The F-1 visa category is intended for non-immigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs for a period of time in the United States. The F-1 visa program is managed by a shared database called SEVIS.
The visa stamped inside the person’s passport is for entry purposes only. When entering the US the length of stay is determined by an immigration officer, who will place a stamp in the student’s passport (usually on the page opposite the Visa stamp. The notation on stamp placed in the passport should say “D/S” meaning “Duration of Status.” This notation refers to the period of time in which the F-1 or J-1 status (and F-2 or J-2 dependent status) can be maintained. The student may maintain D/S and remain in F-1 or J-1 status as long as the I-20 or DS-2019 form remains valid, does not expire and the student continues to actively maintain his status through activities such as attending classes full-time.
The immigration officer will also create an I-94 record. the I-94 should also say “D/S”. The I-94 record may be accessed online at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/. Students should check their entry stamp and I-94 record each time they enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status.
For a summary of all the immigration information listed above, please download our F1 Immigration 101 document (this form is provided to all our international students when they attend International Student Orientation) or reference the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
All forms mentioned below can be found on our forms page: http://international.utk.edu/forms/
US Immigration law requires all F-1 students and F-2 dependents to notify CIE of their US address within thirty days after initial arrival in the US and within ten days after any move to a different US address.
This address change must be entered by CIE into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Failure to notify CIE of a change in address is non-compliance with F regulations and can result in the student being out-of-status.
To update an address, students can fill out the Address Update E-form in the iVols portal. Filling out this form online will automatically notify the CIE of your change of address. Please don’t forget to update your address in MyUTK as well!
Frequently Asked Questions: Address Changes
- Can I just update my address on MyUTK? Will the CIE be notified?
No. You must notify CIE directly about your local address in the US to remain legal. MyUTK does not transfer any address updates to CIE.
- I’m staying at a friend’s place temporarily while I look for a new place. Do I have to tell CIE?
Yes. You need to complete an Address Update e-form in iVols. Immigration regulations require you to provide information about where you stay at any given time, even if this is a temporary arrangement. If you move out and find your own place within ten days, just report your new address directly. If it takes longer than ten days, you must report your “temporary” address.
- I am moving from one room to another, within the same dormitory. Do I need to report anything?
Yes. Whether you move from 5000 Middle Brook to 6300 Kingston Pike, or from Room 123A to Room 123C in Shelbourne Towers, you must always notify CIE within ten days of any change in your residence.
- I have my dependents with me. Do they need to report anything to CIE?
CIE encourages F-2 spouses to submit separate notifications, so that they may keep copies of their forms for their own personal records. This also allows CIE to continue to maintain accurate information (additional phone number, e-mail) in case of an emergency. It is expected that F-2 dependents will normally reside with the primary visa holder (F-1 student).
Immigration regulations allow the spouse (husband or wife) and children (under age 21) of an F-1 student to hold “dependent” status and accompany the student in the United States during the student’s academic program.
Each dependent is issued a separate I-20, and will need to apply in person for an F-2 visa to come to the US. Dependents are eligible to stay in the United States in F-2 dependent status, as long as the student maintains legal F-1 status. Dependents are recommended to carry a copy of the student’s F-1 documents when applying for an F-2 visa, and while traveling (ie: I-20, passport, visa, I-94 printout, EAD, and/or employment letter if applicable).
Employment in F-2 status is prohibited
F-2 dependents are not permitted to work in the US under any circumstances. They are also not eligible to seek any employment authorization from the US government.
I-20 Application Process for F-2 Dependents
In order to add your dependent(s) to your I-20, login to the iVols portal with your net ID and password. Then follow these instructions:
1. From the F-1 Student Services section of the iVols portal, select the Add Dependents option:
3. Fill out the Add Dependent E-form
4. Fill out the Financial Documentation E-form and if necessary the optional GA Verification form.
Be advised that you must provide financial documentation showing enough funds to cover total cost, including dependents. Note: A spouse requires an additional $5,000 USD in annual financial support. Each child will require an additional $4,000 USD.
Once you submit the required forms in iVols, CIE will process your request. If your documentation is sufficient, CIE will issue an updated I-20 that includes your dependents. Each dependent will also be issued an F-2 form I-20. CIE will contact you when the documents are ready to be picked up.
- DHS regulations allow F-2 dependents to attend elementary, middle, and high school on a full-time basis.
- F-2 dependents who wish to study full-time or who wish to be eligible for F-1 benefits such as on campus employment must apply for a change to F-1 status.
- F-2 spouses and children are permitted to study part time in a program that leads towards a degree but may not work on campus.
- An F-2 can pursue a hobby or engage in a study that is on an occasional or casual basis (ie: non-credit course on basket weaving or line dancing).
- Volunteering is not prohibited by law, as long as the activities are “true-volunteering” (ie: demonstrating a cooking recipe at a local church or assisting with a local marathon event). Unpaid participation in activities that would normally be considered a paid job is not considered volunteering by immigration.
Change of Status to F-2
If a spouse is currently in the US with a different immigration status, and wants to change to F-2 dependent, there are two different options:
- Travel outside US to apply for F-2 visa
- Apply for Change of Status with USCIS (if eligible)
*Please consult with a CIE advisor before pursuing either of these options.
Enrollment Requirements for Maintaining Status
In order to maintain F-1 status, students must complete a full-time class load each fall and spring semester. Summer is considered a vacation period unless it is the first or last term of enrollment. Students may take a summer vacation only if they intend to enroll in the following fall semester.
What Is Full Time?
Undergraduates: All undergraduates must complete 12 credit hours per semester.
Graduates: All graduates must complete 9 credit hours per semester. For graduate students who work exactly twenty hours per week or maintain a 50 percent time-appointment assistantship, completion of 6 credit hours per semester is sufficient for immigration purposes.
For both graduates and undergraduates:
- Only classes taken for a regular grade (A-F), Pass/Fail (P/F), or Satisfactory (S) count toward the immigration requirement.
- Classes taken as Audit (AU) do not count toward this requirement.
- For a regular course offered online, only one class (or up to 3 credits) per semester can count toward the total number of credits for full-time enrollment.
- Withdrawing with a W/WP/WF does not count as credit for immigration purposes.
- Students must complete the course. Merely registering and paying for courses is not sufficient.
Note: There may be differences between DHS and academic definitions of full time. Students must always meet all minimum enrollment requirements.
Exceptions to Full Time Requirement
Exceptions Requiring CIE Permission:
- When a graduate student has completed all course work requirements and is only working on thesis or dissertation hours, registering for 3 credit hours is sufficient for immigration purposes.
- In the final term of a degree program, a student can register for only the number of hours required to graduate. .
- Students with a serious medical condition preventing them from enrolling full-time may be approved for a reduced course load or no credit hours with a letter from a licensed medical doctor explaining the reasons. This special permission can only be approved for one semester at a time, and is limited to a total of twelve months.
Exceptions where a student does not need permission from CIE:
- During summer semester (after completing spring semester), a student does not have to be enrolled full time. The student must enroll in the following fall semester.
- (Note: Departmental rules may require full-time enrollment for some graduate assistantships during summer).
- A student who holds a twenty-hour per week assistantship is eligible to enroll for only 6 credit hours. (Note: Departmental rules may differ).
- A student who is on a period of authorized full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT).
- Note: some CPT authorizations require a specific minimum enrollment (even during summer), depending on specific CPT category.
Extension of I-20
Under certain circumstances, US immigration law allows CIE to extend the program end date on the student’s I-20 form. Legitimate academic reasons for an extendion include: changing majors, research data being lost or proving to be inadequate, or changes in degree requirements set by UT all qualify for F-1 extension. An I-20 may also be extended for medical reasons. However, academic suspension, or not making normal progress toward a degree cannot qualify as reasons for an F-1 extension.
When to Request an Extension
DHS regulations state that students must obtain an extension before their I-20 expires. Failure to comply with this deadline is a federal immigration violation, and will have negative consequences. Students may submit documents to CIE as early as they can determine the need for an extension.
Program End Date
A student’s expected completion date is listed on the I-20 on page 1 in the “program of study” section. This date corresponds to a program end date in SEVIS, and is the latest date the student is currently authorized to remain legally in their current program as a full time student. Some students will graduate before this date and will not require an extension. Other students may need to graduate after their expected completion date, and will need to apply for an extension.
How to Request an I-20 Extension
In order to add your dependent(s) to your I-20, login to the iVols portal with your net ID and password. Then follow these instructions:
1. From the F-1 Student Services section of the iVols portal, select the Extension of Program option:
2. Fill out both the Extension of Program and Financial Documentation forms.
Please note that your academic advisor will receive an email with a link to an E-form. Your advisor must fill out this E-form and explain the reason for the I-20 extension.
Qualifying for a Second Extension
DHS immigration regulations state that an extension can only be granted for a compelling academic or medical reason. In order to qualify for another extension, a student must first qualify based on the descriptions above. Additionally, the student’s academic advisor (major professor) must write an official letter, stating clearly and in appropriate detail what has occurred since the previous extension that has now caused additional delay.
I-20 Expiration and Employment
An I-20 cannot be extended if a student is graduating or receives post-completion OPT approval. It is not possible for a student to continue with a graduate assistantship beyond the I-20 expiration date or after graduating. However, it may be possible to be re-hired by a department as a regular employee after completion of the program date (i.e. hired on OPT as UT staff).
On & Off Campus Employment and Practical Training
Federal law only allows F-1 students to work in the US under certain conditions. A student must always have explicit authorization from USCIS or CIE before beginning any employment anywhere. The easiest way for a student to earn money while studying in the United States is to take an on-campus job.
On-campus employment is usually defined as a job that pays with a UT paycheck. F-1 students are eligible to work on-campus up to twenty hours per week during a regular semester. During the summer term and official school breaks, full time employment (above twenty hours/week) is permissible. Students cannot continue working after graduating or completing studies (unless some other type of work permission has been arranged).
Students must obtain a work authorization stamp on their current I-20 from the CIE before employment can begin. To obtain a work authorization stamp:
- New students must check in with the CIE and complete their immigration file during orientation.
- Current students must bring their I-20, passport, and I-94 printout (http://www.cbp.gov/i94) to meet with a CIE advisor.
According to current regulations, students may begin on-campus employment before receiving a Social Security card. According to the same rule, a newly-obtained Social Security Number (SSN) must be provided to the employer within ninety days from the beginning of employment.
There are specific situations where F-1 students may be allowed to work off campus. Immigration law requires students to obtain explicit permission from USCIS or CIE before beginning their work activities. There can be serious immigration consequences for students who engage in unauthorized employment.
Practical Training is a DHS-authorized period of time for students in legal F-1 status to engage in employment directly related to their current major field of study. Practical training is divided into two categories: curricular and optional.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- DHS defines CPT as training that must be an “integral part of an established curriculum” and also directly related to a student’s current major field of study and degree level.
- CPT can only be used before graduation/completion of study.
- Full or part time CPT is allowed.
- Students must have an official offer of employment before requesting CPT.
- CPT employment is granted for a specific employer, location, and length of time.
- Students must obtain permission from CIE to engage in either a paid or unpaid internship/practicum.
- Permission is granted by CIE, and a new CPT-endorsed I-20 will be issued.
- Students must have obtained work authorization from CIE before beginning work.
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- DHS allows for this training as a good opportunity for students to gain experience in their current major field of study. OPT does not need to correspond to specific course credit or degree requirement.
- OPT is a maximum of twelve months, with another twelve months available after the attainment of each subsequent higher degree level (bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral).
- OPT may be used before program completion, during a summer term, during a regular semester, after completion of program, or completion of all required course work. It can also be extended in some cases for seventeen months under specific criteria.
- OPT may be full-time or part-time depending on circumstances.
- A job offer is not required in order to apply for OPT.
- Documents must be submitted to CIE initially. Applications must be submitted to USCIS for approval up to ninety days in advance and no later than sixty days after program completion date.
- Students must pay an application fee to USCIS. Please visit the USCIS website for a list of current fees. These fees are subject to change without notice.
- Students must obtain permission from USCIS before employment or any job activities can begin.
- Severe Economic Hardship
If there has been a serious and unexpected change in a student’s financial situation, a student may be eligible to apply to USCIS for Severe Economic Hardship. This is general permission, granted in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), issued for up to one year of work off-campus in any job.
- Severe Economic Hardship work permission does not apply when sufficient on-campus employment is available.
- A student must consult a CIE advisor before applying for this benefit. The CIE assists students with understanding eligibility issues and provides guidance on the application process with appropriate supporting materials.
- A student must have studied at UT for one full year before becoming eligible.
- A student must also obtain permission from USCIS before beginning work off-campus.
- Work authorization for Severe Economic Hardship must not exceed part-time (up to twenty hours/week) during a regular semester. The student must also maintain full-time enrollment in classes.
- The use of Severe Economic Hardship work permission does not eliminate a student’s OPT eligibility later on.
Exception: During the summer semester, work can exceed twenty hours/week, and enrollment can be less than full time.
- Employment with an International Organization
F-1 students are eligible to apply to USCIS for permission to work with a recognized international organization. This type of employment authorization is only available to students who have been offered a position with an organization listed in the International Organization Immunities Act. Students must file an application with USCIS and pay an application fee. They must wait for approval before they can begin employment. Approval is granted by USCIS in the form of an Employment Authorization Document. This option is available to qualified students before their graduation. Students must comply with general F-1 enrollment requirements during employment, however the job does not need to be directly related to a student’s academic major. A student must consult with a CIE advisor before considering this option.
Reinstatement of Status
International students in the US may, from time to time, fall “out of status.” This is a polite way of saying that a student has broken the rules and is illegal. Often this comes about through an innocent misunderstanding on the part of a student, or a student has been given incorrect information. But no matter what the cause, DHS states it is the responsibility of the student to maintain their legal status. The consequences of falling out of status can be severe and call for quick action on the part of a student to regain status.
Common Reasons for Being Out of Status
- Failure to complete a full-time class load or its equivalent during a regular semester
- Not attending university during a regular semester but remaining in the US unenrolled
- Unauthorized employment
- Failure to complete a transfer of school according to specific DHS policy
- Failure to complete a notice of change in degree level (change of program) according to DHS rules
- Failure to obtain an extension of current program (I-20) in a timely fashion
Consequences of Being Out of Status
- Loss of all F-1 status benefits
- Ineligible for on-campus work
- For GAs, UT can no longer waive tuition or pay a stipend
- All off-campus employment authorization is cancelled.
- Ineligible for any form of practical training
- Transferring to an alternate US university becomes very difficult
- In certain circumstances, a student may be asked to leave the US.
- Being out of status has no direct impact on a student’s academic career or transcripts.
Regaining Legal F-1 Status
There are two ways a student can regain legal status:
- Apply to USCIS for reinstatement to legal status (while staying in the US).
- Leave the US to re-enter with a new I-20. The student must have a valid visa to re-enter.
If a student decides to regain legal F-1 status, they must request a new I-20 from CIE and pay a new SEVIS fee online. A new I-20 alone does not grant status. The student must complete each step listed below. Since each case is unique and deals with individual circumstances, a student should discuss any available options thoroughly with a CIE advisor.
Option 1: Apply to USCIS for reinstatement of legal status (without departing the US).
Students may only be eligible to file for reinstatement within five months of being out of status, or as promptly as possible under exceptional circumstances. Eligibility is based on three important factors:
- The student must not have a history of repeated violations.
- The student must not have engaged in unauthorized employment.
- The student must not be subject to deportation for any other reason.
While work permission is revoked while out of status, students who file for reinstatement must enroll and remain enrolled full-time while their case is pending with USCIS.
Required Documents for reinstatement:
- Completed I-20 Request form (new I-20 will be issued)
- I-539 form
- Personal letter of explanation*
- Additional letters of support for the reinstatement
- Original I-94 printout (https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/)
- New financial documents (Issued within the last six months)
- Copies of previous I-20s, valid passport and most recent visa
- Academic history or transcript
- I-539 application fee (check for current reinstatement fees)
- Current or next term’s class schedule (showing proof of full-time enrollment)
- Copy of SEVIS fee payment I-901 receipt
*The personal letter is very important. It should clearly explain the problem, show how it has been resolved or how it was beyond the student’s control, and indicate that the student is currently enrolled.
You need to discuss the reinstatement procedure and your individual situation with a CIE advisor.
If approved, the student will be reinstated to legal status.
Consequences of Denial of Reinstatement:
- Visa stamp in the student’s passport is automatically cancelled.
- For the rest of the student’s life, any application for a US visa can only be done in the student’s home country.
- Increased scrutiny at all US ports of entry and during pre-screening at certain foreign airports before boarding any USA-bound flights.
- Students will begin to accumulate days of “unlawful presence” from the initial time they violate their status. This can potentially bar a person from entering the United States for three to ten years.
Immediate action and a very serious effort are absolutely necessary in trying to reduce negative impact on immigration status.
Option 2: Leave the US and re-enter with a new I-20 and valid visa.
Students who choose to travel must obtain a new I-20 and have a valid visa to re-enter the US. It may be necessary to contact a US consulate to obtain a new valid visa.
- Students will be placed in legal status once they re-enter the United States and obtain a new I-94 update at the port of entry.
Note: Because practical training eligibility requires a student be present for an entire academic year, students with newly-obtained initial F-1 status will need to fulfill the one year requirement before becoming eligible again for OPT/CPT.
- Attempting to visit Canada, Mexico, or islands in the Caribbean to obtain a new visa presents special problems. Students are strongly advised to talk to a CIE advisor before leaving the US to attempt this procedure.
Students are eligible to transfer to another school in the US by following a specific procedure and timeline. Students must pay attention to all transfer steps, as required both by the transfer-out institution (old university) as well as the transfer-in institution (new university). The overall process of transferring between universities is set and monitored by the Department of Homeland Security. A Transfer Out Request form must be completed in full before the transfer process can begin.
Access the Transfer Out Request form in iVols portal. You will also be required to upload a copy of your official admission letter from your new school.
TRANSFER-OUT: UT students going to another institution within the US
UT students can transfer at any time to another US institution. Students who graduate or complete OPT must have their SEVIS record released from the CIE to the new institution before the end of their grace period.* In addition, DHS regulations require that students begin their new program at the new school within five months from their last program end date/last day of semester classes, or within five months from their last date of employment (if on OPT).
Note: Any UT holds must be cleared by the student before any paperwork can be processed by CIE.
*The grace period for F-1 students is sixty days after graduation or OPT period.
Note: Students on OPT must have their SEVIS record released before going beyond 90 days of unemployment.
TRANSFER-IN: Students from other US schools coming to UT
Incoming students must transfer into UT by the beginning of an official program start date. This means the student’s SEVIS record must be released to UT no later than our official reporting date for the particular semester (ie: this date corresponds to the program start date listed on the UT I-20). Please check with the appropriate admissions office for more information and admission deadlines for each term.
- Immigration Information form (This will be provided to you when you are admitted)
- Confirmation of Financial Resources
- Financial documents
- Copy of passport biopage
Traveling Inside and Outside the US
Traveling Outside the U.S.
In order to re-enter the US, students must submit all valid immigration documents for inspection at the port of entry. Dependents must carry their own original documents. If traveling separately, it is recommended that dependents carry copies of the primary visa holder’s documents. Students must also submit copies of any new documents (of their own or their dependents) to the CIE after re-entry to the US.
Documents required for re-entry into the US in F-1 Status:
- Valid Passport (must have six-month future validity at time of re-entry to the US or at time of visa application)
- Valid student/dependent visa (must be unexpired on date of re-entry)
- Current, valid I-20 with a valid signature from CIE, with the correct up-to-date information
Note: Students on authorized post-completion OPT must be eligible for re-entry according to OPT rules, and must be carrying the following documents:
- A valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD);
- A current employment/offer letter; and
- An I-20 with travel authorization signature on page two that is no older than six months.
Students who must travel, but whose OPT application is still pending with USCIS, may use their Receipt Notice as a supporting document for re-entry. ISSS recommends that students consult with a CIE advisor prior to travel.
Request a travel signature from CIE
A student who requires a new signature in his or her I-20 is encouraged to submit a Travel Authorization Request in iVols portal as early as possible, and at least two weeks prior to traveling. CIE must certify certain information before signing or issuing a new I-20 for travel. The student must have cleared any university holds before CIE can sign the I-20.
Note: All university holds should be cleared before requesting travel authorization.
If the student visa has expired, students must take their newly-signed I-20 and original financial documents to a US Consulate to apply for a visa. A student may need to take additional documents to the visa interview, depending on their individual situation. If the student has a multiple entry visa and the visa has not expired, then a new visa will not be required before traveling, as long as the SEVIS number on the I-20 form matches the SEVIS number (annotation #) on the current visa.
Travel to Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands (except Cuba)
The Department of State allows for the benefit of “Automatic Revalidation of Visa.” Under this rule, F-1 students are permitted to re-enter the US after a single visit of no more than thirty days to “contiguous territory” (Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands) without having to obtain a new visa prior to re-entry.
- Citizens from certain countries (such as Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba) are not eligible for the automatic revalidation of visa benefit. Check with US Customs and Border Protection to see recent information on which countries are excluded. The DOS is the authority of this list and can make changes at any time without notice.
- Students who choose to apply for a new visa while in a contiguous territory will not be eligible for automatic revalidation of visa benefit. Students will have to wait until a visa is granted in order to re-enter the US. If the visa is denied, the student must return to their home country directly from the contiguous territory.
- Students whose visit goes beyond thirty days.
- Students who travel outside of the contiguous territories (ie: visit their home country from Mexico, return directly to Mexico, and then try to re-enter the US) will not be allowed to re-enter the US on automatic visa revalidation.
Traveling Within the US
While in Knoxville, students are strongly advised to keep their documents in a safe and secure place. If traveling outside of Knoxville, students should take all original immigration documents and their passport with them. Students may want to keep an extra set of copies accessible to a trusted friend or roommate in case of an emergency or in the event that original documents are lost or stolen during a weekend (when the CIE is not open and therefore unavailable to assist). ISSS also recommends keeping electronic copies in a smart phone, laptop computer or other electronic device.
Graduation and travel
Students planning to travel in and out of the US around the time of graduation are not eligible to return with their current F-1 documents during their “grace period”. In order to re-enter with student status, a student needs to have applied for OPT authorization or have obtained a new I-20 for a new academic program.