Everything you need to know about your F-1 student visa
Your temporary presence in the United States as a student is governed by a set of immigration regulations. Your F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals intending to study full time at a particular institution and who do not intend to live permanently in the United States. While some other visa categories allow someone to enroll at an educational institution, not all do. If you are already in the US on another kind of visa, please let Admission or IPO know.
While IPO is responsible for ensuring Oxy's institutional compliance with Federal Regulations with regard to Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), YOU alone are responsible for maintaining lawful status.
See IPO BEFORE any of the following occur:
- Renewal of the visa stamp in your passport;
- Change of address, either US or foreign;
- An extension of your program beyond the end date on your I-20;
- Replacement of a lost I-20;
- Reduction of your course load below 12 units;
- Authorization to work off-campus;
- Getting a Social Security number for on-campus employment;
- Enrolling concurrently in another institution;
- Summer work options;
- Transferring your immigration records to another institution;
- "Reinstatement" to lawful status after violation of status;
- Change of status to/from another visa type;
- Lawful travel outside the United States;
- Return to campus after a leave-of-absence or study abroad;
- Declaring or changing your major(s) and/or minor.
Valid passport: A passport is issued by your home country government. This document must be valid at all times. If the passport will expire within 6 months, students should begin the process of renewal through their countries Embassy or Consulate.
Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students (Form 1-20 A-B): The I-20 form will be issued to students by Occidental College once the application for admittance has been approved. This document proves that the student has been officially admitted to the College. This document is very important and should be kept securely with your passport at all times.
US Visa Stamp: This stamp is issued by a US embassy or consulate in the student’s home country. It is placed in the valid passport and allows the bearer to travel to the US for a particular purpose. While there are many different kinds of visas for many different purposes, most international students attend Occidental College on F-1 student visas. Contact the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country to ask what the specific requirements for an F-1 visa are. F (student) visas cannot be revalidated in the U.S.
I-94 Admission Number: After inspecting your documents at the port of entry, the immigration officer will record your admission electronically. This information is sometimes needed to apply for benefits. You can access yours by going to www.cbp.gov/I94. You will need to provide this information to IPO during the semester check-in.
SEVIS: An internet-based system that requires schools and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to exchange data on the immigration and academic status of international students. Information pertaining to an F-1 student's stay in the United States is available to U.S. embassies and consulates as well as to the USCIS.
Designated School Official: An employee of the College that has been authorized by the immigration authorities to sign immigration documents and advise international students on visa regulations.
Obtaining an F-1 Visa
As a non-U.S. citizen studying in the U.S., you will need to obtain an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa before entering the country and as soon as possible after you receive your I-20.
A visa is a stamp inside your passport, which is your official authorization permitting travel to the United States. Your F-1 visa is proof that you have the permission of the United States government to enter as a student and remain for the time allotted under your I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for Academic and Language Students). While your F-1 visa is valid, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. according to the number of entries printed on your visa.
You can apply for a visa at a U.S. consular office in your home country. Because of many recent changes in the law, you can expect delays in visa processing. Note that F-1 visas cannot, as a general rule, be obtained from inside the U.S. There may be exceptional cases through a lengthy and expensive process on condition of special approval.
To apply for your F-1 visa you will need to bring several documents to the U.S. consulate:
o A passport, valid for six months into the future.
o Your I-20 document, which was mailed to you by the College.
o Evidence of financial support, such as an original Certificate of Finances from your bank, personal bank statements, or a letter of financial award from Occidental College, proving that you have sufficient funds to support your studies at Occidental. You mailed this documentation to the College with your application and it was signed and returned to you by a College official. The amount that you are required to demonstrate is listed on your I-20 form on line 8a.
o The acceptance letter from Oxy.
o Proof that you have a permanent residence outside the United States.
o Two or more unofficial passport-sized photographs.
o A non-immigrant F-1 visa application from the U.S. consulate or embassy itself.
o Receipt for payment of the I-901 SEVIS fee.
Information on the I-901 SEVIS fee and instructions on paying this fee can be found at: http://www.ice.gov/. Additional materials may be requested by the U.S consulate to prove your eligibility for a student visa. Please call the embassy or consulate before you go to be sure you have all required materials. These may also include:
· Evidence of English proficiency.
· School records to verify academic preparation.
· Additional evidence of strong ties to your home country or of your ability to support yourself financially while in the United States.
· Application fee.
· Personal interview.
Normally, your F-1 visa will be a “multiple-entry visa for the duration of your degree or exchange program”. Under this type of visa, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. up to the expiration date, as long as you have a valid I-20. If you receive an F-1 visa with a different entry permission such as a single entry visa or one for a period shorter than your exchange program or degree, please notify the International Programs Office upon arrival. You may remain in the US with an expired visa, but it will have to be renewed if you leave the country.
For comprehensive information on obtaining visas, please see http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html.
Entering the US
Your I-20 form lists the latest date by which you must arrive at Occidental College. You may not arrive more than 30 days before the arrival date listed on your I-20. If you are planning on traveling in the US before coming to Oxy, make sure you count the days properly. If you anticipate being delayed beyond the start date, contact IPO immediately. Contact IPO if you have any questions about your arrival period.
Documents To Carry With You On Your Person; NOT In Your Checked Luggage:
· Valid passport
· Acceptance letter from Occidental
· I-20 form
· Supporting financial documents
Customs & Immigration
You will need to clear U.S. Customs upon arrival to the United States. If you are scheduled to change planes in the U.S. prior to arrival in Los Angeles, you should expect to clear customs at the first airport where you land. The customs officer may ask you several questions regarding your visit to the U.S. such as, “Where is Occidental College located?”, “How are you paying for your university tuition?”, “Where will you be living?” or “What are you studying?” IMPORTANT: You should explain that your major is “Liberal Arts and Sciences” even if you are an exchange student with a different major at your home institution.
The customs officer will then take your snapshot and fingerprint you. It is a quick process and hassle-free. Don’t be hesitant or apprehensive.
Be sure to retrieve your I-20 from the customs official and take it with you. The customs officer will record your entrance electronically.
After picking up your luggage and turning in the completed customs form, the officers will need to know whether you have any food with you. Please note that all food from foreign countries must be carried in sealed containers i.e. cans or factory wrappers. Perishable or opened food should be declared and Customs officials have the right to confiscate it.
You MUST maintain your legal immigration status at all times in order to remain legally in the United States. Here are some rules you MUST follow:
IPO F-1 Agreement: As part of the clearance process at the beginning of each semester, international students must report to the IPO (McKinnon Family Center for Global Affairs, Johnson Hall Room 102) with your immigration documents WITHIN THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF CLASSES. These documents include Form I-20, passport, visa, and I-94 print-out. Each semester you will sign an electronic statement that you understand and agree to follow each of the rules listed below so that IPO can register you in the SEVIS system. Failure to complete the clearance process within 30 days of the start of classes will result in your being out of status and possible termination in the SEVIS system.
Enrolling full time: International students MUST be enrolled for at least 12 units per semester. Additionally, you must be making progress toward completion of the program. Otherwise, you will have fallen out of status.
Dropping below full time: If you don't intend to enroll full time during a semester (taking a leave of absence, medical problem, or initial difficulties) you MUST talk to the IPO before you drop below full time status. This action must be reported in the SEVIS system, therefore you must obtain prior approval from the IPO before applying for half-time status. Please note that you are required to resume a full course load the next semester.
Your Major/Minor: Please alert IPO when you declare or change your major(s) and/or minor. This information must be updated in the SEVIS system as soon as you know about the change.
Transferring to another school: If you plan to transfer to another school, you must first come to the IPO. IPO will need to complete an immigration transfer procedure, BEFORE the new school will be permitted to issue you a new I-20. Students should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, attaching the acceptance letter from the new institution and any forms they need completed by the old institution. This must be accomplished within a certain time-frame, so speak with a DSO as soon as possible.
Extending Your Graduation Date: Some students may not graduate by the time estimated on their I-20 document. Students requiring an additional semester to fulfill graduation requirements must apply for an extension of form 1-20 prior to the current I-20 end date as listed in #5 of your I-20 document. No extension can be granted if students do not request one prior to the I-20 end date. Please contact IPO to discuss.
Updating your address: You MUST update both your local residential address and your foreign address with IPO within 10 days of moving within the U.S. If you live on campus, IPO must know your dormitory and room number. Contact IPO with your new US address and contact info within 5 days of moving.
If you live off-campus, the address you use should be the place you actually live, rather than your Oxy box. If you cannot receive mail at your residence, you will also indicate your Oxy box, but must also notify the IPO of your actual physical location. No office addresses may be utilized. Failure to complete the address change could result in failure to maintain status.
Maintaining a valid passport: Your passport must remain valid at all times. Please begin the renewal process when your passport is within six months of expiration.
If you fall out of status for any reason, a reinstatement application must be filed with USCIS (through the SEVIS system and on paper; or by leaving and re-entering the US with a new I-20, see IPO) within 5 months of the violation. The violation must have resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control (such as illness, injury, closure of school, natural disaster, or oversight or neglect on the part of IPO). Employment off-campus without authorization eliminates the possibility of a SEVIS/paper reinstatement application.
Data Schools Must Report
Occidental College is required by law to report certain information to the Federal Government through the SEVIS system. The following data must be reported through the SEVIS system:
· Name, date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship, source and amount of financial resources, academic program, level of study, program start and end dates
· Arrival and enrollment or failure to enroll
· A change of the student’s legal name or address
· Graduation prior to the end date listed on the I-20
· Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to criminal conviction
· Registration for less than a full course of study without PRIOR authorization from the IPO
· Termination date and reason for termination
· Other data generated by standard procedures such as program extension, school transfer, change in level of study, employment authorization, and reinstatement
· Failure to complete the academic program or program objective
· Declaration of major/minor or change of major/minor
· Extension of program
Outside of the U.S.: If you are planning to travel outside of the U.S. during academic breaks, please come into the IPO before you depart. We will check your documents and possibly produce a new I-20 prior to your departing the U.S. Carry your valid passport, all I-20s and your Oxy ID when traveling outside the US. A signature of a Designated School Official is required on your I-20 every six months.
Within the U.S.: For travel in the U.S , we recommend that you carry your immigration documents (I-20, passport, I-94 information), or minimally, copies of these documents.
Frequently Asked Travel Questions
What do I need to do when I leave the US? For weekends? For breaks?
You need to carry your valid passport with a valid US visa stamp and valid I-20 signed by a D.S.O. within six months. You should also carry your Oxy student ID as proof of your active student status.
As for entering any country other than your home country and other than the US, including Canada or Mexico, each country has its own rules about who needs a visa to enter and who doesn't. The best way to find out is to call the consulate or embassy of the country you will visit and ask. Be sure you let them know of which country you are a citizen. Most consulates are over on the West side down in the Wilshire area.
Do I need a DSO’s signature every time I leave the country?
No. Have your I-20 signed once every six months.
What should I do if my passport expires?
BEFORE your passport expires, call or visit your consulate or embassy. They will help with the paperwork. Be sure to start the process WELL in advance of any expected travel or the expiration date.
When does my I-20 expire?
Your I-20 expires on the date listed on line #5. If you will not graduate by that date, it is important to come into IPO well in advance of the expiration date so that we can start an extension process. If you will graduate early, contact IPO.
ALSO, the I-20 is only valid if you are actually doing what your I-20 says: attending Occidental College full time. If you anticipate any breaks in your academic progress (semester off, transfer, illness, etc.), please contact IPO immediately for advice.
On Campus Employment
Federal regulations state international students on F visas can work ONLY on the college campus where they attend classes. Any off-campus employment requires special permission from the Federal Government and official endorsement by IPO.
International students at Oxy are allowed to work part time during academic terms and full time during winter and summer breaks ON CAMPUS ONLY. You should be aware that although Federal Regulations allow students to work twenty hours a week while in school, Occidental College policy allows students to work fifteen hours/week during school. Students are allowed to work up to 40 hours/week during breaks.
No special authorization is required for on campus employment. Job openings are posted outside the Financial Aid Office in the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center and on the Human Resources web page. Almost all departments and offices on campus require the help of student workers. Some examples are: the Career Development Center, Campus Dining, the Library and the Language Departments. Qualifications and salaries for different jobs vary, and hiring for some positions is more competitive than for others.
Required Social Security Number - Once you have found a job on campus, you will need to report to the Human Resources Office with your immigration documents and to complete paperwork. Additionally, you will need to apply for a Social Security Card within one month of starting work at the Social Security Administration in Pasadena. When you apply, you will receive a letter stating that you have applied and that you will receive the number in the mail within 6 weeks. Take that letter to the Human Resources Office. You will not be paid until HR receives the letter. Once you receive the social security card with the number, present this to the Human Resources Office. You may begin working without the social security number, but must discontinue work if you do not apply for the number within a month. Keep the card with the social security number with your other important documents. Contact IPO with questions.
There are limited options for off campus employment: Permission for off campus employment is granted for very specific reasons and must be approved by IPO and USCIS. Students are required to be in valid F-1 status for at least nine months to be eligible. In most cases, permission for paid work off campus must related to your field of study for a specific period of time. It may be part-time during the school year or full-time during vacation periods. Please see a DSO in Internatinal Programs for details.
*Remember, off-campus employment without permission from IPO and immigration authorities is illegal. See an IPO advisor for further information.*
Social Security Number
You are required to have a social security number in order to work at Oxy. Within one month of obtaining an on campus job, you must apply for a social security number. After applying, take the letter confirming the application to the Human Resources Office. When you receive the card several weeks later, report to Human Resources so they can record the number.
Current tax codes require residents and non-residents of the U.S to file income tax return forms. All F-1 students, even those with no income from U.S sources, are expected to file tax returns by April 15 every year. Sources of U.S. income include employment (on-campus or otherwise), scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, practical or academic training, and any compensation received for labor. Portions of scholarships or fellowships applied to your tuition fees, books, and supplies are not counted as income. Be sure to inquire about the applicability of any tax treaty that might exist between your country and the U.S.
At the beginning of your program, you will be contacted by the International Tax Specialist in the Business Office. The Business Office uses a system called Glacier to ensure proper compliance with tax and labor laws. Glacier is the Online Nonresident Alien Tax Compliance System which designed to:
1. Allow the foreign national to enter information directly into the system via the internet
2. Obtain instant tax residency and tax withholding determination
3. Complete all necessary forms
4. Create an individual record with the college
There will be a tax workshop held in late February or early March each year. Look for more information about Glacier and taxes upon arrival at Occidental. Questions about Glacier can be answered by the Tax Specialist in the Business Office.
American companies and employers place a lot of weight on internships when evaluating their applicants. Internships are available on and off campus, please contact the Career Development Center for more information. You cannot be compensated in any way for your internship without it being considered employment. Contact IPO with any questions or concerns.
Current international students may be eligible to participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for a paid internship. To qualify, students must have been enrolled at the College for nine months, maintained lawful status and be a degree seeking student. The internship must be integral to the students program of study. Students must comply with all Oxy internship requirements of the College; the Career Development Center will have more information. Paid internships may be available during the summer. Please make an appointment with a DSO.
CPT is approved by a Designated School Official in the IPO. Find instructions on applying for CPT here.
Graduation and Beyond
After the completion of your program (either graduation or exchange program), international students on F visas have several options:
Going home: If you plan to return home after graduation, you are allowed to stay in the US for an additional 60 days to prepare for departure. If you leave the US during that time, you must re-enter on anther kind of visa.
Graduate school: If you plan to continue on to graduate school in the US, your SEVIS record must be transferred to the new institution within the 60 days of graduating from Occidental. The actual “release date” of the record must be within five months of graduation. E-mail email@example.com with your acceptance letter and any forms your new institution requires. For more information, please consult with IPO.
Practical Training: Students who have maintained status and been enrolled at Oxy for a minimum of one academic year are eligible for 12 months of practical training (within the 14 months of graduation) in their field of study with IPO and USCIS approval. See the timeline here. This is called “post completion practical training.” This allows students to get practical training in their field of study. Practical training is also available prior to graduation, although time on pre-completion practical training will be deducted from your 12 months of post completion practical training. There will be meetings at the beginning of the Spring semester explaining this process.
Applications for post completion optional training must be received by USCIS and have a start date within the 60-day grace period after graduation. After that time, it is too late to apply and you forfeit this benefit. Those who have completed at least one full academic year of study (fall and spring semesters) may begin the application process up to 90 days before you want to start working. Application instructions and considerations here. Please see IPO for details on practical training.
Get a second degree at a higher level, get another 12 months: You are eligible for an additional 12 months of practical training if you have completed a second degree at a higher level. If you got your bachelors degree, applied for and received 12 months of OPT, and then complete a masters or PhD, you are now eligible to apply for another 12 months of OPT.
There will be a meeting in the spring semester to explain the procedures for applying for OPT.
All international students are required to carry the Occidental College student sickness health insurance plan, through United Healthcare.
Coverage begins on August 1 and ends on July 31. Students who need coverage prior to August 1 or after July 31 are responsible for obtaining their own coverage. Benefits include physician visits, prescription drugs, psychotherapy, hospitalization, diagnostic services and lab procedures. As with any insurance policy, limitations and exclusions apply. Please refer to the Policy Brochure on United Healthcare’s website at https://www.uhcsr.com/ for additional information.
Questions: please contact Julie Gordon at Emmons Student Wellness Center at (323) 259-2836 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Email: email@example.com
- Phone: (323) 259-2533
- Visit: McKinnon Center for Global Affairs Johnson 102