Should I Request an Extension or Reinstatement for My F-1 Student Visa?

If you are furthering your studies at a school, college, or university in the United States on an F-1 student visa, it is important to understand when you need to request an extension of your status or a reinstatement and how to do so.

Unlike most foreigners (recipients of temporary visas who are in the U.S) will not have an expiration date on their I-94 (a document created for foreign entrants by Customs and Border Protection). F-1 students are admitted for “D/S,” which stands for “duration of status.” This means that F-1 students are permitted to stay in the U.S in F-1 status for the timeframe it takes to complete an academic program.

Many F-1 students commit the error into thinking that the expiration date on the F-1 visa stamp is the end date for their lawful status in the U.S. This is not correct. The visa stamp in an entry document allows the beneficiary to enter the country in an F-1 status. When the visa stamp expires, the status in the U.S. is not affected. The recipient of an F-1 visa will simply need to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp when he or she so chooses to travel outside of the U.S for re-entry purposes.

Within the I-20 Form that is issued by the academic institution there is a program end date which must be given attention to when petitioning for an extension for the F-1 student visa.

Extending F-1 Student Visa

Once you have made normal progress towards your college degree and you notice you need more time than was authorized you will need to meet with your Designated School Official (DSO). You must consult with your DSO before the program end date shown on the current I-20.

Every academic institution will have its own policy when it comes to issuing extensions. But generally, your DSO should help in extending the program end date as long as you have been maintaining your immigration status and legitimately need more time to finish your studies. If the extension is granted you will be provided with a new I-20 Form with a new program end date.

Failure to request an extension of the I-20 form before the program end date will result in being out of status. If this occurs consult with your DSO immediately. While each case is different, you will generally have two options:

  • Apply for reinstatement or
  • Request a new I-20 from your DSO

Reinstatement vs. Reapplying

Reinstatement is a request to have your F-1 status restored without leaving the U.S. This involves completing a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

An advantage to this alternative is that if the application is approved, your immigration status will be restored as if you never breached any immigration laws. The disadvantage of petitioning for reinstatement is that you will not be in an F-1 status while the application is pending and if it is denied you will start to accrue unlawful presence the day it is denied.

You can also leave the country and apply for a new F-1 visa from the U.S. Consulate in your home country. If you decide to leave, the DSO will issue you a new I-20 with a new SEVIS ID number.

The advantage to leaving the country and applying for a new F-1 student visa is that the application process may be quicker than applying for a reinstatement. You also avoid the risk of accumulating unlawful presence in the U.S.

Some setbacks to leaving the U.S. is that you will have to pay for the SEVIS fee again and you could run a risk of not qualifying for certain employment benefits unless you are able to meet the one-year academic stipulation again. It is important that you make a decision quickly so as to avoid breaking any immigration laws.

Speak with an Immigration Attorney

Before you attempt to further your studies in the U.S. seek the advice of an immigration lawyer. The application process for an F-1 student visa can be quite tedious. An immigration expert can guide you throughout the procedure and will provide you with all the details you may need should you wind up needing to request an extension or reinstatement of an F-1 student visa. CallĀ Gambacorta Law Office immediately at 847 908 4913 for a consultation.