International Students and Scholars Office

Maintaining Visa Status

We are here to help, but it is your responsibility to understand and comply with the terms of your immigration status during your stay in the United States. A violation of the immigration regulations (for example, failure to maintain a full-time credit load or unauthorized employment) could jeopardize your F-1 status and legal stay in the U.S. Review this information carefully and contact the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) if you have questions.

Your admission to the U.S. is for “duration of status,” meaning the length of your F-1 status. F-1 status covers the period when:

  • You are a full-time registered student making normal progress toward your degree,
  • Plus an optional period of practical training following completion of studies (if you apply for OPT)
  • Plus a 60-day “grace period” to prepare to depart the U.S. or change to another status; the grace period starts when you complete your degree or your OPT period.

Your length of authorized stay within the U.S. is not related to your F-1 visa expiration date. Your length of authorized stay depends on you following the F-1 rules.

The F-1 visa is specifically for entry into the U.S. After you are in the U.S., the F-1 visa might expire before your status expires, or your status might end before your visa expires.

Federal law requires you to carry “registration” documents at all times, including your I-20 and passport with I-94 card attached or F-1 admission stamp (depending on what you received upon your last entry to the U.S.).

Below is an overview of the documents related to your F-1 status. For day-to-day purposes, we suggest that these documents be kept in a secure location such as a bank safe deposit box, and you should carry photocopies. However, if you are traveling outside the Pomona area you should carry the original documents with you. If you are traveling by air, train, bus or ship, you may be required to produce these documents before boarding. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location in the event your documents are lost or stolen.

Types of Documents

  • Passport
    • Your passport must be valid at all times. Keep your passport and other important documents in a safe place, such as a bank safe-deposit box. Report a lost or stolen passport to the police because your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. To renew or replace your passport, contact your country’s consulate in the U.S.
  • Visa
    • The visa is the stamp that the U.S. consular officer placed on a page in your passport. The visa permitted you to apply for admission into the U.S. as an F-1 student, and need not remain valid while you are in the U.S. (Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa.) Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. consulate.
    • If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. Exceptions to this rule exist for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands.
  • I-20 "Certificate of Eligibility"
    • Issued by Cal Poly Pomona, this document allows you to apply for an F-1 visa if you are outside the U.S, apply for F-1 status within the U.S., enter and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, and prove your eligibility for various F-1 benefits.
      The I-20 indicates the institution in which you are permitted to study, your program of study, and the dates of eligibility. The I-20 must remain valid at all times. Request an I-20 extension prior to its expiration date. Allowing the I-20 to expire before you complete your academic program is a violation of F-1 status.
    • The I-20 is a printout from your SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) record. SEVIS is an Internet-based database that allows schools and federal immigration agencies to exchange data on the status of international students. Information is transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student’s academic career in the U.S. Each student has a unique SEVIS ID number, which is printed on your I-20 in the top right corner. 
  • I-94 Arrival and Departure Record
    • When you enter the U.S., you are issued either an admission stamp in your passport or Form I-94. 
      You might receive either a paper I-94 card or an F-1 admission stamp in your passport (no card), depending on where you arrive. The admission stamp or I-94 card records the date and place you entered the U.S., your immigration status (for example, F-1 or F-2), and authorized period of stay (indicated by “D/S”, meaning “duration of status”). Be sure to check the stamp to make sure it is correct. If you receive a paper I-94 card, keep it stapled in your passport. A $330 fee is required to replace a lost, stolen or damaged paper I-94 card. Consult your ISSO advisor if you lose your I-94 card.
    • You might need a printout of your electronic I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a California State ID card or a Social Security Number. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record at

Many kinds of updates must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security through SEVIS and must be changed on your I-20. Keep every I-20 for your permanent record, even after you graduate. Do not discard the old ones, even from previous schools. The ISSO files are archived and destroyed after several years, so it is your responsibility to keep your I-20s in case you need them to apply for future immigration benefits.

Notify the ISSO of the following changes and request an updated I-20:

  • Program Extension
    • If you are unable to complete your course of study before the completion date noted in item 5 on your I-20, you must request an extended I-20 before your current I-20 expires. For more information and instructions, see Extending I-20 or DS-2019.
  • Changing School
    • You must register full-time at CPP, since we issued your I-20 and oversee your SEVIS record. If you decide to transfer to another school, contact the ISSO prior to completing your final semester at CPP. For information about transferring your SEVIS record to the new school, visit School Transfer.
  • Change of Education Level
    • If you will complete your current program of study and plan to continue at CPP in another program (for example, change from a Bachelor's degree program to a Master's degree program), your I-20 must be updated.
  • Change of Major
    • If you are accepted into a major or if you change your major (for example, History to Biology), you must contact your International Student Advisor and request a new I-20. 
  • Change of Funding
    • The information on your I-20 should always be current. If there is a substantial change in your funding, such as a change of financial sponsor or major adjustment of amount provided by your current sponsor, your immigration document should be updated. This is especially important if you will apply for a new F-1 visa. Contact your international student advisor and a new I-20 will be issued to you.
    • For example, if you receive a Research or Teaching Assistantship through your department, but your I-20 indicates that you use personal funds to pay for expenses,  you need to contact your International Student Advisor and request a new I-20. 
  • Name Change
    • The name on your I-20 should match the name on your passport. If you change any part of your legal name—first/given name, middle name, or last/family name—on your passport, this change should be reflected on your I-20. Conversely, if you want a different name on your I-20, the ISSO will wait for you to change your passport first, before updating the I-20.
    • Note that SEVIS is a separate database from the CPP database. For instructions on changing your name in the CPP database, visit:

In general, F-1 students must be registered full-time. This is defined as at least:

  • 12 units each semester for undergraduate students
  • 6 units each semester for graduate students
Only one online class may count towards the minimum credit amount each term.

Exceptions to the Full-Time Requirement

See the “Reduced Course Load” for information.

To maintain status, an F-1 student is also required to “make normal progress”. Making normal progress includes, but is not limited to, enrolling in the proper courses required for degree completion, maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and continually meeting all institutional enrollment requirements.

“Employment” is any work performed or services provided (including self-employment) in exchange for money or other benefit or compensation (for example, free room and board in exchange for babysitting). Unauthorized employment is taken very seriously by U.S. immigration officials; familiarize yourself with your F-1 employment eligibility options and always contact the ISSO before accepting any work that you are not sure is authorized.

At the port-of-entry you must present:

  • An unexpired I-20 endorsed for travel within the last year by an ISSO advisor.
    • The travel signature is located on page 2 of the form.
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Passport
  • Evidence of finances.
  • Copy of your transcript and current course schedule.
  • If returning from Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands (except Cuba) after a visit of less than 30 days solely in those countries, your visa need not be valid; however, you will be required to show your previously issued I-94 in addition to the other documents listed above.
  • Students outside the U.S. for more than one semester and those on Optional Practical Training may have additional requirements.
Visit Travel for more information.

Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact the ISSO for procedures to invite a dependent to join you in the U.S. Immigration regulations do not permit F-2 dependents to be employed in the U.S. F-2 dependents can study part-time in an academic or vocational curriculum at an SEVP-certified school. F-2 dependents can also study in avocational or recreational programs–hobbies. F-2 dependents may enroll full-time in kindergarten through 12th grade.

An F-2 dependent who wants to pursue full-time study must obtain F-1 status to begin the full-time program.

Any change of address must be reported to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days. Update your local address through your MyCPP account, and DHS will automatically be notified of the change. If you are on OPT, update your address in SEVP portal.

Please note that your local US address must be your physical address, not a P.O. Box 

The end of your academic program affects your F-1 status. After you graduate, you have a 60-day grace period. 

Review Completion of Academic Program for more information.  

If you do not complete your educational objective (for example, if you withdraw from your program), you are not eligible for the 60-day grace period. Contact your ISSO advisor in this situation.

If you violate the immigration regulations, your I-20 may be cancelled. However, students may be able to regain valid F-1 status either through a reinstatement application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or through travel and reentry with a new I-20/new SEVIS record.

The appropriate option will depend on your individual circumstances; review the Regain F-1 Visa Status webpage and consult your ISSO advisor as soon as possible for more information. A scheduled appointment with your ISSO advisor is required because drop-in advising will not allow sufficient time to discuss this topic. In addition, we strongly recommend that students in this situation consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

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