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Maintaining Status

While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your F-1 student status. Your status relates to the purpose, or reason for why you want to come to the United States. The U.S. Department of State issues you your visa based on your intended purpose.

If the Department of State issues you an F-1 student visa, this means that you are coming to the United States to study. You should not take any action that detracts from that purpose. Maintaining your status means:

  • Fulfilling the purpose for why the Department of State issued you your visa.
  • Following the regulations associated with that purpose.

Below are actions to take in order to properly maintain your status.


When arriving to the United States, you must:

  • Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins.
  • Immediately contact your designated school official (DSO) when you enter the United States.
  • When you arrive at school, you need to contact your DSO again, no later than the program start date listed on your Form I-20.

While studying in the United States, you must:

  • Attend and pass all your classes. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately.
  • If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
  • You must take a full course of study each term; if you cannot study full-time, contact your DSO immediately.
  • Do not drop a class without first speaking with your DSO.

F-1 students must complete at least one full academic year at an SEVP-certified school to be eligible for annual vacation. Additionally, students must intend to register for classes in the academic term following their annual vacation.

Please note that during an annual vacation, students can take as many, as few or no courses as they want. SEVP considers all study during an annual vacation incident to status.

You need a Form I-20 if you are already in the United States as another type of nonimmigrant and you are applying to USCIS to change your status to F-1.

F-1 students may be eligible for certain benefits while they study in the United States. These include applying for a driver’s license, applying for social security number, and taking advantage of practical training opportunities (OPT). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorizes practical training opportunities (OPT). Your Form I-20 proves that you are legally enrolled in a program of study in the United States. Therefore, it may be needed when you apply for the benefits available to F-1students. If you are eligible to apply for a driver’s license or a social security number, remember to bring your Form I-20 with you.

If you are changing schools within the U.S. and transferring your SEVIS record, there are visa and travel policies unique to your situation.

  • You can travel with your current F-1 visa and I-20, even if the visa has your previous school’s name on it, as long as the visa is not expired and you are not outside the U.S. more than five months between academic programs.
  • You can use your “transfer pending” I-20 to enter the U.S. once without a travel signature before the start date, even earlier than 30 days before the I-20 start date. The 30-day rule is only for travel with “initial” I-20s, not “transfer pending” I-20s. However, if you wish to travel outside the U.S. after your initial entry on your “transfer pending” I-20, you will need a travel signature from your DSO. It is recommended that transfer students wait to receive a “transfer complete” I-20 before traveling outside the U.S. as the “transfer complete” I-20 is issued with a travel signature.

An F-1 student may only work when authorized by a DSO and USCIS. If you choose to work without authorization, you will be forced to leave the United States immediately, and you may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date.

F-1 students are eligible for optional practical training (OPT) during or following the program of study. OPT is a form of temporary employment that directly relates to your program of study.

For more information about employment and training options available for F-1 students, visit the Optional Practical Training (OPT) page and talk with your DSO.

Once you complete your program of study and any authorized period of practical training (the program end date is on your Form I-20), F-1 students have 60 days to leave the United States.