Having a Visa
A visa is a sticker stamped on a page in your passport by a consular officer. Once you have a visa stamped in your passport, you are a visa holder. You need that stamp to enter the U.S. and the dates on the visa determine when it may be used. A visa is like a key that opens a door for a defined period of time. If you leave the U.S. and then wish to return later, you must have a valid, unexpired visa stamped in your passport to enter. If your visa has expired, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. consular office abroad before being allowed to gain re-entry to the U.S.
Nonimmigrant F-1 status indicates a legal condition granted to a visa holder by an immigration officer at the port of entry into the U.S.. F-1 visa holders maintain this status by following DHS regulations that detail the responsibilities unique to their status. The immigration document (I-20) issued to you first establishes your eligibility to apply for a U.S. visa and then serves as proof of the responsibilities with which you must comply to remain legally present in the U.S. Maintaining a valid I-20 in your possession at all times is a significant part of maintaining status; without a valid document, you have no legal means to be in F-1 student status.
After arriving in Cleveland, there are some steps to ensure that you get off to a smooth start. These steps are mandatory in order to properly maintain your F-1 student visa status, so be certain to review them all carefully.
An F-1 student is considered to be maintaining status if he/she:
is properly registered in SEVIS
is maintaining full-time enrollment status
is making normal progress toward completing his/her course of study
has not engaged in unauthorized employment
is not deportable on any grounds
Tips to maintain your status:
Report your address to SIS at the beginning of every semester or whenever you move
Keep your documents- I-20 and passport- current and valid at all times
Enroll full-time every fall and spring
Work only with proper authorization
Frequently Asked Questions for F-1 Students
Upon arrival in Cleveland as a new international student, you must check in with International Student Services (ISS). This process is done online and is the first step in properly maintaining your visa status.
Visit our step-by-step guide for more information on how to check in.
Upon completion of the process, ISS will be able to properly register your personal information in SEVIS and indicate to the government that you have arrived and are complying with federal regulations.
Students who are continuing their education at CWRU do not need to check in online with ISS when they arrive on campus every semester. ISS ensures that you’re properly registered in SEVIS by verifying your enrollment status during subsequent semesters of study.
The only time when you would be required to submit your passport or the passport of your dependents to ISS would be if new ones are issued. ISS keeps copies of your documentation in your student file.
Within the first 10 days of first arriving in the U.S., you must report your address to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is accomplished by providing your local address on Form AR-11, Change of Address Form and submitting it electronically to DHS.
After you’ve submitted your AR-11, any time in the future that you move to a new location within the U.S., whether it be a different apartment in the same building or a whole new state, you must update the Student Information System (SIS) within 10 days of moving. The information that you enter in SIS is automatically forwarded to ISS, and we then use that information to update SEVIS. If SIS is not kept up to date, neither is the government. Failure to properly maintain that information with the government is a violation of your visa status.
Important points to keep in mind when maintaining/updating your address:
- If you live on campus, make sure to include your box number. Only putting your street address does not tell the post office where you receive your mail. This will cause delays in receiving your mail or prevent you from receiving it all together.
- Do not list your apartment number or street number before your street name. This can cause confusion for the post office and delay delivery of your mail. In the U.S., the proper way to write your address is:
Street Number Street Name, Apartment Number, City, State, Zip
Example: 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH, 44106 or 123 Main Street, Apt 456, Cleveland Heights, OH, 44120
An F-1 student must be enrolled full time.
The Department of Homeland Security defines a full-time course of study for undergraduate students as 12 semester credits for undergraduate study. Certain experiential learning opportunities allow for a full-time course load based on different registration requirements. Always consult with ISS about course registration to be sure that you're maintaining full-time status.
A full-time course load of nine credit hours is generally considered full time for graduate and professional programs; however, some programs do have different credit hour requirements.
Graduate students enrolled in thesis coursework will also find that certain courses come with full-time enrollment status even when registration is less than 9 credit hours. Always consult with ISS about course registration to be sure that you're maintaining full-time status.
Graduate students must also understand the impact that the Waiver of Registration has on their visa status. Read on to #15 for more information about this.
Part of your responsibility as an F-1 student is being registered in a full course of study during the academic year. International Student Services is required by federal regulations to report on the status of each student’s enrollment every semester and at any point that there’s a drop below the required full-time course load.
The only time when an F-1 student is considered to be in status without being enrolled full time is during a vacation period between semesters, such as summer break, so long as he or she is eligible and intends to enroll for the next semester.
Never drop below a full-time course of study during the academic year before having a conversation with ISS about your options. Dropping below full-time status without involving ISS will likely result in serious consequences that will negatively impact your visa status. If you have questions about the definition of full-time course of study, contact ISS at email@example.com or 216.368.2517 or visit us at Tomlinson Hall, Room 143.
If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot maintain full-time enrollment, remember you must speak with an international student advisor immediately. ISS may be able to suggest options for you to maintain your status or will advise you about the proper steps to take if you cannot maintain status.
There are certain exceptions to the full-time course of study requirement; only ISS can determine if a student qualifies for an exception and authorize the Reduced Course Load (RCL). DHS allows individuals to be less than full time under these very specific circumstances:
Valid academic reasons
There are a few valid academic reasons by which a student can maintain status without being enrolled in a full course of study. If you think you may have a valid academic reason for being unable to maintain full-time enrollment, you must discuss your situation with ISS prior to withdrawing from coursework and provide the required documentation. Only ISS can determine whether or not you qualify for one of these exceptions based on the Application for Reduced Course Load that you submit.
Completing all course requirements in the current semester
Students who are completing their final semester of study may take less than a full-time course load if a lesser course load is necessary to complete the remaining program requirements during the final semester Students requesting a Reduced Course Load in their final semester must submit this request to ISS in order to be considered for authorization.
A student who needs to drop below full time for medical reasons is considered to be in legal F-1 status during the illness if he/she provides documentation from U.S. licensed medical or mental health professionals to ISS. The student must be able to resume a full-time course of study upon recovery. An F-1 student is only allowed to drop below a full course load for medical reasons for a total of 12 months during each academic level.
In the event that a student doesn’t qualify for RCL or have other viable options to maintain status, the student may choose to completely withdraw from the program and request authorization to do so from ISS or the sponsor. This withdrawal still results in failing to maintain status, but being authorized is better than failing to maintain status without any authorization. An authorized withdrawal provides a student with an additional period of time to arrange for their departure, while an unauthorized withdrawal doesn’t not.
Based on the date the student is considered to have dropped below full-time enrollment status, and whether or not the withdrawal had been authorized, the international advisor will inform the student of how long s/he may legally remain in the U.S. and of how s/he may regain F-1 status, if desired, in the future.
F-1 students are admitted to the U.S for “duration of status,” or “D/S.”
Duration of status means:
- the time during which they are pursuing a full course of study and making normal progress toward completing the course of study
- if applicable, the time they are working in authorized practical training after completion of studies
- a 60-day grace period during which they prepare to depart from the country, to apply for a change to another visa status, or to begin practical training.
Duration of status is limited by the “completion of studies” date listed in the student’s most recent I-20. A student needing additional time to complete his/her program must apply for an extension of program of study before the original end date printed on the I-20.
A student is considered to be eligible for a program extension if all three conditions are met:
- the completion of studies date on the student’s current I-20 has not expired,
- the student has continually maintained status and
- the student is unable to finish the degree program by the completion date on his/her I-20 because of compelling academic or medical reasons.
Program Extension Procedures:
You must submit a complete I-20 extension request through TerraDotta no earlier than the semester that your I-20 will expire. Plan to submit your complete request at least 3-4 weeks (sooner is always better!) before your program completion date as listed on your current I-20.
As part of this process, you'll be asked to identify your advisor, who will then be contacted by ISS to provide additional information about your extension request. Undergraduate students should list their Dean in Undergraduate Studies. Graduate students should list their academic advisor.
The international student advisor will review the documentation and issue a new I-20 with an extended graduation date for all qualifying program extension requests. Students will be notified by email about how to collect the new I-20 when it’s ready.
Students who do not meet the requirements for an I-20 extension are considered out-of-status and must apply for reinstatement to legal F-1 status. Consult an international student advisor about the process and any other options.
If your I-94 has been lost, stolen, or the information entered into the electronic I-94 system is incorrect, call the local Cleveland Customs and Border Protection office at 216.267.3600, then press option 1.
It is extremely important that a student who has lost his or her passport report this to the police immediately. The police report will likely be required when the student applies for a replacement passport from the home government.
Obtaining a new passport is done directly with the student’s home country's embassy or consulate and does not require any documentation from ISS. Each country’s procedure is different: Some may require in-person applications while others accept request by mail, so students must investigate the process. This information is generally accessible on their website.
Maintaining a valid passport at all times while studying in the U.S. is also the student’s responsibility and required to maintain visa status. For a passport to be considered valid, it must be current for at least 6 months into the future at all times. Like issuance of a replacement passport, issuance of a new passport or extending a current passport is country specific so it’s essential that a student investigate the procedure well in advance of its expiry. The website of the home country’s embassy should have instructions regarding passport renewal or extension.
F-1 students are permitted to work on campus no more than 20 hours per week during the academic year, but may be employed full time (more than 20 hours per week) during breaks and between semesters so long as they are properly authorized by ISS prior to engaging in employment and they are eligible and intend to enroll for next semester. Employment may not interfere with the student’s academic program
All off-campus employment must be authorized by ISS prior to beginning work. For more information, visit the F-1 Students Employment and Training page.
F‑1 students may transfer their SEVIS records from one academic institution to another. The process is pretty simple and an international student advisor will be glad to assist you. To be eligible for transfer, students must start their new program at their new university within 5 months of transferring out of CWRU to maintain their current legal F-1 status.
Students who have completed a degree from CWRU and want to begin a new program at another school must have their SEVIS record released to the new school within 60 days after graduation.
Students who are transferring schools during an academic program may choose any release date for their SEVIS record as long as that release date is after the completion of coursework at CWRU and before the semester begins at the new school.
To initiate the transfer of your SEVIS record, follow the steps to complete the online Transfer-Out Form. Upon receiving your completed form and any required supporting documents, ISS will initiate the transfer of your SEVIS record to the new school.
Students who complete one degree and wish to pursue another degree at CWRU must obtain a new I‑20 for the new degree.
To obtain a new I-20, you’ll need to provide:
- an admission letter from CWRU
- documentation of sufficient financial resources
The new I-20 must be generated by ISS within 60 days of the completion of the first degree; be sure to submit everything in a timely manner to maintain your visa status!
It is extremely important to maintain your legal status in the United States. The Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 imposes certain penalties on those who overstay their status in the United States and those who are “unlawfully” present for certain periods of time. DHS has published guidelines to outline these definitions—overstay and unlawfully present—as well as the penalties.
The visa of an individual who stays beyond the period authorized is automatically considered void (although it may appear to be valid as it is stamped in the passport).All subsequent nonimmigrant visa applications must be made in the country of nationality- applying for an In-Country Change of Status is not possible- unless the circumstances have been defined as “extraordinary” by the Department of State. If an individual has been unlawfully present in the United States for more than 180 days and less than one year, the individual is not eligible to be admitted to the US for three years from departure from the U.S. Those who have been unlawfully present for more than one year are not eligible to be admitted to the U.S. for 10 years from departure from the U.S.
Immigration authorities have stated that an overstay and unlawful presence occurs when the date on the I‑94 has expired, or an immigration judge or immigration officer determines that a status violation has occurred. Students are advised to pay close attention to the dates on the I‑94, especially if they’ve been admitted on an I-515A with a specific ending date (usually 30 days) and must have their status returned to F-1. Failure to renew the I‑94 in time will cause an overstay and unlawful presence. Those with “Duration of Status” (D/S) can also be ruled to have violated status and will be considered an overstay and unlawfully present.
Failing to maintain visa status can have a significant impact on your plans to study at CWRU and long-lasting consequences that can affect your ability to obtain another visa status in the future. It is extremely important to maintain status at all times.
If you have failed to maintain your status, you must consult with an international student advisor immediately to evaluate your situation and be advised about any options for reinstatement. The standards for reinstatement are very high, so it is advisable for students to maintain status.
If you are no longer maintaining F-1 status, you may wish to file for a reinstatement with USCIS. If USCIS authorizes the reinstatement, your F-1 status will be restored. If USCIS denies the reinstatement, you would need to leave the U.S. immediately. Remaining in the U.S. after a reinstatement application has been denied may result in a 10 year bar from the United States. If you plan to apply for a reinstatement, talk to your international student advisor first to discuss your eligibility—it is extremely difficult to qualify for a reinstatement—and the application process.
Departure and New Entry
If you are no longer maintaining F-1 status, you may choose to restore your status by obtaining a new I-20 from ISS and leaving the U.S. to apply for a new visa abroad. Having a new I-20, with a new SEVIS ID, generated will result in you having to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee again and affect your eligibility for Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training. For more information, talk to an international student advisor by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.368.2517.
If you are a graduate student submitting a Waiver of Registration for this semester, it is essential that you understand the impact of this decision on your visa status. The Waiver of Registration is an administrative process of the university, but does not fulfill federal regulations that stipulate a requirement to be properly registered at all times. Proper registration is required to maintain your visa status and if you are not properly registered, you need to take other steps to maintain your visa status.
Keep in mind:
- By virtue of submitting a Waiver of Registration, ISS is obligated to shorten the length of your I-20 to reflect the Drop/Add deadline. Your legal status in the US actually becomes shorter because it is now based on this Drop/Add deadline rather than your future intended graduation date.
- In order to maintain your visa status after submitting a Waiver of Registration, you must, in a timely manner, either apply for OPT or make arrangements to begin a new academic program.
OPT applications must be submitted within the 60 day grace period following the new Drop/Add deadline. Don't forget, it takes an average of 90-120 days for an OPT application to be processed. If you wait too long to apply, you're not likely going to be authorized for your full 12 months of OPT.
If you intend to begin another academic program, to maintain your current F-1 status (and SEVIS record), your new academic program must start within 5 months of the Drop/Add deadline. Any program beginning later than 5 months will result in you falling out of status.
If you do not intend to maintain your status either through OPT or continued education, you are required to leave the United States within 60 days of the Drop/Add deadline. Remaining in the US beyond the 60 day grace period can have extremely negative consequences such as fines and being barred from the US in the future.
Please get in touch with ISS if you have additional questions or concerns. We are here to help!
**For Academic Year 2021-2022, please refer to the information on the Fall 2021 - Spring 2022 Guidance & Student and Exchange Visitor Program Updates page.**
F-1 students are eligible to enroll in online classes. Up to 3 credit hours can count towards maintaining full-time enrollment during a semester. Here are some examples to better explain.
For the sake of these examples only (check with ISS whenever you have questions about your enrollment requirements!), we’re going to state that full-time enrollment to maintain status is 12 credit hours
- Student is enrolled in 3 classes for 9 credit hours. These 3 classes meet on campus. Student enrolls in another online class for 3 credit hours. The total credit hours is 12 and the student is properly maintaining enrollment. If the student decided to engage in additional online coursework, that would be permissible; however, only one of those online courses counts towards maintaining visa status and the 12 credit hour requirement.
- Student is enrolled in 3 classes for 9 credit hours. These 3 classes meet on campus. Student enrolls in 2 online class for 6 credit hours. Total enrollment is 15 credit hours. Student decides to drop one of the courses that meets on campus. Student is still enrolled in 12 credit hours; however, only one online class can count towards maintaining full-time enrollment. That means that the student is only in 9 credit hours (6 credit hours on campus and 3 credit hours online) that can count towards maintaining status. This is a violation of status.
Whenever you’re considering enrolling in online coursework, consult with ISS to ensure that you’re properly maintaining status.
Whether you’re moving down the hall from your current apartment or to another state, you always need to make sure that you’re properly reporting your address. This is essential for maintaining your visa status and regulations state that students are required to report any change in personal contact information within 10 days of the occurrence.
As an enrolled student, you are expected to promptly update your contact information using the Student Information System (SIS). Instructions about how to do this can be found on the Registrar’s website. The information that you update with the Registrar is provided to ISS through an electronic interface and then ISS passes this information along to SEVIS.
As you’ll see when looking at the Registrar’s instructions, there are multiple types of addresses to maintain. Keeping this information up to date in SIS is the best way to ensure that the university can reach you (either in-person or by mail) with important information.
Students who have graduated from CWRU and are authorized for OPT or STEM OPT are also required to report on any changes in personal contact information within 10 days; however, the method through which that is done is different. These processes are explained on our website- OPT & STEM OPT Reporting Requirements.
If your status changes, you need to inform ISS immediately. Send an email to email@example.com.
If you know that you will be changing your status, it is best to reach out to ISS early on so that staff can advise you about how to maintain your current F-1 status until your change is approved as well as any necessary actions that need to be taken with your SEVIS record. This will help ensure that all of your information is properly reflected at the time that your F-1 status ends.
Any questions you have about your new status should be directed towards the immigration attorney or immigration specialist that has helped you file for your change of status.
Be sure to keep all of your I-20s and F-1 related materials in a safe place as they reflect your history as an F-1 visa holder. If you continue to make immigration-related transitions, you may need to provide these materials as part of future applications. ISS does not retain copies of your visa-related documents so it is very important that you keep track of all of your documents.