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F-1 and J-1 International Student FAQs

New/Prospective Students

How do I become a student at The University of Tennessee?
To study at The University of Tennessee, you must apply and be admitted to an official program of study through one of our admissions offices. For undergraduates, visit the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. For graduate students, visit the Office of Graduate Admissions. Once you are admitted to UT, the Center for International Education (CIE) can assist you with immigration matters.

What is the Center for International Education (CIE)?
CIE facilitates the visits of students and scholars to and from the University of Tennessee. In addition, CIE staff is available to answer your questions and assist you and your family in any way we can, both before and after your arrival in Knoxville. Much of our time is spent working with US immigration law, but we are always ready to answer questions related to other non-immigrant topics.

Where can I find information on financial aid?
Financial aid opportunities are limited for international students. Scholarships for international students are listed on UT’s One Stop website. Many international graduate students apply for graduate assistantships, which provide a waiver of tuition and health insurance fees and a monthly stipend. Undergraduate students can obtain hourly wages by working on-campus.

What is the difference between a student and a scholar?
Students are enrolled in classes and are typically at UT to obtain a degree. Scholars typically only visit UT for a short period of time in order to conduct research in a specialized field.

Do I need a health check/immunizations before getting a visa or coming to the US?
The State of Tennessee requires all students attending the University of Tennessee to provide proof of immunization with two doses of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine.

Hepatitis: New incoming students must also be vaccinated against Hepatitis B or complete a waiver form acknowledging that, despite receiving detailed information concerning the risk factors of the disease and the effectiveness of the vaccine, they have elected not to be vaccinated.

Meningitis: New incoming students who live in on-campus student housing must be vaccinated against meningococcal disease or complete a waiver form acknowledging that, despite receiving detailed information concerning the risk factors of the disease and the effectiveness of the vaccine, they have elected not to be vaccinated.

The US government does not require you to have immunizations or tests in order to obtain your F-1 or J-1 visa.

Do I need to have health insurance? Can I purchase it in my home country?
All international students at UT are required to have the UT Student Health Insurance Plan. The cost of the insurance plan is covered by your fees as a student. Scholars must obtain their own health insurance if their sponsoring department is not paying for it. Scholars may choose to purchase the UT health insurance plan.

How do I find housing?
Knoxville has several off-campus apartment guides for graduate students and scholars. Incoming international undergraduate freshman must live on campus during their first year of studies. University Housing deals with all on-campus housing assignments. Graduate students can live on or off campus. Visit our housing page for more information.

Do I need to attend the new international student orientation?
Yes. International student orientation is mandatory for all new incoming initial and transfer students. Scholars arriving at the beginning of a semester do not need to attend student orientation. Please note that international transfer students are never required to attend the UT summer freshman orientation.

Do I need to take the English Placement Exam (EPE)?
International and domestic students whose native language is not English must take the EPE. For a list of exceptions, or for more information on whether or not you need to take the exam, please visit our orientation page.

Do I need to take the SPEAK test?
Only graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are required to take the SPEAK test. The SPEAK test takes place during orientation at the beginning of each semester. For more information, visit our orientation page.

What is new scholar orientation? Do I need to attend?
Scholar orientation is for scholars only. If you are visiting the United States for the first time, we ask that you attend new scholar orientation, unless your stay at UT is for less than one month. Scholar orientation is a two-hour interactive program during which we provide information on scholar immigration responsibilities, tax laws in the US, health insurance, and other relevant topics.

What is new employee orientation? Do I need to attend?
Employee orientation is for regular employees of the University of Tennessee only. Your host professor knows if you are a “term” or “regular” employee, and the departmental secretary will schedule your orientation if needed (Note: generally, a “regular” employee is someone who will be employed for one year or more).

How do I get my university I. card?
The University ID card, also known as the Volcard, is issued by the Volcard office at UT on 472 South Stadium Hall in Neyland Stadium at Gate 9. To obtain a student ID card, take your passport and student ID number to the Volcard office. The process is quick and free; however, replacements for lost or stolen cards will incur a fee.

Where can I find more information regarding Knoxville?
This page has a comprehensive list of information about Knoxville, its history, activities and entertainment, and services provided by the city.

Immigration/Travel/Visas

What is SEVIS?
“SEVIS” stands for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a database managed by the US Government to track the arrival and location of all international students and scholars with F-1 and J-1 status in the US, including F-2 and J-2 dependents. CIE is the only office at UT  which is responsible for maintaining your SEVIS record according to regulations and practices set by the Department of Homeland Security. There will never be a need to discuss your SEVIS record with your professor or academic department. SEVIS is not an academic record.

Am I required to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee?
The Department of Homeland Security requires a fee of all new F-1 and J-1 program applicants for the purpose of covering operation costs for the SEVIS program. If you are issued a new I-20 or DS-2019 for “initial attendance” or “beginning a new program” you are required to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. Please note: change of level to a new degree program, transfer between schools, program extension, and similar updates do not require a new payment of the SEVIS fee. Please visit our Immigration Page for more information, and go to the official website for current SEVIS fee and payment information, or to pay the SEVIS fee online. You should print a copy of the SEVIS payment receipt and take it to your visa interview. We also recommend that you keep this receipt with you while traveling to the US

What should I do if I apply for my visa and it is denied or delayed?
Being issued an I-20 from a US institution does not mean you are also guaranteed a visa. It is possible that some students may not get a visa quickly, especially if it is during a busy travel season or if there are delays associated with background checks or additional administrative processing. Graduate students should inform their academic department if they will not be arriving as planned. Both incoming undergraduates and graduates who are NEW students will need to contact Admissions to defer their term officially to the following semester, if they have been denied a visa or are facing significant delay that does not allow them to arrive by the start of their program.

Students who are currently enrolled at UT and who are encountering long visa delays in coming back to their program should contact CIE directly for advice. Careful planning ahead of time is important for minimizing possible risks, but a delay or denial can be based on several factors. Students should discuss any concerns with a CIE advisor before traveling to apply for a visa.

How do I check-in with CIE when I arrive in Knoxville?
Scholars should come to the CIE as soon as possible to complete paperwork and sign up for orientation.

Students must arrive prior to the beginning of their first semester and attend mandatory check-in and orientation, where important paperwork will be processed. To find out when you are required to arrive on campus, please visit our Orientation page. A student’s official reporting date/semester will be listed on their most current and valid I-20 or DS-2019.

I’m planning on traveling outside the United States. What do I need to do to re-enter the United States?
Please fill out a travel request form at the CIE at least two weeks prior to traveling. Upon departure you will be required to surrender your I-94 at customs. To reenter the USA, you must have a valid F or J visa stamped in your passport. If your visa has expired, you can only apply for a new visa outside the United States at a US Consulate. For more information, please read the detailed information on our web site about traveling outside the US (F-1 Travel, J-1 Student Travel, J-1 Scholar Travel).

If your current visa will still be valid and unexpired when you reenter the USA, you are not required to obtain a new visa. When traveling outside the US, you must take all pertinent immigration documents with you, including a valid I-20/DS-2019 and passport (EAD and employment letter, if you are on OPT). You will need these documents to reenter the United States.

What happens if I try to enter the US without an I-20/DS-2019 or without a travel signature?
Students/scholars who travel outside the US without all the required documentation may be denied entry to the US However, Customs and Border Protection has the authority to admit F-1/ J-1 students/scholars (and accompanying dependents, if applicable) to the US for 30 days by issuing a Form I-515A if they are otherwise eligible for readmission, but have some documentary deficiency. A student issued the Form I-515A will be given a date specific I-94 (with a 30 day validity period). It is essential that the I-515A be resolved without delay.

If you are issued an I-515A, read the marked section (identified by the CBP officer upon admittance to the US) to determine what documents you need to submit to Washington D.C. You may need to contact CIE for a post-travel signature, a replacement I-20, and for advice. Be sure to submit original documents listed under the section identified by the CBP officer. Documents should be mailed to the address indicated on the Form I-515A. It is recommended that you use a receipt-based mailing option such as certified mail, so that you will have evidence that the documents were received by the government before the 30-day expiration period.

Please note that it is not guaranteed that you will be issued a Form I-515A, so please be sure to review your travel documents and ensure that you have all required documents and that all endorsements and documents are valid and accurate to avoid the possibility of denial.

What do I do if the consulate decides to do a security clearance before issuing a US visa?
If the Consular Officer in your home country says that a security clearance is needed, we suggest you inform the Center for International Education that there will be a delay in visa issuance. Please note that all visa applicants undergo a preliminary check. Any secondary checks (security clearance, background) will be launched mainly within the US through several agencies. In this instance, the US Embassy in your country will not be responsible for expediting your case. We hope that your security clearance will be completed within 30 days. If it takes longer than 30 days, please contact the CIE for further advice.

Dependents

How can my spouse/child join me in the US as an F2/J2 dependent?
Students or scholars wishing to bring dependents into the US must fill out an I-20/DS-2019 request form for the dependent and a financial statement form showing the source of the additional required funds. The student/scholar must provide an original bank statement showing proof of the necessary additional funds required to cover a child or spouse dependent ($4,000 for each dependent child, $6,000 for the spouse).

Bring all of these documents and photocopies of the dependent(s) passport biopage to CIE. Once all documents are reviewed and approved, an I-20 or DS-2019 can be processed. Each dependent will need an original I-20 with their name on it for visa application and travel purposes. If your dependent applies for a visa after your arrival in the United States, we suggest you send your dependent copies of your own immigration documents to provide during their visa interview.

How do I invite family members to visit?
International students and scholars can write a letter to  have an immediate family member visit them in the US for a short time. This letter should certify enrollment or your activities as a student/scholar at UT, as well as identify the relative (i.e., parent or sibling) who wishes to apply for a tourist visa. You will need to send the original letter to your family, and we suggest you include copies of your immigration documents as well.

Can I get a driver’s license or identity card?
A temporary driver’s license or state identification card can be obtained by visiting one of Knoxville’s federal DMV offices. The student or scholar must bring his or her I-20/DS-2019, passport, I-94 and two documents proving residency in Tennessee (such as a TV cable bill, utilities bill, telephone bill, or bank statement). These documents must show the person’s name and Knoxville address, and prove established residence. If this is the student/scholar’s first Tennessee driver’s license, the applicant will be required to take a mandatory exam and driving test. The applicant must provide a properly-registered vehicle for the driving test (a car is not provided by the DMV). Visit the Tennessee Government’s website for more information about obtaining a temporary driver’s license.

Employment/Taxes/H Visas

Can I get a job while I’m here?
Students may work on-campus up to 20 hours/week during fall and spring semesters and up to 40 hours/week during summer vacation or official school breaks.

How do I get a Social Security Number?
In order to obtain a SSN, you must obtain a written letter of employment verification from your UT department or your on-campus employer.

F-2 dependents are not eligible to apply for SSN.

Can I start working before I receive my SSN?
Yes, according to current regulations, international students may begin employment even if you have not yet received a SSN card. However, once you begin working, you have 90 days to obtain a SSN. Your employer will be unable to pay you after those 90 days, if you do not provide a SSN by then.

Note for new students: If you need to start a job, but you did not receive a CIE stamp in your I-20 for on-campus work authorization, you will need to visit our office immediately to get clearance for on-campus employment.

How can I find assistance regarding taxes?
Taxes are calculated differently for students and scholars, and also vary for residents of different countries. Please visit our taxation information page for detailed information on understanding your tax situation, and for useful US government tax links.

I am graduating this semester and have accepted a job which will begin after I graduate. What do I need to do?
F-1 students must attend a mandatory seminar for Optional Practical Training (OPT) before they graduate. We recommend attending an OPT session before your final semester, because there are important deadlines, and careful planning is essential. Visit our practical training webpage for a current schedule of OPT seminars and details about OPT. Contact a CIE advisor if you have any questions.

J-1 students should discuss their options, including Academic Training (AT), with a CIE advisor or their ISEP coordinator.

Can I volunteer for an unpaid activity?
Immigration regulations do not prohibit students from doing “volunteer work” on their extra time, as long as this is “not actual work”. Volunteering must not interfere with being a full-time student. Also, any activities must never go against labor laws (in other words, students cannot find a regular job and simply volunteer their time for free). Volunteering is permitted as long as it is “true volunteering”, such as helping at a homeless shelter on the weekends or helping with a local charity or marathon event.

Enrollment/Student Status

What is the full time enrollment requirement for students?
Undergraduate students must be enrolled in at least 12 hours. Graduate students must be enrolled in 9 hours. Graduate Students who hold exactly 20 hours/week GAship may enroll in 6 credits minimum and still be considered full-time. Visit our immigration webpage for more information.

How do I get an official letter for verification of enrollment?
You can request an official letter from CIE, which will state your full name and verify your official enrollment at the University of Tennessee. Both current and previous enrollment can be mentioned in the letter, depending on what you need. Visit our forms webpage to download the Letter Request form[Link: PDF letter request form] . This letter will have an official signature, a raised seal of the university, and will be issued on the official letterhead of the Center for International Education.

What should I do if my I-20/DS-2019 will expire before I can complete my academic program?
Students who have an I-20/DS-2019 that will expire before they graduate will need to apply for a program extension ahead of time. Students must obtain an extension BEFORE the expiration of their I-20/DS-2019. Students are required to obtain a completed and signed Recommendation for Extension form from their academic advisor and submit it along with other documents to CIE. Extensions will only be approved for compelling academic or medical reasons. Visit our immigration webpage for more details.

Miscellaneous Questions

I moved. How do I report my change of address?
The federal government requires that all international students and scholars report a change of address within ten days of moving. To do this, fill out a Change of Address Form and submit it to CIE’s Front Desk, or email it to international@utk.edu. You should also update your MyUTK online profile.

Please note: Due to system limitations and security concerns, international students must complete both CIE and MyUTK address updates separately.

I want to transfer to a different academic institution in the United States. How do I do that?
International students who intend to transfer from UT to another university must complete a CIE Transfer Out form and submit it to CIE before UT will release their SEVIS record to the other university. Please be advised that no other school will be able to issue you a new I-20 until UT has released your SEVIS record. Your SEVIS record will not be released if you do not turn in this completed and signed form, along with an official acceptance/admission letter from the university where you intend to transfer. You will need to speak with a CIE advisor ahead of time to clarify other potential issues with your transfer.

I’ve changed my immigration status and am no longer F-1 or J-1. How should I report this?
You will need to provide copies of your new documents to CIE, so that we can update your immigration file accordingly. It is your responsibility to inform CIE of your new immigration status and documents.

Where can I find information about the “green card lottery”?
International students or scholars who are interested in applying for the diversity visa lottery will need to apply online at the US Department of State website.

I have some more questions. How can I meet with a CIE advisor?
Walk-in appointments are the best and most efficient way to meet with a CIE advisor. Walk-in advising is available Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1pm-4pm. You do not need to schedule an appointment in advance.

If you have a quick and simple question and you cannot find the answer on our website, email the CIE at international@utk.edu and someone will respond. If you feel your situation will take more than 5-10 minutes to discuss, please visit the CIE during walk in hours, or call the CIE Front Desk ahead of time to set up an appointment.

My immigration documents got stolen. What should I do?
If any or all of your I-20/DS-2019, passport, and/or I-94 have been stolen, call the CIE to schedule an appointment with an advisor immediately. Also, contact the UT Police Department and file a police report.

I lost my passport, I-20, I-94 card. What should I do? Losing your I-94 card is a serious issue for your immigration status and legal presence in the US Losing your passport is also serious because it is an official document that certifies your identity for travel outside your country. CIE can re-issue an I-20 at no cost. Passports are more difficult to replace. Visit your country’s embassy website for details on how to replace your passport. Whatever your situation, contact a CIE advisor immediately.

Can I be unenrolled during a regular semester? How does this affect my legal status? It is possible to take time off from your studies, however international students cannot simply sit out a whole semester while remaining in the US You must meet a CIE advisor to discuss your options, including the possibility of a trip to your home country as temporary absence (due to personal or medical reasons). Because of important timelines and procedures (both academic and immigration), it is absolutely important to discuss your plans with CIE as soon as possible.

Summer vacation is an automatic option for no enrollment, as long as it is not your first or final term at UT or as long as you are not required to take a course for other reasons (i.e., CPT summer internship course, dissertation). Visit our immigration webpage for details.

I am a graduate student and plan to travel outside the States for one semester – how does this affect my legal status and registration?
If you must travel abroad for research purposes (i.e., a few months for data gathering for thesis/dissertation), you may be eligible to continue your immigration status while away, as long as you remain enrolled full-time in your program. In advance you will also need to provide the CIE a letter from your major professor with important information about the research, dates, etc. Contact a CIE advisor for more information.

Can I keep my current F-1 status if I want to take a break from UT and go home for a year?
No. A physical absence from the US for more than 5 months means your current SEVIS record must be terminated and you will have to come back on an “initial” I-20 (like the first time: Obtain a valid visa, pay a new SEVIS fee, etc). You will also need to apply for re-admission next time you want to return to UT for your studies. If you plan to take an extensive break (several months), please talk to CIE ahead of time to make sure you understand the overall issues.

MyUTK doesn’t let me drop a course. Why is this?
There can be different reasons for this. While it is possible that the registration system may not allow you to drop automatically because you are an international student, it is also possible there may be other restrictions that apply to domestic students as well. If you are certain you are eligible to drop a course and have obtained CIE’s permission, please contact a CIE advisor for assistance. Visit our immigration webpage for more information.

I’m a UT student on OPT, now employed by UT. Do I need to report anything to CIE?
Yes, you must continue to report all your information directly to CIE, always within 10 days of any change or update. Even if your employer is UT, you are still required to report this by yourself for your SEVIS record.

I’m on OPT from another school, employed by UT. Do I need to report anything to CIE?
No, not for SEVIS purposes. You must continue to report all your information directly to your school, according to their instructions and using their reporting forms. Your school (not UT) will need to update your SEVIS record with your new information.

I think I am out of status. What do I need to do?
Contact a CIE advisor immediately to discuss your situation and options.

How much time do I have before I need to depart the United States?
It depends on your situation. F-1 students and their dependents have 60 days to depart the United States after completion of their program or OPT period. J-1 students and their dependents have 30 days.

Travel and re-entry to the US during a grace period is not allowed, unless  student has obtained permission for practical or academic training, or if a new I-20 has been issued (i.e., for a new program or from a transfer school).


J-1 Scholar, H-1B Employees, and Permanent Resident FAQs

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