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F-1 Status, Visa and Travel Information
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.
Period of authorized stay
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.). Below is 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 safe, and you should carry photocopies. However, if you are traveling outside the Bay 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 safe. 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 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. For more information, search Automatic Revalidation.
I-20 Certificate of Eligibility
Issued by Cal State East Bay, 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. You must apply for an extension prior to its expiration date, if needed. 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.
I-94 Arrival & Departure Record
When you enter the U.S. you are issued an admission stamp in your passport and an electronic Form I-94. Your electronic I-94 is available for viewing and printing at www.cbp.gov/i94. Travelers at land borders will continue to receive paper I-94 cards, a small white card usually stapled to the passport opposite the visa stamp.
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.