your visa need not be valid; however, you will be required to show your previously issued I-94 in addition to the other documents listed above. Students outside the U.S. for more than one quarter and those on Optional Practical Training may have additional requirements.
Make sure to update your I-20 or DS-2019 any time that you change your field, change level of study, or have a change in funding.
Do not let your immigration documents expire and make sure you extend your I-20 or DS-2019 in a timely manner. If you have not completed your program and need to extend your time, request a Program Extension on the Portal at least two weeks before your end date listed on your document.
Students in their final semester may drop below full-time with approval from the Director of the Simmons Center. However, students may not be enrolled solely in distance education courses. In the event you only need one course to complete your program of study and this course is taken online, you are responsible for adding at least one course that is not online.
Completion of Program
The end of your academic program affects your F-1 status. After you graduate or complete your exchange you have a 60-day grace period. For more information, including eligibility for work authorization, commencement, inviting family members to visit the U.S. and other questions, contact the Director of the Simmons Center. Also visit the “After Program Completion” section of this website.
If you do not complete your academic objective, you are not eligible for the 60-day grace period. Contact the Director of the Simmons Center if you have questions.
Summer Terms and Leaving the US
Your I-20 or DS-2019 is only valid as long as you are a continuing, full-time student in your degree program, or on your approved post-completion training. If you graduate early, your I-20 or DS-2019 will be shortened to the last day of your final semester of enrollment. If your final semester is Summer you MUST be enrolled in Summer! You must notify from the Simmons Multicultural Center of your early completion in order to avoid overstaying.
The name on your I-20 should match the name on your passport. If you change any part of your legal name—first/given name, middle name, or last/family name—on your passport, this change should be reflected on your I-20. Conversely, if you want a different name on your I-20, The Simmons Multicultural Center will wait for you to change your passport first, before updating the I-20. Note that SEVIS is a separate database from the FSC database.
Change of Address
Any change of address must be reported to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days of their move. Addresses may be updated within the Registration Agreement each semester or through the Portal. If you are on OPT, submit your address change on the portal. Please note that your local US address must be your physical address, not a P.O. Box.
If you plan on transferring to other institution, please contact the Simmons Multicultural Center for transfer procedures.
Avoid violating FSC code of student conduct or U.S. laws
If you are found in violation of the Student Code of Conduct or have been arrested or violated U.S. laws it’s important to contact at the Simmons Multicultural Center as soon as possible to understand what the impact may be on your F-1 status, as well as next steps and resources for support. Remember, any violation (suspension, dismissal, arrest) that impacts your ability to be an enrolled, full-time student or continue your post-completion employment will have a negative impact on your F-1 status.
Text from Federal Regulations: 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)
For F-1 classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter, may be counted if taken online or through distance education in a course that does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An online or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing. If the F-1 student’s course of study is in a language study program, no online or distance education classes may be considered to count toward classroom hours or credit.
As a portion of the student’s “full course of study,” only one course (max. 4 hours) may be taken online or through a Distance Education class that does not require regular attendance.
In addition to the restriction on the number of credits/classes that may be taken online each semester, there are additional restrictions where International Students may not take online classes.
According to the F-1 regulations, an online class is one that “does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class.” Therefore any course that has some sort of physical attendance requirement, such as a lecture, exam, or faculty meeting is not considered fully online for visa status purposes. Hybrid classes that are mostly online but have a regular physical presence requirement are not counted toward the 1 class limit for online courses.
F-1 students have limited options for employment and cannot work without authorization. F-1 students may accept on campus employment, but must be authorized if the work is off-campus. F-1 students must apply for CPT if the work is off campus. Students usually apply for OPT after the completion of their program.
Students cannot work above 20 hours a week. Working above 20 hours is a violation of your student status. Students cannot work more than 20 hours a week during the Fall and Spring semesters (and Summer if it is your final semester of registration). If the school if officially on break, you may work full time on campus without further approval. It is your responsibility to keep track of your hours.
Be aware of employment authorization application procedures, eligibility, deadlines and rules for maintaining status during post-completion employment.
Working without pay is not the same as volunteering. The Simmons Multicultural Center recommends that you discuss the details of any volunteer opportunities before participating.
The end of your academic program affects your F-1 status. After you graduate or complete your exchange you have a 60-day grace period. Within this 60-day period you have the following options:
- F-1s have a 60 day grace period following the end of the program of study or authorized OPT Post-Completion Training. F-1’s may use the grace period to depart the U.S., continue studies via Change of Level or Transfer, or apply for Post-Completion OPT employment.
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 you’re the Simmons Multicultural Center in this situation.
F-1 students who have received prior authorization to withdraw from classes have 15 days to depart the US after the withdrawal date. Students who withdraw from classes without prior authorization are not eligible for a grace period.
Optical Practical Training (OPT)
If it is your last semester but you wish to stay in the United States and work, the Optional Practical Training (OPT) application and information may be for you.
If you violate the immigration regulations you may begin to accrue days of unlawful presence. 180 days of unlawful presence may result in a bar from reentering the US.
Students who fail to maintain their F-1 status are considered out of status. If they wish to continue their education at FSC as an F-1 student, they must correct their status. Students may be able to regain valid F-1 status either through a reinstatement application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or through travel and reentry with a new I-20/new SEVIS record. The appropriate option will depend on your individual circumstances; review the reinstatement and reentry procedures and consult your ISS adviser as soon as possible for more information. A scheduled appointment with your ISS adviser is required because drop-in advising will not allow sufficient time to discuss this topic. In addition, we strongly recommend that students in this situation consult with an experienced immigration attorney.
Dependents (Spouse and Children)
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact the Simmons Multicultural Center for procedures to invite a dependent to join you in the U.S. Immigration regulations do not permit F-2 dependents to be employed in the U.S. F-2 dependents can study part-time in an academic or vocational curriculum at an SEVP-certified school. F-2 dependents can also study in avocational or recreational programs–hobbies. F-2 dependents may enroll full-time in kindergarten through 12th grade.
An F-2 dependent who wants to pursue full-time study must obtain F-1 status to begin the full-time program.