Maintaining Lawful F-1 Status


This page will provide you with information about some of the common immigration terms and definitions that you may encounter while at Notre Dame as an F-1 student, as well as information about your responsibilities as an F-1 student. Please be sure to read this information carefully, and ask an ISSA staff member about any questions you may have. Remember, it is your responsibility to maintain your lawful F-1 status. USCIS also provides answers to frequently asked questions here:

Immigration Status

Every individual who uses a visa to enter the United States is granted an immigration status upon admission to the country. An individual’s immigration status may be defined as the purpose and duration of the individual’s presence in the United States. The status a person is granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official upon entry normally reflects the same purpose as the visa that the person presents at that time. For example, an individual who presents an F-1 visa when entering the U.S. would be granted F-1 status. Different rules and regulations have been established by DHS that are specific to each immigration status. An individual who is granted a particular status must abide by these rules in order to maintain that legal status.

Failure to follow these rules may result in the violation or loss of that legal status. If an individual does violate or lose immigration status, the individual is no longer legally present in the United States and is no longer eligible for the benefits of that immigration status, which may include employment and travel in and out of the United States. To regain legal status in the U.S., an individual may either request reinstatement of that status by filing an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or by departing the United States and re-entering the country, at which time the individual will be granted a new legal status.

Documents that Affect Immigration Status


A passport is the primary identity document issued by your government and constitutes permission granted by your government to travel outside your home country. The United States government requires you to keep your passport valid at all times as a condition of your immigration status. The U.S. government requires your passport to be valid for six months into the future to approve your application for a visa or allow you to enter the U.S. If your passport will expire prior to your departure from the U.S., you should request an extension or renewal through your country’s embassy here in the U.S. Only the government that issued your passport may renew it. Your embassy or its website may provide you with information about the forms, fees, procedures, and the amount of time necessary to extend or renew your passport. This processing time may take as long as six months depending on the country that issued the passport. If your student visa is still valid and you will be issued a new passport, you should request the return of the old/expired passport from your embassy. A valid visa in an expired passport may still be used in conjunction with a new/valid passport.

F-1 Visa

A visa is a travel document stamped into your passport by a U.S. consulate or embassy that allows you to enter the United States. It contains your photo, birth and citizenship information and the purpose of your visit to the U.S. The purpose of your visit to the U.S. is indicated by the visa type located in the upper right corner of the visa; for students, the visa type is typically either F-1 or J-1. The visa also contains validity dates, which are the first and last dates that a visa may be used to enter the U.S. The visa also indicates for how many entries it may be used; “multiple entry” visas may be used an unlimited number of times until the date they expire while “single entry” visas are valid for one use only. Visas may also be valid for smaller, finite numbers of entries, which is indicated on the visa itself. A visa may be valid for the duration of your program while others are valid for a much shorter period of time. This depends primarily on the reciprocity laws between your country and the U.S. A valid visa is not required to remain legally in the United States after a lawful entry. A valid visa is only required if you are outside the U.S. and wish to enter the country. For this reason, a visa cannot be replaced or renewed within the United States. A visa may only be obtained from a U.S. consulate or embassy outside of the United States. Please note that citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not require a visa to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student.

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

The I-94 Record documents your arrival and departure from the U.S. For some government departments (for example, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration) a student will need a paper copy of their I-94 Record. Go to  to print the I-94 record out from that website.

For students who arrived prior to May 2013, you were issued an actual card at the port of entry; at that time, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection discontinued the use of the I-94 form at all ports of entry in the United States except land entries. They now stamp student passports near the VISA page and mark it with the proper annotation (F-1 or J-1, D/S) there. 

I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Students

The I-20 is a document issued to students by the university that certifies that a student has been admitted to a course of study and is eligible to enroll at the issuing institution. The I-20 also provides information about the student’s academic program, educational level, program length, estimated educational and living expenses and financial support. The I-20 form is required to obtain an F-1 visa, to enter the United States in F-1 status, to transfer to a new school and to identify the individual as an international student while in the United States. For this reason it is extremely important that students obtain a new or updated I-20 form from ISSA if any of the information on the form is incorrect or if the information changes.

The I-20 serves as a permanent printed record of an individual’s student status in the United States. For this reason, students should retain all I-20 forms ever issued to them and keep them in a safe place; never throw away an I-20, even if it is no longer accurate or valid. Students should carry the most recent I-20 form when traveling outside the United States. It must contain a signature on page two from a Designated School Official in ISSA that is less than 12 months old in order to reenter the United States in F-1 status.

Maintaining Your Immigration Status

Maintain a Current Passport

Keep your passport valid at all times. Passports may be revalidated or reissued in the U.S. at the embassy of the country that issued your passport.

Carry an Up-to-Date I-20

Keep your I-20 valid at all times. Verify the accuracy of the biographical information and check this every semester and before traveling outside the U.S. Your I-20 will need to be updated if you have changed any of the details that appear on the form, including your name, degree level, country of citizenship and primary or secondary major.  Changes of name or citizenship must be reported to the Registrar's office along with a copy of your new passport reflecting the change.  Changes of degree level and major will be reported automatically.  Once these reports have occurred, ISSA will prepare a new I-20 form for you to collect.

Attend the School Listed on Your Current I-20

Students must attend the school named on their current I-20.

Enroll Full Time

All F-1 students must enroll full-time every fall and spring semester and make normal progress towards a degree. Full-time enrollment is 12 credit hours for undergraduates and 9 credit hours for graduate students engaged in coursework. All graduate students must be enrolled in at least one credit hour during each fall and spring semester while engaged in thesis or dissertation writing or research. All international students MUST first contact ISSA prior to dropping courses if the drop will place them at less than full-time status. Failure to do so will result in the loss of your lawful immigration status in the U.S.  A Reduced Courseload Request eform may be accessed in ISSAlink.

On line Classes

With the rise of online classes, it is important to note that according to federal regulations for F-1 and J-1 student visa holders, no more than one class per session, term, semester may be counted towards full-time enrollment. An on-line or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing. If you have any questions about this, please come to ISSA for more information.

Please Note: F-1 and J-1 students cannot participate in Notre Dame's Silicon Valley Semester as it is currently configured as most of the classes are fully online.

Changes of Address

A student must report a change in address to the University within ten days of the change. If a student’s U.S. address changes at the beginning of the term, he or she may report the change when prompted during the Roll Call process. If a student’s address changes at any other time during the year, he or she should report the address change by emailing the new address to the Office the Registrar at The Office of the Registrar will then notify ISSA of this change.

Students who are currently engaged in Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) should update their address by completing the OPT US Address Report eform in ISSAlink.

On-Campus Employment

F-1 students are automatically authorized to work on campus for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year. Full-time on-campus employment of more than 20 hours per week is only permitted during vacation periods, such as summer, and as long as the student was enrolled full-time during the previous semester and will be enrolled full-time the following semester. The 20 hour limit includes hours working as a Teaching, Research, or Graduate Assistant. Students who have graduated must have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS or other work authorization to work at Notre Dame after graduation. 

Off-Campus Employment

To work off-campus, F-1 students must have either an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS or special authorization from ISSA. Work should not begin without this authorization. Employment is considered to be the rendering of services for compensation. This includes financial as well as other types of compensation that include but are not limited to meals, housing, books or any type of reimbursement for transportation or lodging. The United States federal government takes employment violations very seriously. If you have any questions or doubts on employment, contact ISSA before working.

F-2 Dependents (spouses and children)

The dependent spouse and children of any F-1 student may be present in the U.S. in F-2 status. The lawful immigration status of all F-2 dependents is connected to the lawful status of the primary F-1 visa holder. F-2 dependents may generally travel in and out of the U.S. with proper documentation at any time during the primary visa holder’s educational program. F-2 dependents are not permitted to engage in employment in the U.S. under any circumstances. F-2 dependents are permitted to engage full-time in elementary or high school study in the U.S., and may engage part-time in undergraduate or graduate study.

Program Extensions

If you will not graduate by the end date listed on page 1 of your I-20 form, you should contact ISSA to extend your I-20. Please begin the process at least one month in advance of the end date on your I-20. DHS limits the reasons for a program extension, so consult ISSA with any questions. If you do not complete (graduate) or extend your program by the program end date listed on your I-20, you will be out of status and will need to leave the U.S. immediately or apply for reinstatement. An extension cannot be granted after the expiration date on the Form I-20/DS-2019. To request an extension, you must fill out either the Graduate F-1 Program Extension Request eform or the Undergraduate F-1 Program Extension Request eform in ISSAlink.  

Notify ISSA of a Change of Status

If you change your immigration status from F-1 to any other status, please contact ISSA and provide documentation of your change of status (approval notice, green card, visa stamp).

Traveling Outside of the United States

Travel Signatures

F-1 students and their F-2 dependents must have a valid travel signature on page two of their current I-20 form in order to re-enter the U.S. after traveling internationally. Travel signatures are not required for domestic travel. Travel signatures are valid for 12 months for F-1 and F-2 visa holders, and 6 months for students (and their F-2 dependents) who are engaged in post-completion OPT. New travel signatures should be requested at least one week prior to departure from the U.S. To request a travel signature, students should bring their Form I-20 to 105 Main Building from 1-5pm on weekdays. Additional information about traveling can be found on USCIS' website

Form I-515A

If you attempt to enter the U.S. without your I-20, or without a valid travel signature, you may be allowed entrance and issued form I-515A. Whether or not you are allowed entrance to the U.S. is at the discretion of the admitting officer. If you are issued an I-515A, please contact ISSA immediately upon your return to campus. I-515A forms need to be submitted to DHS within 30 days in order to maintain your lawful status. Please do not attempt to submit the I-515A to DHS yourself without first speaking with an ISSA advisor.

Research/Study Abroad

Students who will engage in research or study abroad outside the U.S. during the fall or spring terms must complete the Study/Research Abroad Request eform in ISSAlink.   This includes graduate students who will be conducting research or working on their dissertation anywhere outside of the U.S. Failure to complete this notification process may result in problems or denials at the U.S. Port of Entry upon your return from a research or study abroad experience.

Leaving Notre Dame


You will receive an email from ISSA during any semester that you are expecting to receive a degree from Notre Dame asking you to verify your plans following receipt of the degree. It is very important that you read this email carefully, and respond to ISSA as instructed in the email.

Grace Period Following Completion of Study and OPT

F-1 students are granted a 60-day grace period in the U.S. after completing their courses of study. Students on post-completion OPT must depart the U.S. within 60 days after their OPT expiration date on the EAD. The 60-day grace period applies to all F-2 dependents as well. Failure to depart the U.S. on-time is a violation of F-1 and F-2 status. Students who do not complete their degrees (including those who are suspended/terminated from their academic programs) are not entitled to the grace period and should consult with ISSA and plan for immediate departure from the U.S.

Transfer Students

If you will leave Notre Dame to attend another institution –whether or not you receive a degree from Notre Dame– DHS considers this a transfer process. You should notify Notre Dame’s ISSA and the new school’s international student office immediately and advise them of your plans. You must report to the new school’s international office within 15 days of the start of classes to complete the transfer process. The F-1 record must also be transferred to the new school within the 60-day grace period and you must begin coursework at the new school within 5 months of completing coursework at Notre Dame or any post-completion OPT. Students who intend to transfer institutions must fill out the Transfer Out Request eform in ISSAlink and upload a copy of their new school admission letter.

A Note on Suspensions and Terminations

If an F-1 student is suspended or terminated from their program they are considered to have violated their immigration status. ISSA is required to report this termination to DHS. Students who are terminated do not have any grace period. Therefore, if you are having academic difficulties which threaten your enrollment at Notre Dame, please contact ISSA immediately.

Withdrawal, Leave of Absence, or Ceasing Enrollment at Notre Dame

If you wish to separate or take a leave of absence from Notre Dame, you should contact ISSA prior to initiating this process. If you contact ISSA, you will have 15 days to leave the U.S. once you have separated, withdrawn, or taken a leave of absence. If you do not contact ISSA, then you will not have a grace period to leave the U.S. 

Special Notes

Weekly Email Messages

International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) sends out weekly email messages (during the academic year). These contain important information and updates or changes that may affect your immigration status. It is your responsibility to read and address any concerns to ISSA regarding information in these notices.

Immigration/Employment/Travel Related Questions

If you have any questions or uncertainties about your responsibilities for maintaining your lawful F-1 status, the SEVIS reporting requirements, working in the U.S., travel outside the U.S., or if you think you may need to apply for a reinstatement to lawful status, please visit ISSA as soon as possible. No other office on campus can assist you with these questions.

Departmental Assistance

If your academic advisor or director of graduate studies has any questions about what you can and cannot do as an international student, please direct them to contact ISSA. You may also request an International Student Advisor contact your department directly if you have any problems or concerns. ISSA is the only office on campus that can advise you on your immigration status.

Updated 4/6/17

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