F1 Guidelines

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
Visa or Immigration Status
Important Immigration Documents
Full course of study requirement
Dependent Study: F-2 Status
Losing your legal status
Regaining your legal status
Employment Options

OBU International Student Services Office

Please email: international.services@okbu.edu

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

SEVIS is an electronic reporting system that provides the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), formerly part of the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) with information on international students and scholars in the U.S. who hold F, J, and M visas. The Department of Homeland Security has created an internet-based record-keeping system to maintain electronic data. The system also tracks entries into the U.S. and departures from the U.S. Every school, college, and university that admits students or scholars on F, J, or M visas is mandated to use SEVIS.

SEVIS requires daily reporting on full course enrollment and changes students may make in their academic program (change of major, change of degree program). Students should ensure that they complete a full course of study each semester, and that it is on file with the International Student Services Office. Graduate students working on their thesis or dissertation need a full-time enrollment verification form on file. In addition to the this information that is printed on I-20s or DS 2019, other information is reported, including academic status, employment, and residential address as well as other information. Students should make sure that all information on their I-20 or DS 2019 remains accurate. You should contact the liaison if there has been a change (for example, name change, financial support, new program, etc.). For more information, visit the SEVIS website.

Visa or Immigration Status

It is important to clarify two legal terms in order for you to understand how to maintain your legal status in the U.S. People can get confused about the terms “visa” and “immigration status”. Students frequently say their visas expired and need and extension. If you are referring to the F-1 visa stamp in your passport, that stamp cannot be renewed in the U.S. You can renew your visa only at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. However, you do not need to renew your visa if you will remain in the U.S. and hold a valid I-20 or DS 2019, and have remained in valid F-1 or J-1 status. If your SEVIS I-20 or DS 2019 is about to expire or has expired then you will need to contact the International Student Services Office about a program extension or reinstatement. Please read further for more details.


You obtained a visa stamp in your passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country or the country where you have been living. This stamp is used for entering the U.S. The expiration date on the visa stamp does not indicate the length of time you are allowed to stay in the U.S. This stamp indicates only the latest date on which you may apply to enter this country. When entering the U.S. through a “port of entry” the Immigration inspector examines your passport, your visa, and your I-20/DS 2019 (or Certificate of Eligibility) and determines whether you are admissible to the United States. The visa basically functions as a key to enter the U.S. However, when you leave and need to re-enter the U.S. you must have a valid visa to return.

Immigration Status

Once the immigration inspector at the port of entry determines you are admissible to the U.S. they will grant you an immigration status, which is indicated on your I-94 Arrival/Departure Card and on your I-20 or DS 2019.

The I-94 card is an important document so you want to make sure you keep it safely with your passport. The inspector will write on the card “F-1” and below it “D/S” which refers to your status and the length of time you are permitted to remain in the U.S. “D/S” means duration of status. The number located at the top of your I-94 card is your USUSCIS admission numbers which you will keep for the duration of your studies, unless you leave the U.S. for a period of five (5) months or more. You will be issued a new admission number when you re-enter after that period of time.

F-1 Legal Status

The U.S. has laws which govern the foreign nationals that live within its borders. This is vital for you to be responsible and learn about the laws which are always being changed.

If you have questions about immigration laws and regulations please contact the International Student Services Office. Students who arrive in the U.S. are granted the nonimmigrant classification called “F-1”. This is referred to as your status. A spouse or child who is allowed to come to the U.S. to be with the F-1 student maintains valid status.

In order to remain in the U.S. legally you must “maintain” your status. In order to maintain your status you must follow the rules that apply to your Visa.


The most important rules for F-1 Students are as follows:

  1. You must attend the school that you were authorized to attend on your I-20.
  2. You must maintain a full course of study during the academic year. (Full-time attendance during summer is not required unless you were admitted to begin your studies during summer session).
  3. You may not drop below full time status without authorization from the International Student Services Office.
  4. You cannot be employed off campus without proper authorization.
  5. You must have a clean criminal record such as DUI (driving under the influence), possession of illegal substance, MIP (minor in possession), buying/owning a firearm, assault will lead to the termination of your legal status. The International Student Services Office cannot assist you with criminal charges.
  6. You must follow the Department of Homeland Security rules regarding:

  • Extending your stay (apply for extensions before I-20 expires)
  • Changing from one degree program level to another (bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D.)
  • Transferring to another school
  • Report any changes to your residential address by updating the current mailing address with the International Student Services Office
  • Staying in the United States past your grace period

Important Immigration Documents


The U.S. government requires international students to keep their passports valid at least six months into the future. Additionally, students working on campus need a valid passport in order to be issued paychecks. Only your government can renew or extend your passport. Contact your country’s embassy or consulate in the United States for information on the procedure to renew a valid passport. Addresses and telephone numbers for foreign embassies in the U.S. are available on the here: http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.html​​

Form I-94

The DHS immigration inspector at the U.S. port of entry will determine your status in the U.S. and how long you remain in that status. The I-94 is a required document used by DHS to confirm that you have been legally allowed to enter the U.S. This form is also used to record changes of non-immigrant status. Admission number: The 11-digit number on your I-94 is used by the DHS to monitor your arrival and departure from the United States. Expiration date: on your I-94 you will find the notation D/S. This signifies Duration of Status and means that you can stay in the U.S. until your program ends or your I-20/DS-2019 expires, whichever comes first. If you complete your program, you have an additional 60 day grace period if you have F-1 status. Dependent status (F-2) ends when the F-1 status ends. (J-1 students have a 30 days grace period.) In order to remain longer, you must apply for an extension of stay before your I-20/DS-2019 expires.

This is an electronic form that you will be able to access by going to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/request.html;jsessionid=v2vLSbbL81D3c2K8N0M1g2VzVL2TWKVBZVPLJdpZQM93nyq1mjpl!-1737567978

Form I-20

Students with F-1 legal status have an I-20 document.

SEVIS ID NUMBER: A number assigned to your record by the SEVIS systems. You will find this number printed on your I-20.

I-20: This document contains information about the student, school, student’s academic program, the student’s expenses and funding and the length of time the student is allowed to complete an academic program. Students must complete their academic programs before the date in item 5 on the I-20, or request additional time from the International Student Services Office before this date arrives. If the I-20 expires before the program is completed, you will lose your legal status in the U.S. Students are only allowed to enroll full time at the school listed on the I-20 unless prior approval is gained prior to transferring to the other school. A transfer process is available for students who want to change schools.

Note on Travel and Reentry: After using your I-20 for your initial entry into the U.S., you will need to have your document signed by a DSO from the International Student Services Office to revalidate it for future reentry.

Entry Visa

A visa is a stamp or sticker placed in your passport. F visas can be obtained only at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. The purpose of the visa is for entry into the United States in a particular status. Information about applying for a visa at many U.S. embassies and consulates around the world is available on the internet http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/questions/questions_1253.html

F-1 Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

If you have F-1 status please contact the International Student Services Office for more information about the details of this status and employment options.

It is extremely important to keep and protect all your status documents in order to identify yourself while in the U.S. We encourage you to place these documents in a safe deposit box at a local bank. You should make copies of these documents to keep with you to prevent the need to return to the bank each time you need to use them or you misplace them.

  • I-94
  • Passport
  • F-1 students or F-2 dependents: Page one (1) and three (3) of the I-20 for each person.
  • EAD
  • Old passport (if you were allowed to keep it)
  • F-1 students: staple all of your previous I-20s to your current I-20

Full course of study requirement

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires all international students with F-1 visas to register for a minimum number of credits each semester to maintain their student status in the U.S. It also requires the University to verify that its international students are registered for a full course of study.

Credit Requirements

Minimum credit levels for the 2015-2016 academic year:

  • Undergraduate students (including transfer undergraduate students and non=degree undergraduate students) must be registered for a minimum of 12 credits hour per semester.
  • Graduate Students (including Master’s and Ph.D. students) full course of study is typically 9 credits at the graduate level. However, the credits may vary depending on the percentage of graduate assistantship a student has.

To be able to be considered taking a full course load, your transcript must indicate that you are in 2 credits at the undergraduate level or 9 credits at the graduate level (unless the graduate student has an assistantship). As a result, it is not possible to withdraw from a course unless you meet certain requirements. If you are in jeopardy of failing a course, you may want to consider changing the way the course is graded to avoid affecting your GPA. If this happens, you will want to speak with the International Student Services Office or the Student Registration Office to change from being graded on and A-F scale, to either an AU (audit) or P/F courses.

Part Time Course of Study

In some cases, students could be allowed to take less than the full course of study during a semester at the discretion of the International Student Services Office. The legal regulations only allow a few exceptions for not carrying a full course of study through the academic semester. If you fall below full time status during a term for any reason that is not recognized in the regulations, you will lose your legal status. This is the most common way for students to lose their legal status. Make sure you visit with your liaison before your finalize any changes to your semester courses or withdraw from a class.

Dependent Study: F-2 Status

Effective January 1, 2003 USCIS regulations specify that individuals holding F-2 status are not eligible to pursue a program of study in US educational institutions. The exception to this regulation is:

  • Minor children holding F-2 status are able to attend elementary and secondary school on a full time basis.
  • The regulation allows F-2 visa holders to participate in craft, casual or recreational classes or one ESL class (full-time ESL classes are prohibited. It must be considered a non-vocational study. Students must change their status to F-1 student status prior to taking more than one course.
  • OBU does not allow F-2 visa holders to enroll in any coursework.

Losing your legal status

Read the section on maintaining F-1 status. If you fail to follow these guidelines you will lose your legal status and related benefits. This means you lose any eligibility for employment, even on-campus. Further, if the DHS or an immigration law judge becomes aware of your lost legal status, you may be declared “unlawfully present.” Unlawful presence in the U.S. for 180 days means being barred from returning to the United States for three (3) years. Twelve (12) months of unlawful presence means being barred from returning to the United States for ten (10) years. The DHS or immigration law judge may also find you have stayed in the United States beyond the time authorized. This is referred to as “overstaying your visa.” If you overstay the time allowed on your I-20, any U.S. entry visa in your passport is automatically cancelled. All new U.S. entry visas, for the rest of your life, can be issued only by the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. After being unlawfully present or overstaying your visa you could have trouble getting another visa in the future.

Regaining your legal status

If you have fallen “out of status” you must apply to the USCIS for reinstatement. The International Student Services Office can help you with this process if it your first time out of status. You will be required to submit the application and pay any fees related to application. You must realize that students who have fallen out of status have a hard time being granted an application approval for reinstatement. You may have to seek out the advice of an attorney for this situation. You should discuss your options with the International Student Services Office.

USCIS will consider reinstatement to F-1 status if:

  1. The student has not been out of status for more than 5 months.
  2. The student establishes, to the satisfaction of the USCIS, in a detailed letter that:
  • The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control; circumstance might include serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, or a natural disaster.
  • The violation relates to a reduction in course load that would have been within the International Student Services Office’s power to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student.
  • The student is pursuing or intending to pursue a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the I-20 and
  • The student has not engaged in unauthorized employment.

A decision to reinstate the student is solely up to the USCIS. Neither the University nor the International Student Services Office has any control over this matter. If you are denied reinstatement you must stop attending classes and depart the U.S. within 30 days. If you think you are likely to be out of status, please contact the International Student Services Office immediately.

Employment Options

F-1 Work Options

The most important employment issue to keep in mind is the issue of legal, or “authorized,” versus illegal, or “unauthorized,” employment. It is your responsibility to make sure that you only obtain legal employment or that which qualifies under USCIS regulations as permissible for F-1 students. Any unauthorized, illegal employment even if you were not aware the job was illegal, renders you out of status and terminates your stay in the United States. Make sure you have the necessary employment authorization before your begin work. Get approval from the International Student Services Office before working for any off-campus employer to ensure you do not break the law. Before you can start working you must obtain a Social Security Number. The liaison can help determine your eligibility to apply for an SSN. Your campus ID is not the same as an SSN. It is a 9 digit code issued by the Social Security Administration for record keeping purposes and is required for employment.