Maintaining F-1 Visa Status

During your time in the United States as an international student, you are expected to follow all state and federal laws.  You are also expected to follow the regulations associated with your F-1 visa status. "F-1 status" is not an item; it is your state of being that you must maintain with rules you must follow during your time here! The International Services office exists to advise you and answer any questions you have about maintaining your F-1 status. However, ultimately it is your responsibility

The United States Department of Homeland Security has a helpful website called "Study in the States" that you can also access at any time. It covers many frequently-asked questions about maintaining F-1 status and F-1 student benefits. 

Never assume that other international students, friends, professors, MCC staff, or Internet pages understand your specific immigration status or situation. Always ask International Services if there is something you are unsure about! International Services is the only place on the MCC campus that is authorized to give immigration guidance and is aware of the specific and often-changing regulations for F-1 students. Never take immigration advice from anyone besides International Services or licensed immigration attorney (lawyer). 

Basic Rules to Follow

1. Register and maintain a full-time course load

International students must enroll full-time in each fall and spring semester.  Full-time enrollment is 12 credits or more. International students can only count one (1) online class toward this full-time course load. This means you must register in at least 9 credits in-class before you register for any online classes! 

You must maintain your full-time enrollment for the entire semester.  Always consult with International Services before dropping or withdrawing from a class to ensure that it will not impact your F-1 status. Dropping below 12 credit hours can sometimes be approved in special academic or medical circumstances, but you must receive the proper approval from International Services first!  Please schedule an appointment if you want to seek an exception to full-time enrollment or if you are planning to take any break in your studies. 

Students in the final semester of their program are not required to enroll in 12+ credits, if fewer than 12 credits are needed to fulfill all degree requirements. Approval from International Services is needed. 

Summer and winter breaks are considered a vacation period. You may take courses in the intersession or summer sessions if you want, but it is optional. 

2. Make normal progress toward your degree

International students are expected to make "normal" progress toward completion the degree program listed on their Form I-20. Work with International Services and your assigned academic advisor to ensure that you are registering for courses that count toward your degree requirements. 

Most associate's degree programs take between 2-3 years (4-6 semesters) to complete. A standard Form I-20 is issued for 4 semesters.  If you require more time to complete your degree, you must request a program extension before your current Form I-20 expires. Please schedule a short appointment with International Services to discuss the requirements for a program extension. 

In most cases, program extensions cannot be granted due to an excessive number of failed courses or repeated courses. While the occasional failed or repeated course is OK, students are expected to maintain good academic standing at MCC and pass their courses each semester in order to make progress toward degree completion.  

3. Never work in the United States without proper authorization

While you do not need special authorization to work on-campus, International Services will most likely need to assist you with the employment process. Never work on-campus more than 20 hours per week while school is in session. A maximum of 40 hours per week is OK during school break periods. 

NEVER work off-campus without proper authorization from International Services or the U.S. government. Working without authorization is a very serious offense. It can result in the termination of your F-1 status, deportation, and difficulty receiving a U.S. visa in the future.

Please see the Employment section for detailed information about working on-campus and off-campus permissions. 

4. Keep your immigration documents valid and up-to-date

  • Passport: Should be valid at least 6 months into the future at all times while you are in the United States.  If it will expire soon, you can renew it during a trip home or at your home country's embassy in the United States. 
  • F-1 Visa: Depending on your home country, your F-1 visa may be valid for only a few months or up to 5 years. (Citizens of Canada do not have a visa). Think of your visa like your "key" to the door of the United States, which you use to enter the country. You need a valid (unexpired) visa to enter the United States. If your visa expires during your studies, you can stay here as long as your are maintaining your F-1 status as an enrolled student. If you leave the U.S. after your visa is expired, you must apply for a new visa from outside the United States before you can re-enter the country. For more details about the visa and safe re-entry, please go to the Travel section.
  • Form I-20: The "Certificate of Eligibility" for the F-1 visa. The Form I-20 document is issued by MCC and outlines your academic program. It contains information such as your major/degree program, your program's start and end dates, work authorization, and financial sponsorship information. If any of this information changes, you must inform International Services and receive an updated Form I-20. 
  • I-94: Your I-94 record shows your most recent entry to the United States. Every time you enter the U.S., your I-94 record will be updated to reflect that entry. It is not a document you typically need to carry; it is used primarily for employment purposes or when applying for benefits such as a driver license or social security card. Your most recent I-94 can be accessed and printed online at the CBP website, using your passport information. 

5. Follow reporting requirements

You must contact International Services if you are planning to do any of these things: 

  • Change your U.S. address or foreign address
  • Change your phone number 
  • Change your major/program of study
  • Extend or shorten your program of study 
  • Transfer to a new school 
  • Take a break from your studies at MCC 
  • Travel outside of the U.S. (in certain cases) 
  • Changes in your work circumstances while on CPT or OPT (employer, location, duration of job, etc.)

Many of these things are very time-sensitive. Please report changes to International Services within 10 days! 

6. Depart the U.S. within your allotted time

Following completion of your studies (graduation) or the expiration of your I-20, F-1 students may stay in the United States for a maximum of 60 days. This is called the "grace period." 

The grace period allows up to 60 days for you to:

  • Travel within the United States. If you depart the U.S. before the end of your grace period, your grace period is effectively over and you cannot re-enter using your expired I-20. 
  • Prepare to depart the United States. Pack up your apartment, sell your car, close your bank account, or anything else you might need to do. 
  • Transfer to another school. Please see the School Transfer section for instructions on transferring your SEVIS record to another college or university in the United States. 
  • Apply for OPT or submit an application for change of status to another visa category 
  • Depart the United States

If your studies and your SEVIS record have been terminated for any reason, you do not have a grace period.  You are expected to depart the United States as soon as possible. 

Do not overstay! Overstay of any length of time is now considered a quite serious offense and could cause problems for re-entry to the U.S., prevent U.S. visa approval in the future, or even lead to a bar from the U.S. for several years.