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Visa Information

Maintaining F-1 Status

F-1 is a visa status that allows students to enroll in academic programs at U.S. colleges, universities, religious seminaries, fine arts conservatories, high schools (grades 9-12), elementary and middle schools, and language-training schools.

1. Pre-Arrival Arrival

A. Pre-Arrival

  • Have a valid I-20 from Pine Manor College.
    After you are accepted by Pine Manor, you will receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”.This is an important document that you should keep safe, as you will need it throughout your career as an international student. For more information, visit this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) page: Students and the Form I-20.The I-20 remains valid as long as you continue to make normal progress in your classes.
  • Have a passport that is valid for at least six months.


B. Arrival

  • Enter the U.S. no more than 30 days before your program begins.
  • Contact a DSO immediately after you arrive.
  • At the beginning of every semester, do a physical check-in with a DSO. All international students need to be registered with the Department of Homeland Security (or re-registered, if a returning student) at the beginning of every semester. Bring these items to your check-in:
    • Passport
    • Visa
    • Copy of your signed I-20
    • Electronic copy of your I-94 card

2. Academic Progress

  • Register for at least 12 credits each fall and spring semester.
  • Attend your classes. Poor attendance can result in the termination of your status.
  • Make normal academic progress. F-1 regulations are flexible enough to allow for students who experience difficulties and/or delays for various reasons, but poor grades can lead to problems. If your studies are becoming too difficult to manage, contact a DSO immediately.
  • Do not drop below 12 credits without obtaining the approval of a DSO. F-1 students may be permitted to take fewer than 12 credits under these conditions:
    • Initial academic difficulties due to the cultural transition and/or other factors.
    • Language limitations. In these cases, DSOs can help determine if you should change your education level and enroll in an English-language training program or pathway program. For more information, visit this DHS page: English Language Training
    • A temporary illness or medical condition.
    • A need of fewer than 12 credits in the final term to complete your degree.

If you think you need to take a reduced course load, talk with your DSO as soon as possible. You may not drop below 12 credits unless your DSO approves it and updates your record with DHS.

3. Travel

Always take your passport and I-20 when you travel, in case you ever need to verify your status. Never put these documents in your checked luggage; always carry them in an easily accessible place. You must hand-carry these documents through any U.S. port of entry:

  • I–20 with a DSO travel signature
  • DSO’s name and contact information
  • Valid visa and passport


You may freely travel within the U.S. without any action on your I-20.


Before departing the U.S., you must obtain a travel signature from a DSO. When re-entering the U.S., you’ll need to present your I-20 with that signature. It is your responsibility to obtain that signature before leaving the country.

If your visa expires while you’re abroad, you will need to apply for a new student visa at a U.S Embassy or consulate before you can re-enter the U.S.

Summer Vacation

F-1 students who complete the full academic year are eligible for summer vacation.

During vacation, students can take as many, as few, or no courses as they want.

4. Practical Training and Work

Some F-1 students are eligible for practical training. There are two types of F-1 practical training:

A. Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

This is a type of work-based training that allows students to get real-world work experience. CPT must directly relate to your major area of study, and it must be an integral part of the PMC curriculum.

DSOs may authorize CPT under these conditions:

  • You have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least two semesters.
  • You are not studying English as a second language.
  • You have already arranged a training position.
  • The training concludes before the end date printed on your I-20.

If DSO authorizes your CPT, the authorization will appear on your I-20.

Keep these points in mind:

  • You may not begin working until a DSO prints and signs your new I-20 with your authorized CPT printed on it.
  • Authorization is for one specific employer and for a specific period of time.
  • You are allowed to have more than one CPT authorization at the same time.
  • One year of full-time CPT makes you ineligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

B. Optional Practical Training (OPT)

This is work authorization available for eligible F-1 students. It allows students to get real-world work experience related to their major area of study. OPT allows you to work for any employer, as long as the training directly relates to your major course of study.

Types of OPT

Pre-completion OPT

You may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after studying for one full academic year at PMC.

If you are authorized, you may work part time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full time when school is not in session.

Post-completion OPT

You may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing your studies. If you are authorized, you may work either part time (20 hours or less per week) or full time.

Note: If you participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from your post-completion OPT authorization period. For example, if you participated in 10 months of pre-completion OPT, you would be eligible for only up to 2 months of post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT Extension

If you have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorization if you:

  • Are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF),
  • Are employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify, and
  • Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

If you are interested in applying for a STEM OPT extension, please see our Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) page for more information.

Applying for OPT

Keep these points in mind:

  • You do not have to secure training before a DSO can recommend OPT.
  • Can occur before or after the student’s program end date.
  • Periods of OPT cannot overlap.
  • Students who move on to a higher education level (e.g., a master’s degree program) are eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT authorization

C. Part-Time Employment

There are two types of employment opportunities for F-1 students:

On-Campus Examples include working in the cafeteria or mailroom.

Off-Campus This option is not available to most F-1 students. U.S. Citizenship and

Immigration Services (USCIS) authorizes off-campus employment only under

these conditions:

Severe economic hardship has occurred during the period of study.

The student having been in F-1 status for at least one full academic year.

USCIS may also authorize off-campus employment in emergent circumstances.

If you decide that you want to work, talk with a DSO. We can determine your eligibility and give you information about available jobs.

Social Security Numbers (SSN)

In order to work in the U.S., you will need to apply for a Social Security number. Social Security numbers are used to report wages to the government and determine eligibility for Social Security benefits.

For more information about Social Security numbers, visit these SEVIS pages:

International Students and Social Security Numbers

Obtaining a Social Security Number

For additional information about training and employment options, visit this SEVIS page and talk with a DSO: Working in the United States

A word of caution about unauthorized employment—

The Department of Homeland Security views working without authorization as the most serious violation of F-1 status. Unlike other violations, the only way to recover F-1 status when you work without permission is to leave the U.S. In addition, future applications for permanent residence in the U.S. may be denied.

5. Transfer

Transferring from PMC to another college or university

You must provide a PMC DSO the following documents, which are issued by the college or university to which you will transfer:

  • A copy of your acceptance letter.
  • A “transfer eligibility form” partly completed by the college or university to which you will transfer. A Pine Manor DSO completes that form, confirming that you are in active status and eligible to transfer.

(Note: Some colleges and universities do not issue a transfer eligibility form.)

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain the acceptance letter and transfer eligibility form and present them to a Pine Manor DSO.

Transferring to PMC from another college or university

You must provide PMC’s letter of acceptance and transfer eligibility form to a DSO at the college or university where you are currently enrolled.

6. After Graduation

You will have 60 days following the completion of your program (the end date on your I-20) to leave the U.S. If you wish to extend your stay, meet with a DSO to discuss any of the following options:

7. F-1 QA

1. If my status is terminated, what must I do to regain active status?

You’ll have to get a new I-20 and a new visa, and also pay a new I-901 fee.

It’s best to remain in status!

2. What happens if my visa expires while I’m in the U.S.?

As long as you are maintaining your I-20 status, your passport is valid, and you are remaining in the U.S., you are authorized to be here. It does not matter if your visa expires.

A visa is a travel document. If you leave the U.S. on an expired visa, you will need to obtain a new one in order to re-enter the country.

3. What happens if I leave the U.S. without getting my I-20 signed?

Whenever planning to travel outside the U.S., you must obtain a DSO’s travel signature on your I-20. When re-entering the U.S., you will need to present your I-20 with that signature. Please remember that it is your responsibility to obtain the signature before leaving the country.

In emergent cases when there is no time to obtain a DSO travel signature, F-1 students may request that a DSO print a new copy of your I-20, add the travel signature and send it to you in a parcel. In such cases, you should issue the request to the DSO at least two weeks before your scheduled departure for the U.S.

4. How long may I stay in the U.S. after completing my degree?

You may remain in the U.S. for 60 days after completing your degree. During that time, you should make arrangements to either depart the U.S., request a transfer, or apply for change of status.

8. Test Your Knowledge!

A. True or False

If you have a valid I-20, you don’t need a valid passport.

True Incorrect. It is OK for your visa to expire while you are in the U.S., but you need to have a valid passport.
False Correct. You must also have a valid passport.


2. If you have a valid I-20, you may remain in the U.S. with an expired visa.

True Correct. You do not need to have a valid visa to remain in the U.S.
False Incorrect. Visa is only an entry document. It is OK for your visa to expire while you are in the U.S.


2. Before traveling outside the U.S., you need a DSO’s travel signature on your I-20.

True Correct. If you travel outside the U.S., you will need a valid passport, a valid visa and a new signature on page 3 of your I-20 to return.
False Incorrect. You must have your I-20 signed by a DSO before traveling outside of U.S. Without that signature, you may not be able to re-enter the U.S.


4. After graduation, you may remain in the U.S. until your I-20’s expiration date.

True Incorrect. If you graduate and you are in F1 status, you have a 60-day grace period before you must leave the U.S.
False Correct. You can only remain 60 days after graduation, regardless of date on the I-20, or you must get a new I-20.


5. If you become ill, you may receive permission to drop below 12 credits.

True Correct. Remember– You must present a doctor’s note that states how long you will need to be excused from school.
False Incorrect. If you are too sick to attend class and you have a doctor’s note, you may be eligible to take fewer than 12 credits.


6. You must purchase student health insurance for your entire enrollment at PMC.

True Correct. Health insurance is required of all students at all times.
False Incorrect. You must have health insurance at all times.


B. Multiple Choice

1. If you need to drop below 12 credits, what must you do FIRST?

Stop attending class Incorrect. If you stop attending the class while you are still registered, your instructor may drop you from the course—which means you would be out of status.
Meet a DSO Correct. You need to explain your situation to a DSO and request permission to drop below 12 credits.
Ask your instructor to drop you from the course Incorrect. Instructors are not authorized to give permission to drop courses, and they may not know the regulations related to maintaining your status.


2. When you move within the U.S., how many days do you have to report a change of address to a DSO?

1 week Incorrect. You have a longer grace period than a week.
10 days Correct. You must report your change of address to a DSO within 10 days.
30 days Incorrect. That’s too long to report a new address!


3. If you decide to drop out of PMC in the middle of a semester, how long do you have to leave the U.S.?

Immediately Correct. You must leave the country immediately if you drop out of school. There is no grace period.
30 days Incorrect. You do not have a grace period if you quit your study.
60 days Incorrect. A 60-day grace period is only for students who complete and graduate from their program of study.


4. You plan to travel during the Spring Break. For which of these destinations must you obtain a DSO travel signature on your I-20 before you travel?

Hawaii Incorrect. Hawaii is part of U.S.
Florida Incorrect. Florida is part of U.S.
Mexico Correct. Mexico is not part of U.S. You need a travel signature on your I-20 in order to return to the country.


9. Additional Resources

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)


SEVP is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that administers the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). It ensures that government agencies have essential data related to nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors to preserve national security. SEVP provides approval and oversight to schools authorized to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students and gives guidance to both schools and students about the requirements for maintaining their status.


Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

SEVIS is a web-based system for maintaining information on international nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the United States.


Student Process Steps: How to Navigate the U.S. Immigration System


Detailed, official guidance on Pre-Arrival, Arriving, While in the United States, and Departing




EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 425 international student advising centers in more than 175 countries.


The network promotes U.S. higher education to students around the world by offering accurate, current, comprehensive information about opportunities to study at accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States.


EducationUSA centers are located in U.S. embassies and consulates, Fulbright commissions, bi-national centers, universities, and non-profit organizations.


International Student Services
Each year, EducationUSA advisers respond to millions of inquiries from international students. Advisers offer a wide range of in-person and virtual services to students and their families, including information on topics, including:


The admissions process and standardized testing requirements


How to finance a U.S. education


The student visa process


Preparing for departure to the United States


Your 5 Steps to U.S. Study


Webinar Video: Your Student Visa Questions Answered


The Experience of Studying in the USA








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