F-1 Visa Student Guidance for Fall 2021
SEVP will continue to abide by guidance originally issued March 2020 for the upcoming academic year (2021-2022). This means that regulatory modifications for COVID will continue for the next academic year, such as flexibility with online classes and digital signatures.
Whether you’re a new international student at St. Edward’s, or you have already spent time on the hilltop, the International Student Services Office (ISS) is committed to helping you succeed.
International Student Services (ISS) advises students with F-1 and J-1 student visa categories about immigration, acculturation and other topics.
Information for New International Students
Follow the steps below to get your student visa to study in the U.S. Please note: We’re trained and authorized to advise on F-1 and J-1 visa matters. For questions about other visa types and categories, seek a qualified immigration attorney.
The Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student (F-1) Status, allows you to apply for the F-1 student visa or continue your F-1 status if you are transferring from another school in the U.S. After you’ve been admitted and made your deposit, complete the following so that ISS can issue your I-20:
- Complete the Apply for an I-20 request to provide required information for your I-20.
- Submit a copy of your passport photo page for you and any dependents (spouse and/or children under 21). If you’ve had a U.S. visa in the past, include a copy of your visa, too.
- Complete the Certification of Finances Form and upload it. If someone other than yourself will fund your education, ask your sponsor to complete Section II of the form. There is a separate version of the Certification of Finances Form for undergraduate or graduate level students.
- Submit proof of your financial support such as scholarship letters, a bank statement or letter from yourself or your sponsor. Bank documents must be less than 6 months old.
- If you’re currently studying in the U.S. with an F-1 student visa, transfer your I-20 record to St. Edward's University. Complete Section I of the Transfer Eligibility Form, then ask your advisor or school official at your current school to complete Section II. When both sections are completed, submit the form.
- If you're a student visa holder in a flexible in-person graduate program, submit the modality attestation form prior to I-20 issuance. To document in-person attendance, the university provides the session attendance tool.
- If admitted, an accepted student will be required to depart the U.S., apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy for the F-1 student visa (outside the U.S.), and re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status. We currently do not issue the Change of Status Form I-20 to students who wish to remain in the U.S. and petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of non-immigrant status to the F-1 visa.
You can upload all of your documents for the International Student Services team to review by using the secure uploader.
Follow the process below to get your visa. We encourage you to visit the State Department for detailed instructions.
- Pay the SEVIS 1-901 fee and print your receipt. Here’s a helpful tutorial to walk you through the process.
- Complete the Non-immigrant Visa Application (DS-160) and pay the fees. Then, print the form confirmation page and your receipt, and bring them both to your interview.
- Schedule an appointment for your visa interview at your local U.S. embassy or consulate.
- Attend your scheduled visa interview. Bring all required documents and receipts and be prepared to answer personal questions. Here are 10 tips to help you succeed in your interview. Required documents include: original I-20, SEVIS I-901 receipt, DS-160 visa application confirmation, admission letter and financial support information.
You may enter the U.S. 30 days before the program start date shown on your I-20.
Check-in and immigration reporting takes place on International Landing Day and is mandatory. During International Landing Day, we’ll collect the information we need from you to register your immigration record and give you an overview of F-1 student visa rules and benefits. In addition to International Landing Day, you’ll attend International Student Orientation.
Information for Current and Returning International Students
We encourage you to stay in touch with ISS during your time on the Hilltop. Remember, you need our assistance to update your I-20 if you:
- Extend or change your program or degree
- Intend to transfer to a new school
- Drop below full-time enrollment
- Need your I-20 signed for travel
- Move to a new address
- Want employment authorization
Review the following about maintaining your visa status, work authorization and guidance on travel.
F-1 Visa Rules
Attend International Landing Day to register your I-20 and activate your immigration record. Here is an overview of the requirements to maintain your immigration status:
Keep Valid Documentation of Your Immigration Status
Always have the following documents on-hand:
- Form I-20: This is your certificate of eligibility and it is a record of your program at St. Edward’s University. Make sure to sign page 1. Your I-20 will need to be updated whenever there is a change in your program, for example, if you change your major. If you need more time to complete your degree, you must extend your I-20 before it expires. Keep all older versions, but only use the most recent.
- Visa: This is the stamp in your passport that allows you to travel to the U.S. Each time you travel to the U.S., make sure your visa is still valid. It is ok if your visa expires while you are in the U.S., but you must renew it the next time you travel outside the U.S. in order to return.
- I-94 Entry/Departure Records: Created by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when you enter the U.S., the I-94 is documentation of your immigration status. Make sure it shows F-1 visa status and "Admit Until Date: D/S". "D/S" means you may remain in the U.S. until your program end date.
It’s your responsibility to monitor expiration dates on your immigration documents. Take note of the program end date listed on your I-20 and the expiration date listed on your visa for travel.
You’re required to enroll full-time each semester (undergraduate: 12 hours; graduate: 9 hours). You may take a one-semester vacation after two consecutive semesters of full-time enrollment. Exceptions to the full-time enrollment rule may be allowed if you:
- Are in your last semester and have less than 12 (undergrad) or 9 (graduate) hours left to finish your degree.
- Have a severe medical situation; a licensed medical professional must provide documentation stating you cannot maintain a full course load.
- Have an academic situation (primarily in the first semester) that allows you to qualify for a reduced course load. Your success coach and immigration advisor will evaluate your situation to see if you qualify.
All the above require approval in advance from ISS; schedule an appointment to discuss your options. The Reduced Course Load Request Form is required for approval.
Dropping or Withdrawing from a Class
If you are dropping a class and will still be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours, fill out the Lift International Hold request in myHilltop. ISS will temporarily lift the hold preventing changes to your class schedule to allow you to drop the class.
Online Course Enrollment Permissions
As an F-1 visa holder, you have a limit on the number of online classes that can count towards your full-time enrollment requirement. One 3-hour class online class can count each semester. You can take additional online classes if you have met the requirement for full-time enrollment. Here are some examples of acceptable class schedules for undergraduate students:
- Less than 12 hours (requires ISS authorization): only one online course is allowed (3 hours). If you are taking only one class it must be in-person
- 12 hours: one online course is allowed (3 hours)
- 15 hours: two online courses are allowed (6 hours)
- 18 hours: three online courses are allowed (9 hours)
During the Fall 2020 semester, temporary rules are in place that allow continuing F-1 students to remain in active F-1 status while taking online classes in the U.S. or outside the U.S. Guidance for the Spring 2021 semester has not yet been published by the government.
Obtain Proper Work Authorization
Do not begin any type of employment without first checking with ISS and receiving appropriate authorization. Working without permission is a serious violation of student visa status and can affect your ability to stay in the U.S.
When traveling within the U.S., bring:
- Valid passport
- Original I-20
- Proof of enrollment
ISS recommends bringing your original documents with you if you are traveling outside the Austin area because there are immigration check-points inside the U.S. Officers will review your documents to verify your identity and valid student visa status.
If you are traveling internationally, bring:
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 visa (if your F-1 visa has expired, you will need to renew before returning to the U.S.)
- Original I-20 with travel signature that is less than 1 year old
- Proof of enrollment, such as a transcript (recommended)
- Proof of financial support, such as bank documents or scholarship information (recommended)
- SEVIS I-901 Receipt Notice; find and print your receipt (recommended)
- Arrival letter from ISS and copy of SEVP policy guidance. Contact ISS for assistance. (recommended during Covid-19)
During the pandemic, it is also important to look up travel restrictions and quarantine requirements before making travel plans. ISS encourages you to check credible resources for updated information and make contingency plans in case of unexpected changes.
- Department of State Covid-19 Country Specific Information
- Department of State Travel Advisories
- Mexico-Canada Essential Travel
- CDC Travelers Prohibited from Entry to U.S.
- CBP Waiver of Schengen Travel Restriction for F-1 Students
- IATA Global Travel Restrictions
When you enter the U.S. you will go through a process with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). If CBP needs additional information to determine your eligibility to enter the U.S. call +001 512 428 1051 for assistance. If you are detained at a port of entry outside of business hours and need assistance, call University Police to be connected with ISS staff: +001 512 448 8444.
Travel to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean
Check to see if you need a visa to visit a country outside the U.S. that is not your home country. Visa requirements vary depending on your country of citizenship.
If you travel to a country that neighbors the U.S., and you intend to stay less than 30 days, it may be possible to re-enter the U.S. on an expired visa stamp using a process called Automatic Visa Re-validation. Talk to ISS about your plans before traveling if this situation applies to you.
Departing After You Complete Your Program
F-1 students have 60 days to depart the U.S. upon program completion and J-1 students have 30 days. Options to extend your stay include:
- Apply for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization
- Transfer to another school/program
- Change your education level (example: bachelor’s to master’s)
- Apply to change to another visa status
Plan ahead and contact ISS if you wish to pursue any of these options.
Immigration rules require ISS to make appropriate updates to your I-20. If you do not meet the requirements of your student visa status, ISS must take appropriate steps, which may include the termination of your I-20. Reasons for I-20 termination include:
- Failure to attend International Landing Day to register your I-20
- Failure to request program extension before program end date on your I-20
- Failure to maintain full-time enrollment
- Failure to make satisfactory academic progress
- Working without authorization
- Being arrested for violation of any local, state or federal law
Talk to ISS if you are concerned about meeting the requirements of F-1 visa status. Most issues can be resolved easily with discussion in advance.
ISS advises on employment eligibility and provides appropriate work authorization for F-1 international students. Working without authorization can cause serious problems for your student visa status. We recommend that you check in with ISS before starting work to make sure you have the right permission.
There are three types of employment authorization for students with an F-1 visa:
Students with an F-1 visa can have a part-time, on-campus job. On-campus employment includes jobs with any on-campus department or office, teaching assistant positions or work at a university-affiliated business, such as the bookstore or cafeteria. St. Edward’s University Career and Professional Development posts available on-campus jobs on the Hilltop Careers page of their website. Not all of the jobs posted on Hilltop Careers are on-campus. Check with ISS before you start working if you are unsure whether a job is considered on-campus employment. When you have a job offer, you will need to apply for a Social Security Number before you start.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT is authorization for work that you receive academic credit for, such as an internship. You must be enrolled full-time for two consecutive semesters before you’re eligible to apply for CPT. CPT requires registration in an internship or practicum course.
- Register for your internship or practicum course. Your class for CPT must count towards your degree plan.
- Find employment. Work with the Career and Professional Development team and your faculty to find an internship that is appropriate for the course. Work must be related to your major and meet the requirements of your class.
- Complete the CPT Form. Once you have a job offer, you and your internship class professor will complete the CPT Form. Final approval will be given by the Dean of your academic school.
- Get an updated I-20. When ISS receives the completed CPT Form, we will add CPT authorization to your I-20. It is important not to start any work until you have received your CPT I-20.
A social security number is required to receive payment for an internship and you must file taxes if you receive income.
During the semester, ISS can authorize part-time CPT (no more than 20 hours per week). During the summer or other periods when enrollment is not required, ISS can authorize full-time CPT (more than 20 hours per week). If you participate in more than 11 months of full-time CPT, you cannot apply for OPT employment authorization. Part-time CPT has no effect on OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT allows you to be employed in a job related to your major for up to 12 months at each education level (bachelor's, master's, PhD). If your degree is in an eligible science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field, you may apply for an additional 2 year extension, called STEM OPT. We recommend that you contact ISS to start the OPT application process 3-4 months in advance.
Types of OPT:
- Pre-completion OPT is used before graduation and may be part-time or full-time. Full-time pre-completion OPT can only be used during breaks, such as summer vacation.
- Post-completion OPT is used after graduation and must be full-time.
- STEM OPT Extension is for students who majored in approved STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math) and who work for an employer enrolled in E-Verify.
Eligibility for OPT:
- Meet the one academic year enrollment requirement.
- Seek employment directly related to your major area of study.
Previous work impacts your eligibility for OPT:
- Part-time pre-completion OPT counts at half the rate (for example: 6 months of part-time OPT only deducts 3 months from total available 12 months).
- If you take more than 11 months of full-time CPT, you will be ineligible for OPT.
- Part-time CPT and on campus employment do not affect OPT eligibility.
OPT Application Process
ISS will need to update your I-20 by adding a recommendation for OPT. To do this, we will need:
- Proof of Graduation: Your success coach will help you fill out the form to confirm your graduation plans. This is not required for pre-completion OPT.
- OPT Acknowledgement Form: Review the policy information on the form and choose a start date. For post-completion OPT, the earliest start date can be the day after the end of the semester and the latest start date can be 60 days after the end of the semester. You can choose any day from within this 60 day window as your start date.
Prepare OPT Application Materials
In addition to your OPT I-20 from ISS, you will need to prepare the following documents for your OPT application:
- Filing Fee: Visit the USCIS website for payment methods and current fee rates
- I-765 Form: Be sure to use the current form version from the USCIS website and follow USCIS instructions.
- Passport Photos: You will need two, recent passport photos. It is not recommended to use leftover photos from your passport or visa application. Use professional photos, not photos printed at home. U.S. Department of State has some general guidance about passport photos.
- Past Employment Authorization Documents: This may or may not apply to you. If you have been authorized for CPT, include a copy of your CPT I-20. If you have previously had OPT, include a copy of your OPT card. Information about on campus employment is not required.
- Valid Passport Copy
- F-1 Visa Copy
- I-94 Record
- Previous I-20 Forms: If you previously had an I-20 with a different SEVIS ID number, you will need a copy of this I-20 for your application.
View complete instructions for applying to USCIS for OPT. ISS can review your application materials based on our experience and current information. OPT is a personal application you make to USCIS and it is your responsibility to review the USCIS instructions thoroughly.
OPT Reporting Requirements
After your OPT has been approved, you will receive an email from SEVP inviting you to the SEVP Portal. You can use the SEVP Portal to report required information while you are on OPT, or you can submit the information to ISS and we will update your record. Use the online OPT Reporting Form to report information to ISS.
While on OPT you must report:
- Employment Changes
- Address Changes
OPT Employment Requirements
On post-completion OPT there is a limit of 90 days of unemployment. If you reach 90 days of unemployment, your OPT and F-1 student visa status will automatically end. Employment must be directly related to your major field of study. Work can be paid or unpaid and full time work is 20 hours or more per week.
As of the Fall 2020 semester, special guidance is in place that allows students participating in fewer than 20 hours per week of OPT employment to meet the OPT employment requirement. Contact ISS with any questions.
Travel on OPT
You may travel while on OPT but you should have a valid passport, unexpired F-1 visa, I-20 (with a valid travel signature no older than six months) and OPT card to return to the U.S. It is also highly recommended to take proof of employment.
Unpaid work may still be considered employment for F-1 students under U.S. labor law. Volunteer work that does not require employment authorization is usually charitable or humanitarian and the volunteer does not receive compensation of any kind. An internship or unpaid employment that is offered by a private employer may require authorization. Check in with ISS before starting a volunteer position if you have any questions or concerns.
If you perform work or services while in the U.S. without authorization, it is considered unauthorized employment and can end your valid student visa status. Work completed from inside the U.S. may require authorization even if you are paid by a company abroad. When in doubt, check in with ISS before starting a remote position.
Social Security Number (SSN)
You are eligible for a SSN if you have a job offer and appropriate employment authorization. An SSN is required to receive payment from a U.S. employer. If you already have an SSN, you don’t need to apply again.
To apply for your SSN, you will need to visit a Social Security Administration Office with your:
- Passport and F-1 visa
- Original I-20
- Proof of employment and employment authorization
- I-94 record
- SS-5 Application for a Social Security Card
Proof of employment and employment authorization is different depending on which type of employment authorization you have:
- On campus employment: Complete the On Campus Employment Offer Form. You and your supervisor will fill out the top part of the form and ISS staff will complete the bottom part of the form.
- CPT: Original I-20 with CPT authorization
- OPT: Employment Authorization Document (OPT Card). You can also apply for an SSN as part of your OPT application.
For more information about applying for an SSN as an F-1 student, review the Social Security Administration publication.
All international students need to file the form 8843 each year by April 15, even if they do not have any income.
Income tax applies to anyone who has earned income in the U.S. through authorized employment and scholarships from U.S. institutions. It’s your responsibility to understand and meet tax obligations. Generally, tax returns are due every April 15 based on earnings from the previous year, though there are exceptions to this deadline. If you work on campus, work with the Payroll Office to file taxes using Glacier software, which is specifically for international students.
If you do not have an SSN but need to file income taxes for a scholarship, apply for an ITIN. Although ISS does not advise on filing taxes, we can provide a letter for you to submit along with your documents for the ITIN.
Support for F-1 Students
Where can I get help with academic English?
If you need help with academic English, contact the International Student Services director for a one-on-one meeting to discuss your needs. Please email, call 512-428-1051 or stop by Moody Hall, Room 102.
Disclaimer: ISS provides regulatory and practice information related to F- and J-status, as it stands at the time of the consult. Government agencies may change their interpretation of established immigration laws/regulations and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. Regulatory content is designed for students; it’s not intended to constitute legal advice or substitute for legal counsel. It is the student’s responsibility to maintain legal status in the U.S. at all times and to comply fully with university policies and procedures.