F1 student FAQ

What is a Form I-20? The Form I-20 shows that you are eligible for “F-1 Student” status.  It is issued by the school you are authorized to attend and, together with your Form I-94, indicates how long you may remain in the United States. Students in valid F-1 status are allowed to remain in the U.S. until the completion of studies plus a 60-day grace period.

What is a visa? The visa is placed in your passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S.  An F-1 visa is required to enter the U.S. in F-1 Student status.  The expiration date of your visa does not affect how long you may stay in the U.S.  The only reason to be concerned with an expired visa is if you wish to leave the U.S. and re-enter.

 What is a Form I-94? The Form I-94 is your official “Arrival/Departure Record.”  It is issued when you arrive in the U.S.  It indicates your immigration status (F-1 for students and F-2 for dependents) and an expiration date.  Your expiration date is usually “D/S”, which means “Duration of Status.”  This notation refers to the date you complete your studies or the end date on your Form I-20/DS- 2019 (whichever is earlier).  You will surrender this card when you depart the U.S., except for visits of less than 30 days to Mexico, Canada, or adjacent islands (excluding Cuba).

 What is SEVIS? The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a Department of Homeland Security internet based electronic monitoring system for international students and scholars.  Individuals seeking F-1 status are subject to the SEVIS fee which must be paid to the Department of Homeland Security before the U.S. Consulate/Embassy interview for the initial visa.  Please see “SEVIS Fee Instructions” for additional information regarding amounts and procedures for fee payment.

What is USCIS? USCIS is United States Citizenship & Immigration Services, the new name for the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) which falls under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

 What happens if my Form I-20 expires? While there are several important sections on the Form I-20, one of the most significant parts of this form is SECTION 5.  This part of the form indicates when the form expires.  If you will not finish your program before the specific end date, you must come to the main office prior to the end date to apply for an extension.  If you come after your Form I-20 has expired, you will not be eligible for an extension of stay.

 What should I do if I last entered the U.S. with a B-1 or B-2 Tourist Visa? If your current status still valid, you have the option to apply for a change of status to F1 (student). You can only start full-time classes when your changed your status gets approved.

What documents do I need to have if I want to leave the U.S. and re-enter as a student? A valid Form I-20, a passport that is valid until at least six months into the future, a valid F-1 visa (except Canadian citizens), a proof of financial support.

When do I need to have my Form I-20 signed for re-entry? If you are already attending school on an F1 status and wish to travel abroad, the International Student Advisor at the school needs to endorse your I-20 authorizing your travel.

 How long does it take to get my Form I-20 signed for travel? Signing the Form I-20 involves status and enrollment verification.  You should plan to have your Form I-20 signed a week in advance of travel outside of the U.S.

What if I want to travel to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island for less than 30 days and my F-1 visa is expired? If you have a valid passport, an expired F-1 visa, a Form I-20 with an up-to-date re-entry signature, and a Form I-94 indicating you have been admitted for Duration of Status (D/S) you can re-enter the U.S. in valid F1 status as long as your trip is less than 30 days.  You must retain your Form I-94 and tell the border official that you are taking advantage of “automatic visa revalidation.”  Currently, this benefit does not apply to citizens of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.  In addition, if you decide to renew your visa in Canada, Mexico, or any adjacent island and your visa is denied, you may not re-enter the U.S. on automatic visa revalidation.

 What if I decide to transfer out of Approach International to attend another school? You must bring the acceptance letter from the school you wish to transfer to along with a transfer request form and, meet with the International Student Advisor prior to your last day of classes at Approach. If Approach is uninformed of your transfer then the school you are transferring to will not be able to issue you a transfer Form I-20 and your current Approach I-20 may be terminated for lack of attendance at Approach.

Can I work in the United States? All students who are in valid F-1 status are allowed to work up to 20 hours/week in the school ONLY.  No official work permission is required.  You can work full-time on campus during official college breaks. Authorization from both the International Student Advisor and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is required for off-campus employment.  In most cases, off-campus employment must be directly related to your field of study, and can only be authorized after one academic year in F-1 status.

What is a Social Security number? A Social Security card provides an individual with a unique identification number assigned by the United States federal government to monitor and tax wages earned by employees in the U.S. It does not grant employment authorization. A Social Security number is required for all individuals who are employed in the United States. It is not required to obtain a driver’s license, nor should it be required to open a bank account, rent a car, purchase a cell phone or file federal tax forms. Students in F-1 status are eligible to obtain a Social Security number if they have been offered an on-campus job at Approach. For more information about social security numbers you may check International Students and Social Security Numbers at www.ssa.gov/pubs/10181.html

Can I get a Social Security number? F-1 students may apply for a Social Security number if they have an on-campus employment offer, or have off-campus employment authorization. If your application is based on on-campus employment, you will need a letter from Approach and a copy of your pay stub to verify your eligibility for a social security number.  If your application is based on off-campus employment authorization, you will need to show an employment authorization card issued by the USCIS. F-2 Dependents may not obtain a Social Security number because they are not eligible for employment.  

Can I get a Massachusetts Driver’s License? The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) requires that anyone who plans to live in Massachusetts for more than one year obtain a Massachusetts’ Driver’s license within 30 days of obtaining their car. The RMV will request your Social Security number when you apply for a license.  If you are not eligible for a Social Security number, the Social Security Administration will issue you a “Denial Letter” which you will include with your application for a license.  An official “International Driver’s License” from certain countries may be used for up to one year if you do not plan to live in the U.S. for more than one year.

 Do I have to file U.S. tax forms? Yes!  Most students will need to file at least one tax form.  Students in F-1/J-1 status who have been in the U.S. for less than 5 years are usually Nonresidents for tax purposes and must file the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8843.  Those who have had a U.S. source of income must also file Form 1040NR or 1040EZ and some may have to file a Massachusetts State income tax return.

What is an ITIN number? The IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. The ITIN is a nine digit, tax processing number issued by the IRS. ITINs are not valid identification outside of the tax system. By law, an individual cannot have both an ITIN and a SSN. Form W-7 and instructions for obtaining an ITIN can be found at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf