It is critical for international students to maintain their F-1 visa status while remaining in the United States to avoid any complications of violating their visa status, which could ultimately result in termination of your status.
At Penn State University, all of requests in regards to your F-1 visa status are processed through the iStart website. It is important to regularly check this website for any pending requests and required actions. Visit the iStart website >>
Enrollment Requirements & Academic Holds
Undergraduate students in F-1 or J-1 status should enroll for a minimum of twelve (12) credits to fulfill Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requirements. Generally students will enroll for fourteen (14) to nineteen (19) credits per semester to complete an undergraduate degree in four years. Students beginning in Summer I must be registered for 12 credits; students beginning in Summer II must be registered for 6 credits.
International students with SEVIS records may have a HOLD placed on their ability to register if they do not respond to requests to abide by regulations and policies. For more information, please visit the website >>
Also, it is important that you keep all records of original immigration such as passport, I-20, visa and I-94 in a safe place. All of the mentioned documents must be in their original form in order to be valid, so, if lost, it would take an extended period of time to replace the documents.
Immigration regulations require all individuals in F and J status (including dependents) report changes in their address - both home country address and local U.S. address. For information on how to update your address, please visit the informational website >>
Health Insurance Requirements
Because healthcare in the United States is very expensive, all international students in F-1 status studying at Penn State must have health insurance for the entire period of study at Penn State. This health insurance must meet the Penn State waiver standards. For more information on the requirements, please visit the Insurance Mandate information site >>
Driver's License or State Identification
Students should note that their I-20 status must be active in order to start the process of obtaining a drivers license or state ID. For more information about how to obtain proper identification, please visit the informational website >>
Employment for F-1 and J-1 students is limited, and working without permission is a violation of status and a deportable offense. F-1 and J-1 students may not work off-campus without permission from DISSA. However, on-campus employment is permitted with certain restrictions. Students must complete employment paperwork with DISSA in order to work on-campus. A social security number is required for anyone receiving payment. DISSA can assist you with this process. DISSA offers workshops every semester which explain the different types of off-campus work permissions available to F-1 and J-1 students.
For more information on employment and obtaining a social security number, please visit the informational website >>
Change in I-20
If students have any changes to biographic information, they must follow the process to appropriately update their I-20. For more information about this process, visit the website >>
Academic Program Extension
Students in an F-1 visa status who are unable to complete a full-course of study in a timely manner must apply for a program extension before the completion date in Section 5 of the I-20 form.
For more information about how to request an extension, please visit the website >>
Change of Academic Level
If a student has changed their degree level (ex: if a student completes their bachelor's degree and begins a master's degree) while at Penn State, they must be issued a new I-20 or DS-2019 to reflect the correct degree level.
For more information regarding obtaining this new documentation, visit the website >>
Leave of Absence Procedures
A student in an F-1 visa status is allowed to take a leave of absence for a period of time and return to continue with their program. Undergraduate students interested in this option should apply with the University Registrar's Office; the deadline for applying is the last working day prior to the first day of classes for the semester that the leave will begin.
Before you leave the U.S. you must complete an Exit Form. Your I-20/DS-2019 record will be terminated once you leave. If you will be out of the country for less than 5 months, you should speak to an international student adviser to find out whether your I-20 can be kept active.
For more information about requesting a leave of absence, visit the informational website >>
Before students leave the United States, they should make sure they have the following documents to re-enter the United States to continue their studies:
- valid passport (must be valid at least 6 months into the future)
- valid U.S. visa (except Canadian citizens)
- valid form I-20/DS-2019 with signature for re-entry (signature should be within 1 year of re-entry date or 6 months for students on OPT) Students can request a travel signature through iStart.
- all previous I-20s/DS-2019s
- current proof of financial support
- transcripts (not required but recommended)
- proof of current enrollment, or if travel is between semesters, proof of registration for the next semester (not required but recommended)
Students on OPT should also provide these additional documents:
- EAD card
- job offer letter
For more information, visit the Travel Information website >>
Grounds for F-1 Visa Status Termination
As an international student you are required to abide by the laws of the United States, and you may find that some of those laws may be inconsistent or contrary to the laws in your own country. For example, the legal age to drink alcohol in the United States is 21, while there may be no minimum age to drink in your country. It is your responsibility to abide by the laws of the U.S. and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as local laws.
For more information about acts that could be grounds for F-1 visa status termination, please visit the informational website >>
F-1 students are required to maintain status; in other words, they must abide by the rules of their non-immigrant status such as enrolling full-time, working only under the limitations of the employment benefit (i.e. 20 hours per week when school is in session), keeping their passport valid, etc.
There are two methods for correcting an F-1 record:
- Travel with an initial I-20 which will start the clock over again for benefits such as practical training or
- Reinstatement within the United States through the USCIS.
Each method has benefits and risks, so it's important to seek advice from an international student adviser. Failure to maintain status must have resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control (i.e. serious illness) or from less than full enrollment that was not approved in advance but would have been. An application for reinstatement is not possible for those who have engaged in unauthorized employment, who have had a record of repeated violations, or who have been out of status for more than five months.
For more information on F-1 Reinstatement, please visit the information website >>
Transferring to Another United States Institution
F-1 and J-1 students must notify DISSA of their plan to transfer to another school. Immigration considers any move from one institution to another as a transfer, even if the student has graduated from the first institution. It is important to note the following:
- Only after Penn State transfers the student's immigration record can the new school issue a new I-20.
- Once your record is transferred, Penn State will no longer have access to your record, so a student should be certain of their choice before they request a transfer.
For more information about transferring to another school as an international student, please visit the website >>
End of Program
The end date on a student's I-20 or DS-2019 is an estimate of the time it will take them to complete their degree. Because it is an estimate, it may take you longer, or you may finish sooner:
- If you need more time, refer to the information on Program Extensions above.
- If you finish earlier than your document indicates, you must take action within the grace period to remain in the United States; you cannot remain in the United States until your document expires.
For more information about ending your program, visit the website >>
Students who are looking for additional information such as taxes, financial assistance, and more, please visit the University's Global informational page >>