Immigration Information for F-1 Students

Immigration Information for F-1 Students

It is your responsibility to understand and comply with the terms of your immigration status during your stay in the United States. A violation of the immigration regulations (for example, failure to maintain a full-time credit load or unauthorized employment) could jeopardize your F-1 status and legal stay in the U.S. Review this information carefully and contact the study abroad office. Email us at if you have questions.

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 in the U.S.

Your admission to the U.S. is for “duration of status,” that is, 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 bank safe deposit box, and you should carry photocopies. However, if you are traveling outside the Connecticut 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. Bear in mind that if you leave the U.S, it is required that you have either Dmitry Satsuk or Dr. Indira Petoskey sign your I-20 confirming that you are an active student at Eastern Connecticut State University upon returning to to the U.S. again. (This is especially important if you decide to go home for Christmas, summer or other vacations.) The signatures are valid for 1 year.


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 at 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.) 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. Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. consulate. For more information contact the study abroad office at Eastern by emailing .

I-20 Certificate of Eligibility

Issued by Eastern Connecticut State University, 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 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 either an admission stamp in your passport or Form I-94, a small white card usually stapled to the passport opposite the visa stamp. In the summer of 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) transitioned to electronic arrival/departure records for air and sea ports of entry. For most travelers arriving by air or sea, a paper I-94 card will not be issued. Instead, the CBP official will issue an admission stamp in the passport.

The admission stamp 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 need a printout of your electronic I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a Connecticut State ID card or a Social Security Number. Further the study abroad office at Eastern Connecticut State University require you to hand in your new I-94 every time you return to the U.S. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record at

Events That Require You to Update Your 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 the Study Abroad office 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. Study Abroad office 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.

Program Extension

If you are unable to complete your course of study before the completion date noted in item 5 on your I-20, you must request an extended I-20 before your current I-20 expires. For more information and instructions, see Program Extension.


Changing Schools

You must register full-time at Eastern Connecticut State University, since ECSU issued your I-20 and oversees your SEVIS record. If you decide to transfer to another school, contact Dr. Petoskey at prior to completing your final semester at ECSU.

Change of Major

If you are accepted into a major or if you change your major (for example, Business Administration to Communication), you must request a new I-20. For more information, please contact the Study Abroad Office.

Change of Funding

If there is a substantial change in the source or amount of your funding, report this change to the Study Abroad office and a new I-20 will be issued to you.

Name Change

The name on your I-20 should match the name on your passport. If you change any part of your legal name—first/given name, middle name, or last/family name—on your passport, this change should be reflected on your I-20. Conversely, if you want a different name on your I-20, The Study Abroad office will wait for you to change your passport first, before updating the I-20. Note that SEVIS is a separate database from ECSU’s database. For instructions on changing your name in the ECSU database contact the IT Help Desk.

Full-time Registration Requirements and Exceptions

In general, F-1 students must be registered full-time. This is defined as 12 or more credits each semester for undergraduate students and 10 or more credits each semester for graduate students.

Only one online class may count towards the minimum credit amount each semester.
According to the F-1 regulations, an online class is one that “does not require the student’s physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class.” Therefore any course that has some sort of physical attendance requirement, such as for a lecture, exam, or faculty meeting is not considered fully online for visa status purposes. Hybrid classes that are mostly online but have a physical presence requirement are not counted toward the 1 class limit for online courses.

Do not register for fewer than the required number of credits or withdraw from a course without first receiving permission from Dr. Petoskey. Being a part-time student without prior permission can affect your status and lead to the termination of your I-20 (visa).

Exceptions to the Full-Time Requirement

Reduced Course Load (RCL) for Specific Academic Reasons

You must obtain a letter from your academic adviser or class professor explaining that one of the following reasons apply to you. Note that the first three reasons are primarily for new students beginning their studies, since the exception reasons refer to “initial” difficulty.

Dr. Petoskey will review the letter, evaluate whether or not a drop will be allowed, and if approved, will print a new I-20 for you with the RCL authorization dates. An academic RCL is only allowed one semester per degree level. You must request the RCL and receive approval from the study abroad office before the end of the semester in which you need the approved RCL.

  • Initial difficulty with the English language
  • Initial difficulty with reading requirements
  • Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
  • Improper course level placement

Reduced Course Load (RCL) for a Documented Medical Condition

You must submit a recommendation letter to the Study Abroad office from a “licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist.” A reduced course load due to a medical reason may be authorized multiple times so long as the aggregate period does not exceed 12 months. Regardless of the date during the semester you request the RCL, it will cover the entire semester and will subtract three months from your 12-month allowance. You must request the RCL and receive approval from the Study Abroad office before the end of the semester in which you need the approved RCL. We will issue a new I-20 for you authorizing the RCL.

Final Semester

You may take as few credits as required to complete your degree as long as you register for at least one credit at ECSU. An online class or a CPT-related credit cannot be the only class on your final semester schedule. Please notify the Study Abroad office of your graduating semester/final quarter enrollment.

Concurrent Enrollment at ECSU and Another College

You can “concurrently enroll,” which means you take classes at ECSU and another school during the same semester, and the Study Abroad office combines the credits to count as full-time. To concurrently enroll, you must take the majority (at least 7 credits) of your required 12-credit minimum at ECSU. The credits should count towards your ECSU degree. Consult with Dr. Petoskey about your plans in advance to be sure your concurrent enrollment request will be approved by the Study Abroad office.
Submit a copy of your registration/class schedule from the other school to the Study Abroad office at the beginning of the semester, and email the Study Abroad office to confirm your concurrent enrollment. After you complete the classes, submit an unofficial transcript of your completed courses from the other school to the Study Abroad office. (This step is for F-1 purposes only. We highly recommend that you discuss taking classes at another university with your faculty advisor prior to enrolling in them in order to make sure they will transfer back as required classes at ECSU.)


“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; familiarize yourself with your F-1 employment eligibility options and ALWAYS contact the Study Abroad office before accepting any work that you are not sure is authorized.

Travel: Returning to the U.S. After a Temporary Absence

At the port-of-entry you must present:

  • An unexpired I-20 endorsed for travel within the last year by either Dmitry Satsuk (Admissions office) or Dr. Petoskey (Study Abroad Office). The travel signature is located on page 3 of the form.
  • Valid F-1 visa.
  • Passport.
  • Evidence of finances.
  • Copy of your transcript and current course schedule.
  • If returning from Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands (except Cuba) after a visit of less than 30 days solely in those countries, your visa need not be valid; however, you will be required to show your previously issued I-94 in addition to the other documents listed above.
  • Students outside the U.S. for more than one semester and those on Optional Practical Training may have additional requirements.

Dependents (Spouse and Children)

Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact the Study Abroad office 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. The regulations also restrict full-time study for F-2 dependents, with two exceptions:

An F-2 spouse or F-2 child desiring to engage in full-time study (other than as noted above) must apply to Immigration and obtain a change of status to F-1.

  • An F-2 spouse and child may enroll in courses that are avocational or recreational in nature. Enrollment in a degree program would not be considered as avocational or recreational.
  • An F-2 child may engage in full-time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade).

Change of Address

Any change of address must be reported to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days. Update your local address through your Eweb account, and email Dr. Petoskey or the Study Abroad office immediately.

Loss of F-1 Status

If you violate the immigration regulations you 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 thereinstatement and reentry procedures and consult the Study Abroad office for more information.

Graduation or Completion of Your Exchange Program

The end of your academic program affects your F-1 status. After you graduate or complete your exchange you have a 60-day grace period. Within this 60-day period you have the following options:

If you do not complete your educational objective (for example, if you withdraw from your program), you are not eligible for the 60-day grace period. Contact the Study Abroad office immediately if this is the case!

If you are looking to apply for a change of status, such as from a F-1 visa to a H1 work visa we advise you to contact a local immigration lawyer, since the Study Abroad office cannot advise you on this kind of immigration law.