All posts tagged visa

  • 5 ways to maintain a valid F-1 visa status

    Can I leave and return to the US on an F-1 visa?

    Am I entitled to work during the semester?

    How long can I stay in the country after my program is finished?

    All your F-1 visa questions answered!


    Dreaming of American college life?

    Getting your hands on an all-important F-1 visa is a big step towards turning that dream into a reality. But getting an F-1 visa is one thing, maintaining it is another.

    As a student, there are a number of important rules and regulations that you must follow in order to maintain your F-1 visa status. If you don’t do so, you will not be allowed to re-enter the US if you leave, and you won’t be eligible for practical training (OPT or CPT) or on-campus employment.

    So, with this in mind, here are our top 5 tips for maintaining a valid F-1 visa status


    (1) Arriving in the US

    Once you receive your F-1 status, you’ll without a doubt be eager to hit the ground running with your studies.

    But don’t be too eager!

    One of the requirements of the F-1 visa is that you don’t arrive in the US more than 30 days before the first day of classes.

    You’ll also need to link in with your institution’s international office within 30 days of your arrival. Be sure to provide them with your local address in order to keep your SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) record up-to-date. And if you change your local address at any time while in the US, you will need to notify them of this.

    Once you have completed your program, you will have 60 days to leave the US.

    But what if you want to stay extend your American college dream?! To stay in the US you will need to pursue one of the following options:

    • Re-enrol in a higher program
    • Transfer to another school to receive a new Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status)
    • Apply to change your visa status


    (2) Attendance and grades

    All F-1 visa holders are required to be enrolled full time, go to class and maintain passing grades.

    Students who are having difficulty in classes, should notify their international advisor. And if it’s not possible to complete your program by the date stated on your Form I-20, your international advisor can help you request an extension.

    Full-time enrolment can differ depending on your student status. For example, undergraduate programs require students to enrol in at least 12 credit hours each semester during the academic year.

    Meanwhile, each graduate program defines their own unique combination of credit hours and research time to be considered ‘full-time enrolment’. To uphold your F-1 visa status, it’s best to confirm the enrolment requirements with your college.


    (3) Working

    It’s common for students to seek full or part-time employment while they study in the US. But be careful, not all types of employment are eligible under the conditions of an F-1 visa.

    For instance, F-1 students who want to work off campus can only do so in roles that are related to their studies (more on this below). Most of the other off campus roles are not authorised under F-1 and you will need permission by a DSO (Designated School Official) in special circumstances to do this work.

    It’s important to note that, if you choose to work without the proper authorization, your visa can be revoked and you may have to leave the US.

    F-1 students are entitled to find employment on campus.

    However, while school is in regular session, a student can’t work for more than 20 hours per week. During extended holidays, breaks and summer sessions, you can work full time (up to 40 hours per week).  If you are confused whether a job is considered on-campus employment, ask the employer before you accept the role.

    Optional Practical Training (OPT)

    F-1 students are permitted to work off-campus in Optional Practical Training (OPT) status both during and after completion of their degree. You can apply for OPT after being enrolled for at least 9 months, but you can’t begin employment until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and you have been enrolled at the college for at least a year.

    To qualify as OPT:

    • The employment must be directly related to your major
    • You must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
    • OPT is permitted for up to 12 months (full-time) in total
    • You can complete 12 months of OPT for each successive level of degree achieved – for instance 12 months of OPT after receiving your undergraduate degree, and a further 12 months after receiving your graduate degree.

    OPT before completing a degree:

    • You must be enrolled in school full-time
    • You can only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
    • But you may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as you will return to school after the break)
    • You may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree

    OPT after completing a degree:

    • After completion of your degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
    • All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree
    • Applications for post-completion OPT must be submitted before the completion of your degree

    Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

    Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is another off-campus employment option for F-1 students where practical training is an integral part of their curriculum or academic program. CPT employment is defined as ‘alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school’.

    To be eligible for CPT employment:

    • You must have been enrolled in school full-time for one year on valid F-1 status (except for graduate students where the program requires immediate CPT)
    • The CPT employment must be an integral part of your degree program or requirement for a course for which you receive academic credit
    • You must have received an eligible job offer before you submit your CPT authorization request
    • Your job offer must be in your major or field of study

    Note: All OPT and CPT employment requires prior authorization from your school’s International Student Office. And if you work for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) you will not be eligible for OPT.


    (4) Leaving and re-entering the US

    Thinking of heading home for a holiday during a break in semester?

    As long as your absence from the US is for no less than 5 months, you will have no problem leaving and re-entering the US on an F-1 visa.

    However, you will need to have some important documents in order to ensure your re-entry to the US is successful. These include:

    • a valid Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) with a current DSO signature (valid for one year) from the school that you attend in the US
    • a valid F-1 student visa stamp
    • a valid passport or travel document

    To maintain your F-1 visa status you will need a passport that is valid for at least six months into the future. Your country’s consulate or embassy can help you extend your passport if needed.

    Note: If you have completed your program you will not be able to re-enter the US as an F-

    1 student unless you have been admitted to a new program of study and have a new Form I-20, or you are returning to an authorized OPT job.


    (5) Don’t forget your taxes!

    To maintain a valid F-1 visa, you are required by law to file a tax return if you were in the US during the previous calendar year. Filing a tax return is probably the last thing you’ll want to do when you’re enjoying an exciting time in the US. Fortunately help is on hand!

    Sprintax can prepare your Federal and State tax returns for you. And we guarantee to maximize your tax refund too! Last year 9 out of 10 Sprintax users with a Federal filing requirement were due a tax refund. What’s more, the average Federal refund was over $1,000.

    So what are you waiting for? Get started today!


  • Getting a Student Visa for the US

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    If you want to study in the US as an international student, you’ll need a student visa. Your course of study and the school you want to attend will determine if you need to apply for an F-1 or M-1 visa.

    Before you apply

    You must get a place in a SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) approved school before you apply for your visa. You can search the Department of Homeland Security website Study in the States for SEVP approved schools. You’ll need to be accepted by a SEVP school 6-12 months in advance. There’s also a SEVIS fee you must pay separately to visa and school SEVIS administration fees.

    Types of student visas

    Depending on your course of study, you’ll need an F-1 or M-1 visa.

    F-1 Visa:

    • University or college
    • High School
    • Private elementary school
    • Seminary
    • Conservatory
    • Other academic institution (incl. language training)

    M-1 visa:

    • Vocational or recognized non-academic institution (other than language training)


    How to apply

    Once you secure a place, you should visit your US embassy or consulate website for specific information. However, generally there are a number of steps:

    1. Complete an online application (Form DS-160)
    2. Upload a photo
    3. Print the application confirmation
    4. Schedule an interview with your local embassy or consulate
    5. Take your application with you to the interview



    You’ll have to pay a non-refundable application fee. The amount depends on the country where you apply. New students can get an F-1 or M-1 visa up to 120 days before the start of their course, but won’t be allowed to enter the US earlier than 30 days before the start date.


    What documents do I need for my interview?

    • Passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond your stay)
    • Form DS-160 confirmation page
    • Application fee receipt
    • Form I-20A-B or Form I-20M-N (your school will send you Form I-20 once they’ve put your details in the SEVIS database)
    • Check the instructions on your embassy website as additional documents may be required


    Upon finishing your course

    F-1 visa holders can stay in the US for an extra 60 days after completing the course but M-1 visa holders may only remain an extra 30 days after their course is finished.

    This is called a ‘grace period’ and lets you prepare for your departure from the US.

    Good luck!

  • Essential Tips for Studying in the U.S.

    Heading to the U.S. to study? You’re about to embark on an amazing adventure, with big campuses, sunny summer days, and lots of new friends.

    Here are some quick tips to take the stress out of preparing for the big trip:

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    1.    Most important is, of course – The Passport – a “Must’’ when you plan on studying or travelling abroad. Remember to check the expiry date well in advance of your travel date.

    2.    Obtain a Visa – before applying for a visa, students must be accepted and approved by their school or program. Once accepted, educational institutions will provide each applicant with the necessary approval documentation to apply for a student visa. You can research what types of US student visas you can apply for here.

    3.    Health Condition – visit a doctor before you leave to get a clean bill of health. If you need to pack medication, make sure it’s in the original container, clearly labelled, or with a doctor’s prescription.

    4.    Take care of your Banking Needs – get the latest currency exchange rates from sites like, and make sure you take enough US Dollars and/or travel checks with you.

    5.    Airline Tickets – purchase airline tickets early to avoid high airfares, and plan how you’re going to get from the airport to your destination, especially if your flight arrives in at night.

    6.    International Students ID Card – this could save you a lot of money. The ISIC card is the most internationally recognized student card and will get you discounts on sights, accommodation, shops, transport and more.

    7.    Make a list of Emergency Contacts – keep a list of emergency contacts and provide them to your roommate, host institution or someone close by, just in case.

    8.    Make Photocopies of Important Documents – copies of all your essential documents are never useless. Keep copies of your passport, visa, other forms of identification, and important phone numbers and email addresses.

    9.    Keep in mind the Electrical Voltage System – electrical sockets in the US supply between 110 and 120 volts, so remember that your electrical devices might need voltage converters and adaptors to work. You can even purchase adaptors with in-built voltage converters, which could come in very handy.

    And last but not least:

    10.  Housing Options – It’s very risky leaving your country and travelling thousands of miles from home without securing accommodation.

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    Consider the following options:

    Dorms – no doubt your university has dorms and this is the most common and popular housing option for newly admitted students. It’s also the most convenient, as it means living right on campus. Dorms also supply meal plans so you don’t have to worry about organizing your breakfast, lunch or dinner.

    Off-Campus Housing – it may sound strange, but renting an apartment off campus costs less. You can choose your roommates, the area, and have more control over who you meet and when. Remember, when choosing this option over a dorm, you will have to cover any additional expenses – utilities, transportation, food, etc.

    Homestay – this is quickly becoming a popular option among international students. Staying in someone’s home will make it easier to interact with native English speakers and experience their culture more closely.

    If you need help arranging accommodation, there are Housing Offices at your University you can turn to. You can also contact your International Student Advisor for information regarding on-campus and off-campus housing.

    In addition, many universities provide resources on housing and apartment rentals on their websites.

    So far so good! You’ve done everything to make your transition to the US easier, but now what?

     Firstly, don’t forget to call home – make sure your phone is loaded with enough credit to make a quick call. This will make you feel better and reassure your friends and family.

    Take a walk – after you’ve settled into your new home take some time to explore your new campus or neighbourhood. Getting some fresh air and exploring your surroundings will help you feel human again after a long trip.

    Don’t fall asleep – after a long flight you will feel the urge to fall asleep and your body clock will be totally messed up. Try to stay awake ‘till at least 10 or 11 p.m. to beat the jet lag.

    Lastly, have fun, enjoy US student life, and who knows? You could make some great new friends to last a lifetime.

    Make your life as a student even easier by signing up to Sprintax for a simple solution to preparing your tax return.