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Immigration Rights and Responsibilities
of
Students in F-1 Status

Purpose
This handout has been prepared by the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) to summarize some of the important rights and responsibilities you have as an F-1 student in relation to United States government immigration regulations. It also identifies some of the situations for which you should seek assistance from the ISSO. It will not provide you with information on the actual procedures required for you to take advantage of some of your rights or fulfill some of your responsibilities. The ISSO staff will be pleased to offer additional information, as well as counseling and assistance, to help you with any matter related to your immigration status. This handout outlines procedures for operating within the web-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) which was implemented on January 30, 2003 . Please note, however,that regulations and procedures continue to change. The ISSO will inform you of substantial changes via electronic communication or on the ISSO website at http://www.bu.edu/isso , but we strongly advise you to contact the ISSO any time you have a question or any time you intend to travel and reenter the United States.

Immigration Acronyms You Should Know

ISSO International Students and Scholars Office (at Boston University)
SEVIS Student and Exchange Visitor Information System -- a tracking system for F-1 and J-1 students, exchange visitors and their F-2 and J-2 dependents
DHS Department of Homeland Security -- an office of the U.S. government that houses, among other entities, the three immigration-related departments (USCIS, ICE and CBP) 
USCIS U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services -- oversees SEVIS and is charged with enforcement of immigration-related infractions
ICE

Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- oversees SEVIS and charged with enforcement of immigration-related infractions

CBP

Customs and Border Protection -- operates U.S. ports of entry and departure

DOS Department of State -- office of the U.S. government that oversees U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad

Immigration Documents
The following documents are very important and must be valid at all times in order for you to maintain lawful F-1 status:

  • PASSPORT (should be valid for a minimum of 6 months into the future)

  • Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student (F-1) Status)

Please keep your original documents in a safe place. We strongly recommend that you make photocopies of these documents and store them in a location separate from the actual documents. If any of these documents is damaged, lost or stolen, you must have it replaced as quickly as possible. Please keep in mind that the F-1 visa stamp in your passport does not need to be valid at all times; but it must be valid when you reenter the United States after traveling outside the country. You should contact the ISSO if you have any questions about the documents or if you need to have them replaced. Please bring all of these documents with you each time you visit the ISSO.

SEVIS - Electronic Reporting System
The USCIS, ICE, and CBP utilize an electronic reporting system called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to "track" international students and exchange visitors. All U.S. schools are required to use this system to report information on F-1 students and their F-2 dependents through secure, encrypted internet transmissions.

Boston University reports to the government only the information required by federal law. This includes all the information on your Form I-20 and information on "reportable events" that affect your immigrant status.

These events include but are not limited to:

  1. Registration/enrollment each school term
  2. Leaves of absence, suspensions and withdrawals from school
  3. Authorized and unauthorized drops below a "full course of study," as defined by federal regulations
  4. Resumption of a "full course of study" after an authorized drop
  5. Employment off-campus
  6. F-2 dependent information
  7. U.S. residential address changes
  8. Completion/termination of studies
  9. Changes in major, program of study, degree, completion date, etc.
  10. School or program transfer

Since SEVIS is an electronic reporting system, it is very important that your information on record at the ISSO, and in the University Information System (UIS), be completely up-to-date at all times. Your name on your academic record at Boston University must match the spelling of your name as it appears on your passport. The SEVIS system will report information about your status from the University’s records to the DHS. Failure to maintain accurate records with the University may result in technical violations of your status. If you fall out of status, and your violation is reported to the DHS, your F-1 status could be immediately invalidated and you may lose all F-1 status benefits.

When to Contact the ISSO
To ensure that you maintain lawful immigration status, you must contact the ISSO if any of the following events occurs:

  • If there is a change to your legal name, U.S. address, country of citizenship, immigration status, major, program of study, level of education, expected date of completion, information on F-2 dependents, or source of funding.
  • If you intend to travel outside the U.S. and need a travel signature from an ISSO staff member on your Form I-20 or if you will apply for a new visa before re-entering the U.S.

  • If you lose any of your immigration documents, or if they are stolen.

  • If you receive a Form I-515A upon entry to the U.S.

  • If you intend to change your immigration status.

  • If you intend to study abroad, take a leave of absence, or transfer to another school.

  • If you need to request an extension of your Form I-20 ; contact the ISSO before the Form I-20 expires.

  • If you are seeking prior authorization to drop below full-time study or withdraw from Boston University (due to suspension or personal reasons).

  • If you want to obtain on-campus work authorization or apply for off-campus work authorization.

  • If you want to have your dependent spouse and/or children join you in F-2 status.

  • If you are facing charges for any felony or misdemeanor criminal act.

  • If you need to apply for a U.S. Social Security Number.

Registration, Attendance and Course of Study Requirements

Registration and Attendance - You must register for and complete a "full course of study" defined as 12 credit hours each fall and spring semester at Boston University, and during summer if it is your first, final or only semester. “Audit” courses do not count toward the required 12 credit hours. Although F-1 students have the right to enroll in on-line or distance education courses, only one such course (or 3 credits) per semester may count toward the 12 credits required to maintain full-time status.

Summer Registration - If you begin your program of study with Summer Session I, you must take a combined total of 12 credit hours in Summer I and Summer II. If you begin your program in Summer Session II, you must take at least 8 credit hours during Summer II. You must also be registered for classes in the summer if you will graduate during the summer or in September (see section entitled "Completion of Studies"). If you are completing your program of study in Summer Session I, you must be registered full-time (8 credits). If you will be taking a part-time course load in your final Summer Session, you must request authorization from your ISSO advisor for a reduced course load. If you are completing your program of study in Summer Session II, you must be registered full-time (12 credits combined between Summer I and Summer II). If you will be taking fewer than the 12 credits combined, you must request authorization from your ISSO advisor for a reduced course load in your final semester.

Undergraduate Students - Although F-1 students have the right to register for as many classes as University policy allows, you must register for at least 12 credit hours each fall and spring semester. Immigration regulations require prior ISSO authorization for all legitimate drops below full-time (see the "Registration Exceptions" listed at the end of this section). Dropping below 12 credit hours without prior authorization from an ISSO advisor will jeopardize your immigration status.

Graduate Students - Although you have the right to register for as many classes as University policy allows, you must register for at least 12 credit hours (or the number of credits your school/college determines to be full-time status) each fall and spring semester. Exceptions are made for graduate students receiving a graduate assistantship or fellowship requiring 20 hours of work per week. In this case, your academic department must officially certify you "full-time." Failure to be certified full-time in a timely manner will jeopardize your immigration status.

Graduate Students Who Have Completed All Required Course Work - If a thesis or dissertation is required of your program of study and you have completed all required course work, you need to register only for the number of hours of thesis or dissertation research as required by your department to maintain continued enrollment. In addition, you must be certified “full-time” by your department each academic semester.  Failure to be certified full-time in a timely manner will jeopardize your immigration status. If you are completing your thesis during the summer and will not be enrolled the following fall semester, you must be registered during that final summer session.

Registration Exceptions - There are some circumstances that permit a reduced course of study, such as illness or needing fewer than 12 credits in your final semester in order to graduate. In cases where a reduced course load may be permitted, an F-1 student must maintain a minimum of six credits unless it is the student's final semester or they are pre-authorized for a medical leave. Before registering for a part-time course load or dropping below full-time, an F-1 student must obtain prior authorization from an ISSO advisor. Registering for a part-time course load or dropping below full-time without prior authorization from the ISSO will immediately jeopardize your immigration status. If you are considering reducing your course load you must make an appointment with your ISSO advisor to discuss your situation prior to dropping below full-time. You must resume a "full course of study" in the following semester unless you obtain renewed authorization by the ISSO advisor for medical reasons.

Length of Time You May Remain in the United States on your Boston University Form I-20
Your Form I-20 is issued for the expected duration of your program of study. F-1 students admitted to the U.S. generally receive a "D/S" notation on their passport at the port of entry, indicating permission to remain in the U.S. for "duration of status." The duration of F-1 status ends as soon as the student’s Form I-20 expires or as soon as the student completes his or her program of study, whichever is sooner.

If you need more time to complete your studies than allowed by your Form I-20, you must contact the ISSO before the expiration date (see the date indicated in Item #5 of your Form I-20) to request an extension. Before completing your program of study, you may want to make an appointment with an ISSO advisor to discuss options for extending your lawful status in the U.S. (see section on "Completion of Studies").

Semester Verification
You are required to complete a Semester Verification within the first two weeks of each semester for the duration of your program. Please refer to the ISSO semester verification page for more detailed information.

Employment
On-Campus Employment - students in F-1 status may be employed at most on-campus jobs with student employment authorization from the ISSO. On-campus employment may not exceed 20 hours per week during fall and spring semesters. Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) on-campus employment is allowed only when classes are not in session; during winter intersession, summer vacation and spring break. For new students, authorization for on-campus employment may begin no more than 30 days before the start of classes. On-campus employment during summer vacation and academic breaks is permissible only if the student is registered to continue attendance at Boston University following the break. If summer is a student’s first or final semester, only part-time employment (less than 20 hours) is permitted as summer term is considered a required academic semester and not a vacation period for that student.

  • Please note that on-campus employment implies that you will receive a Boston University paycheck. Please contact your ISSO advisor should you have any questions about whether a particular on-campus job will qualify for standard on-campus employment authorization.

Click here for more information about on-campus employment.

Off-Campus Employment - F-1 students are eligible for limited employment off-campus. You must obtain written authorization from the ISSO or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before you engage in any off-campus employment. Please contact the ISSO for additional information regarding employment options.

  • For more information on off-campus employment options (including Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, Economic Hardship and working for an International Organization) please refer to the ISSO website at http://www.bu.edu/isso/students/current/f1/employment or visit the ISSO for handouts on Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).

  • Please schedule an appointment with your ISSO advisor to discuss any off-campus employment questions.

You must be in valid F-1 immigration status to be authorized for on- or off-campus employment.

Click here for more information about off-campus employment.

Change of Address
If you move within the United States, DHS must be informed of your change of address within 10 days of your move. To ensure timely notification, please access your personal information through the Boston University Student Link (at http://www.bu.edu/link) and update your current address information using the Immigration-U.S. Address option. The change of address will then be forwarded automatically to the ISSO and on to DHS through your record in SEVIS.

Since a change of address notification is required for all non-immigrants and since SEVIS only permits one U.S. address, F-2 dependents who maintain a U.S. address different than that of the F-1 student must notify the ISSO and DHS of their address by filing Form AR-11.   Effective January 2007, Form AR-11 can be completed electronically at: www.uscis.gov/AR-11. If you choose to mail the AR-11, we recommend using Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested as proof that you have submitted the form.  Click here for more information on reporting change of address.

Dependents and Other Family Members

If you are married and/or have children, you may be eligible to have your spouse (husband or wife) and/or children (under the age of 21) visit you temporarily or join you for the duration of your studies. Under federal immigration regulations, dependent spouses and children who accompany or follow-to-join an F-1 student must each be issued an independent Form I-20 in order to apply for an F-2 dependent visa. F-2 dependents are allowed to remain in the U.S. as long as the F-1 student maintains legal F-1 status. They may not engage in any form of employment. F-2 spouses may not engage in any full-time study or part-time study leading toward a degree and an F-2 child may only study full-time in elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through 12 th grade). F-2 dependents must be approved by the USCIS for change to F-1 status before commencing full-time study at the college level.

If other members of your family (parents, siblings, etc.) wish to visit you temporarily, the ISSO will be pleased to issue a Letter of Invitation to assist with their applications for visitor visas.

Click here for more information about adding dependents.

Travel
We encourage you to contact the ISSO anytime you plan to travel outside of the U.S. This is particularly important as regulations and practices concerning re-entry into the United States continue to change. Many students now experience significant difficulties and delays in applying for visas at U.S. Embassies or Consulates. When you return to the U.S. after travel abroad, you should bring your passport and Form I-20 to the ISSO so that we may update your file. Immigration regulations require that we maintain current copies of your passport and immigration documents.

Travel Within the U.S. - You may travel within the U.S. provided you maintain your lawful F-1 status and have a valid passport and Form I-20 in your possession.

Travel Outside the U.S. before Completion of Studies – You may leave the U.S. at any time. You are permitted to return in F-1 status if you have a valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp and a current Form I-20 that has been signed for travel on page 3 by an authorized staff member at the ISSO. Only a Designated School Official (DSO) at the ISSO is authorized to sign a Form I-20. A travel signature is valid for one year except for travel to Canada , Mexico and adjacent islands, in which case the signature is valid for six months.

Procedures for returning to Boston University are different from those for returning to attend a different school. If you wish to attend a different school upon your return to the U.S. , you should notify ISSO of your intention before your departure. You must obtain a new Form I-20 from your new school and present it to an immigration officer upon re-entry the U.S.

Travel Outside the U.S. after Completion of Studies - The date you officially complete your studies (see “Completion of Studies” section) is very important to your ability to travel and re-enter the U.S. If you attempt to return to the U.S. in F-1 status after your completion date, you may be denied the right to re-enter the U.S. unless you have been authorized to engage in Optional Practical Training and have received your Employment Authorization Document and obtained a written offer of employment in your field of study.

If you depart the U.S. and wish to return after the date of your completion of studies, you must present the following documents to the CBP inspector upon arrival back in the U.S.:

  1. Your valid OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card (USCIS Form I-766)
  2. Your Form I-20 which has been endorsed for travel within the last six months by the ISSO
  3. Your valid passport
  4. Your valid F-1 visa stamp
  5. Proof of employment in the field of study

Application for New F-1 Visa during Travel – F-1 students are allowed to remain in the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa stamp, provided that they are maintaining their status and their passport and Form I-20 are valid. Although you may remain in the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa, it will be necessary to apply for a new visa during your next trip abroad. You will need a valid F-1 visa in order to reenter the U.S.

Students needing to apply for a new visa during a trip abroad should inform the ISSO before travel. Security checks and supplemental visa application forms developed since September 11, 2001 have significantly delayed the visa application process in many countries. Students planning to apply for a visa in Canada or in a country other than their home country should first consult an ISSO advisor.

  • Please refer to the ISSO website at www.bu.edu/isso or the most current ISSO Travel Tips for information on recent travel and visa application changes.
  • If you travel to Canada, Mexico or certain islands near the U.S., you may be eligible to re-enter the country even if your F-1 visa in your passport has expired, provided your visit does not exceed 30 days.  You should consult with ISSO prior to travel.

Click here for more information about applying for F-1 visas.

Form I-515A issued at the Port of Entry upon entry to the U.S. – If a Customs and Border Protection Officer determines your documentation is incomplete when entering the U.S., you may be issued a Form I-515A and a date-specific I-94 card.  These documents will grant you temporary admission to the U.S. (generally for 30 days).  You must submit the required response and documents to the Form I-515A prior to the expiration date of your I-94 card to prove that you entered the U.S. lawfully.  If you receive a Form I-515A, you must contact the ISSO immediately to ensure that proper procedures are followed in a timely manner. Failure to submit the proper original documentation prior to the expiration date of your I-94 card will result in termination of both your F-1 student status and your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

Holidays and Vacations
You may remain in the United States and still maintain F-1 status during holidays and vacation periods observed by Boston University, including summer vacation, provided you are eligible and intend to register for the next academic semester and all of your immigration documents remain valid.

Tuition Settlement
To ensure that you will be able to register each semester, please settle your tuition bill in a timely manner. Not being able to register for classes because your account is not settled will impact your ability to maintain lawful status. If you have problems meeting your financial obligations please contact your ISSO advisor.

Study Abroad or Physical Absence from the U.S for Graduate Research
If you are an F-1 student planning to study abroad or do research abroad, you should consult with your advisor at the ISSO.

  1. If you plan to participate in a Boston University Study Abroad program or participate in research abroad while remaining academically registered, you are eligible to travel and return to the U.S. with your current Form I-20 provided you will be absent from the U.S. for fewer than 5 months and you obtain a new travel signature on your Form I-20.

  2. If you will be physically absent from the U.S. for more than five (5) months, you must obtain a new Form I-20 to re-enter and resume studies at Boston University .

  3. If you plan to study abroad through another college or organization, you will need to take an official leave of absence from Boston University and request a new Form I-20 to re-enter the U.S. and resume studies following your time abroad.

Any physical absence from the United States for a period of five (5) months or more may affect your eligibility for Optional Practical Training or other opportunities for off-campus employment. Please discuss this with your ISSO advisor in an appointment before finalizing your travel plans or leaving the United States.

Click here for more information about a leave of absence.

Course Work at or Transfer to a Different School
If you wish to take one or more courses at another university or college temporarily, you should first consult with an ISSO advisor to determine if any special procedures must be followed to authorize this study. If you wish to cease your study at Boston University and transfer to a different school, you must inform your advisor at the ISSO and follow proper transfer procedures before you attend the new school.

Click here for more information about SEVIS transfers.

Leave of Absense, Suspension or Withdrawal
While in the United States in F-1 status, you must remain continuously enrolled for a full-course of study at Boston University until you have completed your academic program (see “Registration, Attendance and Course of Study Requirements” above). If you interrupt your studies, your Form I-20 will become invalid and you will not be eligible to remain in the United States in F-1 status.

Important:   if you are working on- or off-campus, you must cease employment immediately upon withdrawal.

You must contact the ISSO before you interrupt your studies for any of the following reasons:

  1. You are planning to request an official leave of absence from the University (for a study abroad experience, academic reasons, a medical leave or personal reasons) during the fall or spring semester.
  2. You are being suspended (or are under review for suspension)
  3. You are planning to withdraw from all of your classes at any point during the fall or spring semester (or summer term if it is your first or final semester of study).

In the event that you are suffering from an illness or other medical condition that compels you to interrupt your studies at Boston University , you can request authorization for a medical leave of absence from your advisor at the ISSO. Such authorization will enable you to maintain valid F-1 status during the time you are not enrolled.

If you request a leave of absence or withdraw from school (due to suspension or personal reasons), you may be granted a 15-day grace period to leave the country if, and only if, you are granted authorization prior to withdrawal. Only your ISSO advisor may authorize this benefit. If you do not gain prior ISSO authorization before withdrawing, you will violate your status and will be required to leave the country immediately. If you are considering a withdrawal, please discuss options such as a change of status or school transfer with an ISSO advisor prior to finalizing your plans.

Note: If you fail to register for a semester, you will have violated your status and must leave the country immediately or seek reinstatement to F-1 status.

Click here for more information about a leave of absence.

Completion of Studies
The date you officially complete your program is very important because immigration regulations state that your lawful F-1 status automatically ends 60 days after you complete your program* unless you take some action to remain lawfully in the U.S. Different programs have different dates of completion. Please see below for specific information concerning official dates of program completion.  It is also important to note that once a student departs during the 60-day grace period, they forfeit their F-1 status and may not reenter the U.S. in F-1 status with the Form I-20 issued for the program they just completed.

* Important: The 60-day pre-departure period described above is not available to students who do not complete their program of study (e.g. are suspended, withdrawn, or otherwise do not complete their program objective as stated on their Form I-20.)

Undergraduate Students and Graduate Students Who Are Not in Thesis or Dissertation Programs - Your date of completion will be the University's official graduation date for the semester that you complete all program requirements, as follows:
 

 

Spring semester:

Date of program completion will be the date of the May graduation ceremony

 

 

 

 

Fall semester:

Date of program completion will be January 25th

 

 

 

 

Summer term:

Date of program completion will be September 25th


* F-1 students who do not intend to enroll for the fall semester, but who will complete their program of study during the summer, must be registered during the summer term in order to maintain their lawful student status.

Graduate Students in Thesis or Dissertation Programs - Your official date of completion will be the the day of the graduation ceremony of the semester in which submit your thesis/dissertation.  You must be enrolled in that semester, as well. Please note that all students who will complete and submit their thesis/dissertation during the summer must be registered as continuing students during the summer semester to maintain lawful F-1 status.

 

Non-Degree Students - Because the objectives of non-degree students do not include the attainment of a degree, your completion date is the last day of exams for the term in which you finish your non-degree studies, or the date specified on your Form I-20, whichever is earlier.

All Undergraduate Students and Graduate Students - Once you complete your program, you must do one of the following:

  1. Apply for up to twelve months of “Optional Practical Training” (OPT) employment.  Employment may begin up to 60 days after degree completion.  Although applications for OPT can be submitted during the 60 day grace period, it is strongly recommended that students apply prior to completion of studies. Please refer to our separate information on OPT.
  2. Apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a change to a different immigration status.
  3. Complete an immigration transfer to a new program of study at Boston University or another college or university. Transfer must be processed before the end of the 60-day grace period.  You must begin studying in the new program within five (5) months from the date of transferring out of Boston University or from the date of program completion, whichever date is earlier.
  4. Depart the country, no more than 60 days after the completion of your program. Please note that you are not permitted to depart the U.S. and return in F-1 status during the 60-day grace period. The grace period ends when you depart the U.S.

Failure to Comply with Responsibilities

Immigration laws in the United States provide for severe penalties if you fail to comply with your immigration responsibilities. Maintenance of accurate records at the ISSO and in the University Information System (UIS) is especially important since details of your status are reported automatically to DHS through SEVIS. You should work closely with the ISSO staff to make certain that you comply with all F-1 regulations. The staff of the ISSO is always pleased to provide you with information, counseling and assistance so that you may achieve your educational goals while at Boston University .

 

ISSO
Boston University
May 7, 2013

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office