When you first received your F-1 Student visa, the U.S. consular agent would have put a stamp on your passport granting you authorization to enter the U.S. However, the visa stamp is only valid as an entry document. The date there does not determine the allowable length of time in which you can stay in the country. As a matter of fact, if the date and your visa expires, you might not need to leave the country presuming you are maintaining a valid student status.
The date an F-1 student is expected to leave the U.S. is another matter to consider. Your period of authorized stay is indicated upon entry on the I-94, Record of Arrival and Departure provided by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While tourists and other visitors to the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas receive an actual date on their I-94, indicating exactly when their legal status in the U.S. ends, F-1 students receive a “D/S” which stands for “duration of status.”
According to U.S. government regulations, a student can remain in the U.S. in F-1 status for the duration of the period during which the student is "pursuing a full course of study at an educational institution approved by USCIS for attendance by foreign students, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies, plus 60 days grace period to prepare for departure from the United States." (See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f).).
So, as long as you are otherwise eligible keeping your F-1 status intact (for example, you have not dropped out of school or taken a job), you are permitted to stay in the U.S. until the end of the 60-day grace period.
Students are allowed the flexibility to further their education. For instance, if you chose to change from a Master’s Degree to another Master’s Degree halfway through a program, your I-120 could be updated and extended to give you the additional time you will need to complete the new degree without having to depart from the country.
Can I Travel Overseas and Return to the U.S. if My F-1 Student Status Expires?
Traveling outside the U.S. after your F-1 Student visa expires is not a huge deal assuming that there are no significant changes to your financial and academic situation. But if you have not completed your studies, you will need to apply for a new visa stamp before you can re-enter the country.
Renewing an F-1 Visa Stamp
Applying for a new visa stamp can be done only in the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate in your home country. The process is similar to the one you went through when you initially applied for your F-1 Student visa stamp.
Part of the procedure will be the same as you will need to prove that you intend to return home upon completion of your studies and that you have liquid assets with which to fund your academic program and living expenses. You must also demonstrate that you have been maintaining your F-1 status by making normal progress towards your academic degree. If you have any concerns when applying for your F-1 visa stamp, ask an attorney to help you.
Preserving Your F-1 Status in the U.S.
You keep your F-1 status active as long as you remain enrolled in school as a full-time student and are making progress towards completing your degree. You also maintain your F-1 status once you are approved for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after you complete your program of study.
Learning some of the common reasons for falling out of F-1 status are just as essential as avoiding them. These include but are not limited to:
- Working off-campus without authorization
- Failing to enroll full-time for a semester without authorization from your foreign student adviser (DSO)
- Failing to extend your Form I-20 when you need more time to complete your degree
- Forgetting to apply to change status or depart the U.S. at the end of the 60-day grace period
- Departing the country for an extended period of time without making arrangements for a temporary leave of absence with your DSO, and
- Committing a crime that makes you inadmissible to the U.S.
Time to Consult with an Immigration Lawyer
Long before you attempt to pursue an F-1 Student visa talk with an immigration law expert. Call Gambacorta Law Office at 847 443 9303 to schedule an appointment. We will gladly walk you through each step of the application process.