Tips for Maintaining Your Visa Status as an International Student in the U.S

by | Aug 17, 2023 | Admissions, Student Life

Obtaining a student visa to study in the U.S takes careful planning and preparation. Maintaining your visa status is crucial for your continued stay in the U.S.

If you’re wondering what you need to do to maintain your visa status, this article is for you. We’ll explore the guidelines set by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for maintaining an international student visa.


Stay Enrolled as a Full-Time Student

The first key requirement for maintaining a student visa is to ensure that you stay enrolled as a full-time student in your school.

Each school determines the minimum number of credit hours you need to take for full-time enrollment. Generally speaking, undergraduate students need to enroll in at least 12 credit hours per semester, while graduate students often require a minimum of 9 credit hours.

Check what your university requires for full-time enrollment and make sure to comply.

What if a situation arises where you need to take fewer than the required credit hours? In such cases, you are advised to notify the international students’ office in your school and obtain authorization. Failure to do so can jeopardize your student visa status.


Don’t Violate U.S Laws or University Code of Conduct

Once you’re enrolled, you must adhere to the U.S laws and your university’s code of conduct. Getting in trouble with the law or your school can lead to losing your visa status and getting deported.

For instance, multiple academic integrity violations can lead to expulsion from your school, putting your visa status in jeopardy.

Do some research to make sure that you fully understand the local laws. For instance, recreational use of marijuana might be legal in some states but not others. While the legal drinking age in your home country may be 18, it’s a violation to purchase alcohol if you’re under 21 in the U.S. 



Obtain and Maintain Valid Form I-20

Your Form I-20 is an important document issued by your U.S. educational institution. Keep it up to date and valid at all times.

Report any changes in your program, major, or funding to the international student office at your institution and request an updated Form I-20 when necessary.

Remember to carry a copy of your Form I-20 and other immigration documents with you when traveling in and outside the U.S. It’s advisable to always have digital copies, such as photos or scanned copies, readily available on your smartphone.

When traveling outside the U.S, make sure to have the Form I-20 signed by your DSO in advance.


Maintain a Valid Passport

To maintain your visa status, your passport must be valid at all times.

What should you do if your passport is close to expiring?  Contact your country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S. to renew it ASAP.

International students are advised to ensure that their passports are valid for a minimum of six months at all times. An expired passport may affect your ability to maintain or renew your student visa.


Update Your Address

Are you moving to a new residence?

Make sure to inform your school’s international student office within 10 days of moving.

The U.S. government requires you to keep your address updated in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

If you have an F-1 student visa, you’ll be required to complete a Form AR-11 (Alien’s Change of Address Card) notifying U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), of any address changes.


Comply with Employment Restrictions

The U.S has strict rules for international students who want to work while studying.

If you’re enrolled on an F-1 visa, you’re allowed to work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week when classes are in session. When classes aren’t in session, you can work up to 40 hours per week.

It’s important to understand and adhere to these employment restrictions and guidelines to maintain your visa status.

In addition, make sure to obtain the necessary work authorization if required.


Understand Reporting Requirements

Be aware of the reporting requirements imposed by USCIS and your educational institution. These requirements may change over time, so it’s important to stay proactive and updated.

Inform your DSO of any significant changes such as:

  • Change in academic program
  • Program extension
  • Change of funding
  • Changes in personal information

In addition, you must also be aware of the program end date listed on your Form I-20. If you need additional time to complete your studies, you may be eligible for an extension.

Consult your designated school official (DSO) for guidance on the extension process well before your program end date.


Consult with Your DSO

Your designated school official (DSO) is a valuable resource for guidance and information. It’s advisable to proactively maintain regular communication with your DSO throughout your academic program.

Consult them if you have any questions or concerns about maintaining your visa status or need assistance with immigration-related matters.

For instance, in the event of an emergency, such as a personal crisis or unexpected travel issues, your DSO is the right person to reach out to. They can provide guidance, resources, and support during challenging times.

Establish a positive relationship with your DSO and maintain open lines of communication to ensure a successful and compliant academic experience in the United States.


Final Word from 8B

Maintaining your visa status as an international student in the United States is of utmost importance to ensure a smooth and successful academic journey.

By following the guidelines provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and consulting with your designated school official (DSO), you can navigate the complexities of immigration regulations and stay in compliance with the requirements.

From maintaining full-time enrollment and keeping your passport and visa valid to updating your information, adhering to employment restrictions, and seeking guidance from your DSO, each step plays a crucial role in safeguarding your visa status.

By staying informed, proactive, and engaged with your educational institution’s resources, you can confidently pursue your studies, make the most of your international student experience, and contribute to your personal and academic growth.

Remember, your DSO is there to support and guide you throughout your journey, so don’t hesitate to seek their assistance whenever needed. By prioritizing visa compliance, you can enjoy a rewarding and transformative experience as an international student in the United States.

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