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 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.
SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)
SEVIS is a U.S. government 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 student’s academic career in the U.S.
An electronic record is created in SEVIS for you after you are admitted and confirm enrollment at BEI. This allows BEI to issue an I-20, which you need to gain F-1 status. When you apply for a student visa and arrive at a U.S. port of entry, the consular officer or immigration official may consult SEVIS in addition to your supporting documents to verify eligibility for F-1 status. BEI’s Designated School Officials will continue to provide electronic reports throughout your academic career, noting information such as registration, address changes, academic program changes, degree completion, and immigration status violations. The SEVIS program is funded in part by your SEVIS fee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It is important to understand the F-1 and J-1 student immigration regulations in order to maintain status while you are in the U.S.
Below is a description 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 Houston 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.
Your passport must be valid at all times. 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.
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 does not need to remain valid while you are in the U.S. Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. embassy/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.
Certificate of Eligibility Issued by BEI, 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 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.
Arrival & Departure Record When you enter the U.S. you are issued either an admission stamp in your passport. Travelers at land borders will continue to receive paper I-94 cards. 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. You might need a printout of your electronic I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a Texas Driver License. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
Actions to Update 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 ISS of the following 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. ISS files are 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.
Full Course of Study
To maintain your status as an F-1 student in the United States, you must enroll in a full course of study at the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school where a designated school official (DSO) issued you the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” you used to enter into the United States. F-1 students at BEI enroll in BEI’s Intensive English Programs and meet for 20 clock hours per week.
Making Normal Progress
To maintain status, an F-1 student is also required to “make normal progress”. Making normal progress includes, but is not limited to, enrolling in the proper courses required for program completion, maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and continually meeting all institutional enrollment requirements.
Dependents (Spouse and Children)
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact BEI 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.
“Employment” is any work performed or services provided (including self-employment) in exchange for money or other benefit or compensation (for example, free room and board in exchange for babysitting). Unauthorized employment is taken very seriously by U.S. immigration officials. BEI does not offer on-campus employment and students enrolled in our programs are not eligible for off campus employment. Under certain circumstances, a student may request Severe Economic Hardship employment from USCIS with BEI DSOs recommendation.
The end of your academic program affects your F-1 status. After you graduate or complete your program you have a 60-day grace period. Within this 60-day period you have the following options:
Depart the U.S. Once you leave the U.S. (including trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies you are not eligible to re-enter with your current I-20. The grace period is meant for travel within the states and preparation to depart the U.S.
Transfer your SEVIS record to a new school.
Loss of F-1 Status and Unlawful Presence
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. Please see Government Changes to “Unlawful Presence” for more information. However, 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 BEI as soon as possible for more information.