- Your visa is the document that allows you to enter the US. Your visa may expire while you are in the US, but as long as you have a current I-20 and are in status then you are still legal. If you leave the country after your visa expires, you will need to obtain a new one before reentering the US.
- This is the document that contains information about your education and lists the regulations for F1 students. You must keep all the information on this document current.
- If you change your address, major, or personal information you need to submit the SEVIS Update form to our office within 10 days of any changes.
- You must make sure your I-20 doesn’t expire before you finish your program.
- You need to always keep your I-94 with your passport.
- You can obtain the I-94 by going to the DHS website and filling out the page with information from your passport. If you arrived in the US before May 2013, then you should have received an I-94 from customs when you arrived. If you lost it, then you will need to contact DHS for a replacement.
- Make sure your passport is valid and doesn’t expire while you are in the US. You should renew your passport 6 months before it expires. Contact your country’s embassy in the US to learn about what is required to renew your passport.
F1 students are responsible for ensuring they are “in status”. It is their responsibility to read the regulations on the second page of the I-20. It is also the student’s responsibility to report any changes to their I-20 to their Designated School Official (DSO).
How to maintain F1 Status?
- You must enroll in, and complete, 12 or more credits in fall and spring semesters.
- You need your DSO’s permission BEFORE you stop attending, withdraw, or drop below full-time.
- You can only work on campus, and under 20 hours per week during the semester.
- You need your DSO’s authorization BEFORE starting an internship.
- You must report any change to your local address within 10 days.
- Inform your DSO of changes to the information on your Form I-20.
- Before you travel, be sure to obtain a travel endorsement (signature) every 6 months, and discuss your travel plans with your DSO.
- Complete your studies no later than the program end date on your Form I-20.
- You have a 60 day grace period after your completion of study, in which you need to either leave the country, apply for OPT, or find a new program.
- You need to obtain a SEVIS transfer BEFORE transferring to another US school.
- Ensure your passport is valid.
- You must have appropriate health insurance for the entire length of your program.
- You have to file a federal income tax form every year you are in the U.S., even if you did not work.
Any changes to the information on your I-20 needs to be reported to your DSO. It is your responsibility to report personal or educational changes, and failure to report changes could lead to the loss of your F1 status.
What do you need to report?
- Change of address – if you move off campus or to a new location you must report the change within 10 days. If your address changes in your home country you need to notify your DSO.
- Change of major
- Name changes
To update your address, major, or name submit a SEVIS Update form to your DSO.
- Financial changes – if your financial support changes you need to fill out a new Affidavit of Support form and attach an updated bank statement or letter.
In the US
Regulations require you to keep your immigration documents with you at all times. This includes your passport, visa, I-20, and I-94. While in town you should be fine carrying photo copies of your documents. If you leave town, you should carry your original documents with you. Remember, if you fly, never put your documents in your check-in luggage.
Traveling outside of the US
Before you leave, your DSO needs to sign page 3 of your I-20. This is important and without this signature you may not be allowed to reenter the US. If your visa has expired then you will need to arrange a visa interview while you are in your home country. If this is the case, you should take a copy of your transcript along with the other required interview documents. Even if you have a valid visa, it may be a good idea to carry with you a copy of your unofficial transcript, financial support information, and your DSO’s contact information. You may not need any of this, but it is better to err on the side of caution.
Undergraduates must enroll in, and complete, 12 or more hours. Graduate students must enroll in, and complete, 9 or more hours for during the fall and spring semesters.
You can only enroll in one online class per semester. An online class is a class that doesn’t require you to physically be at the university. Hybrid classes are a mix of online and in-class requirements, so you can take more than one hybrid class. Make sure your academic advisor understands this because it is ultimately your responsibility. If it is your last semester you can not take an online class alone.
Exceptions to the full-time enrollment rule:
- English Language Difficulty or Unfamiliarity with US Teaching methods
- Students can only use this for their first academic semester.
- Improper Course Level
- Students who are placed in a course that was too difficult for that education level and no other classes are available.
- Last Semester before Graduation
- Students can take under 12 credit hours to complete the remaining credit hours they need to graduate.
- Medical Reasons
- Students who are physically or mentally unable to complete a full course load.
- Students need to submit an official letter from the doctor detailing the reason why they can’t complete 12 hours.
To request a reduced course load, fill out the Reduced Enrollment form and submit it to your DSO.
Students who wish to leave SAU need to follow the correct withdrawal process to ensure they are not billed or penalized for leaving without notice. If an F1 student doesn’t officially withdraw from the university, then they are terminated as “unauthorized withdrawal” or “failure to enroll” and both of these are bad for your immigration record. Also, both of these options give you no grace period as you have to leave the country immediately.
So, if you know you will not return to SAU, or need to take a leave of absence, make sure you follow the proper withdrawal procedures:
- First, talk to your DSO about your decision.
- To withdraw from the university, students need to go to Student Life and complete the university withdrawal process. This may take some time, so don’t wait until your last day.
- Once you have completed the process, fill out the International Student Withdrawal Form.
- Upon withdrawing from the university students have 15 days to leave the US.
Leave of Absence
F1 students are allowed to take a semester off from their education for personal reasons, but they MUST leave the country for that semester. You cannot remain in the US while on a leave of absence. If there is a medical reason for taking the semester off, then the student needs to speak to their DSO.
To take a leave of absence:
- Follow the steps above to withdraw from the university.
- Get your I-20 signed before you leave the country.
- Submit your travel (departure and arrival) itinerary our office.
- Contact your DSO 30 days before you reenter the US.
Students that wish to transfer to another American university or college need to start by following the steps listed above to withdraw from the university. Then:
- Complete the SEVIS Release form.
- Submit your acceptance letter for your new school.
You will be transferred on the date you put on your release form. If you are on OPT and you need to transfer before it ends, then you should put your release date as close as possible to the start date of your new program. This will ensure you get as much of your OPT time as you can, because once you are transferred your OPT is cancelled.
F1 students are allowed to extend their program if there is an academic or medical reason. The extension must be finalized before the program end date stated on your I-20. If you fail to update your program end date before that date then you will fall out of status and have to apply for reinstatement.
To qualify for a program extension, F-1 students must meet the following requirements:
- The expiration date of the I-20 has not yet passed
- The student has continuously maintained F-1 student status
- The delay in completion of the program must be due to one of the following reasons:
- Compelling academic reason (change of major)
- Compelling medical reason (documentation is required from U.S. licensed medical physician)
- The student must have sufficient funds to cover the additional time needed to complete program requirements.
Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for a program extension.
To apply for a program extension:
- Fill out the Program Extension Request form.
- Your academic advisor also needs to fill it out.
- Complete a new Affidavit of Support form
- Bring an current bank statement or bank letter (scanned copy is acceptable).
Do this in a timely manner, and don’t wait until the end of the semester.
F1 students are only allowed to work on campus. Working off campus is illegal and grounds for termination. During the fall and spring semesters students can only work up to 20 hours a week, but during the summer students can work up to 40 hours a week.
To find work on campus, go around to different departments and ask if anything is available. You can also check with the Employment Resources Center in Reynolds 217.
Students with F-1 visa status may be eligible to participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which “is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school” (definition found on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement site). Southern Arkansas University defines Curricular Practical Training as a course that is listed in the course catalog with an assigned course number, has an established grading or evaluation component, and is offered at a cooperating employer.
- The student must currently be in valid F-1 status.
- The student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year. Exception exists for graduate students whose programs require immediate curricular training.
- The student must continue to be enrolled for a full course of study during the CPT in fall and spring semesters.
- Employment must be related to the student’s major field of study, and be a required part of the academic program. Work which is not required by the degree program may meet the requirements for curricular practical training if the student receives academic credit for the employment experience.
Regulations governing CPT:
- CPT is authorized one semester at a time.
- Students must be registered in a CPT course for each semester.
- CPT must be authorized on the I-20 prior to the start date of employment. To work without authorization is illegal.
- CPT may be for 20 hours per week (part time) or for more than 20 hours per week (full time). During the fall and spring semesters students can only work 20 hours.
- Students who accumulate 12 months of full-time CPT will not be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT at the time of degree completion.
- Part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.
- Once a student has filed an application for OPT, the student may not apply for CPT.
- Students cannot change employers while on CPT unless you apply for another CPT I-20.
- Students in the English Program are not eligible for CPT or OPT.
Bring the following to your advising appointment:
- CPT Application Form, completed by you and your advisor
- Current I-20
- Unofficial Transcript
- Training offer letter printed on official business letterhead from your employer that includes the following information:
- Job title and brief job description
- Exact dates of employment
- Number of hours of work per week
- Physical place of employment (Street address, no PO Boxes)
An international student on an F-1 visa may obtain temporary employment through the OPT program, which allows students to work up to one year. The employment must be directly related to their major field of study and it must be appropriate for someone having their level of education. Students get one year of OPT for each degree level of their education, and you have to use the OPT before you begin your next degree level or you lose it. After completing one OPT, you must complete a higher academic level (Undergraduate, Masters, PhD) before you are eligible for another OPT.
The eligibility requirements for OPT are:
- You must be in lawful status and must have been at SAU for one academic year before applying for OPT.
- You must not have had more than one year of full-time CPT employment on your current degree level.
- You must apply 90 days before or 60 days after graduation, the sooner the better
- You cannot begin working until you receive your EAD card
- Update the ISO about your current address and employer’s name and address
- You have 90 (STEM graduates have 120) days of unemployment, if you can’t find work volunteer for a non-profit
- OPT is limited to 12 months; STEM students are limited to 17 months
How to Apply
At the beginning of your last semester notify ISO that you are graduating. Our office will notify you about our OPT Workshop that will be around the middle of the semester. Once you complete the workshop you can schedule an appointment to apply for OPT.
There are several documents you need to prepare before you apply for OPT. These do not need to be prepared before the workshop, but you will need to have these ready for your OPT appointment.
- OPT Application:
- Optional Practical Training Application – Have everything on this list ready BEFORE you come to your OPT appointment.
- I-765 – Fill this out with the instructions in the OPT Application document above.
F1 students that graduate with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic) degree can apply for a one-time 17 month extension. For more information, see below about OPT Extension.
During the initial period of 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT), certain government-designated STEM degree-holders (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT, for a total of 29 months. The degree programs that qualify for a STEM extension are listed at the Department of Homeland Security’s Stem Designated Degree Programs page. Note that the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code is printed next to “Primary Major” under the student name on page 3 of the I-20.
Requirements for 17-month STEM extensions:
- Student must be currently participating in a 12-month period of OPT and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study.
- Student must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a field on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- Student must have a job or job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify employment verification system. (E-Verify information on the USCIS website )
- Student has not previously received a 17-month OPT extension
- ISO must recommend the 17-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying a student’s eligibility, certifying that the student’s degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, and ensuring that the student is aware of his or her responsibilities for maintaining status while on OPT.
- Student must apply for the 17-month extension on Form I-765 with fee. Students who timely file an application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
- Employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the ISO by email to email@example.com. An employer must consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the employer’s consent.
Reporting Requirements of STEM Extension
Report to ISO within 10 days of any change of:
- Legal name
- Residential or mailing address
- Employer name
- Employer address, and/or
- Interruption or loss of employment
Make a validation report to ISO every six months while on 17 month OPT extension when:
- the student’s F-1 status ends
- the student changes educational levels at the same school
- the student transfers to another school, OR
- the 17 month OPT extension ends, whichever occurs first
The validation reporting is a confirmation that the student’s name and address, employer’s name and address, and/or loss of employment are current and accurate.
Travel Issues while on STEM Extension
Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on STEM extension:
- STEM extension OPT I-20 with page 3 endorsed for travel; travel endorsement cannot be more than 6 months old
- Valid F-1 visa stamp
- Valid passport
- STEM Extension EAD card
- Job offer letter or statement of employment from company
Remember, it is risky to travel abroad while on OPT.
Social Security Number
A Social Security number’s primary purpose is to report your wages or earning to the government for tax purposes. If you work in the U.S. you need a Social Security Number in order to get paid. The Social Security card you receive will include your name and identification number. The number assigned is designated only for you and is highly confidential. It should be given only to authorized individuals such as your employer. You should keep in a safe place.
Before you can apply for a Social Security card our office has to register you in SEVIS. This is usually done two weeks after classes start. After you are registered in SEVIS it can take up to 10 days before your information is accessible by the Social Security Office.
How to apply
- First you need to find employment on campus.
- Once you find a job we will give you a form to be completed by your employer. Once this form is returned to our office we will approve it and send it to Financial Services to be signed.
- After we get the form back we will create a work authorization letter for you.
- You now have two options:
- Someone can drive you to the Social Security Office in El Dorado any time after your SEVIS record has been processed.
- Wait until we arrange transportation to El Dorado, about a month and a half after classes begin.
Normally, it takes about three weeks for your Social Security card to be processed, but sometimes it may take longer.
You will need a driver’s license to drive in the US. Some international driver’s licenses are accepted but may cause problems if you are pulled over. It is recommended that if you plan to drive you should get an Arkansas license. To get a driver’s license you will need to take a written exam and a driving test. If you already have a driver’s license from your home country you may be able to skip the written part.
If you just need to get a State ID, you may go directly to the Magnolia Revenue Office with your immigration documents.
Taking the Written Exam
- The written exam is offered every Tuesday and Thursday morning and afternoon at the Department of Arkansas Workforce. It is located next to Subway near McDonald’s.
- If you’re unsure of the exam time, please call their office at 870-234-3440.
- If you already have a license, you can ask them if you need to take the written part.
- To prepare for the exam read the Arkansas Drivers’ Manual.
Taking the Driving Test
- You will need to have a vehicle for this portion of the exam.
- You will return to the Department of Arkansas Workforce for this part. The test is at 1pm every Tuesday and Thursday.
Once you pass both of these you will receive a form you need to take to the Revenue Office to get your driver’s License . The Revenue Office is located on the square, downtown. They are open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Revenue office address:
Magnolia Revenue Office
101 South Court Square
Magnolia, AR 71753
You will need the following documents to get your license or ID:
- I-20 – If you transferred from another university take your I-20 from your previous school as well as your current I-20.
- I-94 – Passport, visa
If you don’t have these documents you WILL NOT get a license.
Remember, you MUST have car insurance to own a vehicle. It is against the law to drive without a license or insurance. You will have to go to court, pay a heavy fine, and possibly have your vehicle towed if you are pulled over without either of them.
SAU wants to ensure that international students are fully covered by adequate health insurance while in the U.S. Therefore, the University requires all international students not covered by their own plans to be covered by our healthcare provider, Lewermark.
To review our policy go to the Lewermark SAU policy page. From their site you can:
- Find a doctor or pharmacy
- Call their 24/7 nurse hotline
- Learn when to go to the hospital
- Print your insurance card:
- Click on “Student Login for ID Card” in the center of the page
- Put in your student ID (888-88-xxxx or 999-99-xxxx number), the password is your date of birth (mm/dd/yyyy). Click Continue.
- On the next page confirm your password and enter the proper information.
- Click on the “Start Here” tab on the upper left-hand corner, you will then see the “Online Card” option.
- Once you let it load, you can print it out.
If you have an existing insurance plan, you may be eligible to apply for a waiver of the insurance requirement. A waiver allows you to be excluded from the University’s insurance policy. Your existing insurance must have coverage that is equal to or better than the plan offered by the University.
The waiver requirements are as follows:
- A maximum benefit per person no less than $500,000 per academic year
- No Deductibles
- Must cover 100% of cost for in-network
To receive a waiver you must present your plan’s policy to our office by the second week of school. If you fail to bring your policy to our office by this time, you will not be able to receive a waiver and you will be charged for our insurance without refund.