If you were issued an I-20 form in order to obtain your U.S. visa, you are on an F-1 visa. Any accompanying family members will be on an F-2 visa, unless they are full-time students as well. The following is a very brief overview of the F-1 regulations.
Receiving an I-94 Arrvial/Departure Card
For those of you who have traveled to the US in the past, you may be familiar with the small white cards you filled out in duplicate on the airplane before landing. This card, called an I-94 arrival/departure record, would then be turned in at the US immigration desk at the airport and stamped by a Customs and Border Protection official before being stapled into your passport. The card proved your legal entry and status in the US.
As of May 2013, CBP have moved to an automated I-94 system, meaning the I-94 cards are now electronic. Now when you enter the US the CBP officer will stamp your travel document (passport) at your port of entry. The stamp will show your date of admission, class of admission (F-1, J-1, etc), and the date that you are admitted until (for students this is "D/S" duration of status, see below). In order to access your electronic I-94 you must log in to the Customs and Border Protection's website and answer several travel oriented questions (name, birth date, passport number, passport country, most recent date of entry, and class of admission). We recommend that you do this shortly after entering the US and print a copy for your records. A printed paper version of your I-94 card is still necessary for certain processes, such as applying for a Social Security Number (SSN).
To access your electronic I-94 visit CBP's website HERE.
Duration of Status
As noted above, the Port of Entry Stamp (in your passport) should have a "D/S" written on it. Duration of status is defined as the period of time necessary to complete a full course of study in any educational program plus any authorized period of practical training following completion of that program plus 60 days in which to depart the United States. The term "duration of status" is not an indication that you can stay in the United States indefinitely as long as you are enrolled at a university.
The responsibility for maintaining your visa status lies with you. Being out of status can have serious consequences for your academic plans. There are several important things you must do to maintain your status:
- Keep your passport valid. Your passport must be valid for a minimum of six (6) months into the future. Addresses of embassies and consulates are available from the Office of International Students and Scholars.
- Do not work off campus without WPI or USCIS approval.
- Obtain extensions as needed. Allow ample time for WPI to assist you with any application for extension of stay.
- Maintain full-time enrollment and normal progress towards your degree. To remain in status, you must carry a full course of study every semester, except the summer term. You can be allowed to carry a reduced course load for valid educational or medical reasons. Only the international student advisor can approve this exception. Permission must be obtained prior to enrollment for a reduced course load.
Your spouse and/or children may enter the United States on an F-2 visa provided they have evidence of adequate financial support. A person on an F-2 visa may not be employed under any circumstances and may not engage in study for credit. A separate I-20 form must be issued for the spouse/child.
If you are considering transferring to another university in the United States, you need to inform the international student advisor. Once you have decided to transfer, WPI needs to enter a "release" date into SEVIS and indicate the school you are transferring to. If you are a transfer student starting at WPI, you need to make sure your SEVIS record from you previous school has been released and you must register within the first week of class.
F-1 Student Employment
The basic requirement for all types of employment is that you must maintain lawful F-1 status. The USCIS defines employment as work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, room and/or board, or any other benefit.
You can work on campus provided you are maintaining your F-1 status. On-campus employment must not exceed 20 hours per week while school is in session. During vacation periods, you can work full time. In some situations, you can work off campus at a location which qualifies as on-campus employment. You need to obtain an on-campus employment authorization from the international student advisor before starting any employment on campus.
Off-campus Employment Based on Severe Economic Hardship
If you are experiencing severe economic hardship based on unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, you may be eligible to apply for Employment Authorization from the USCIS. You should see the international student advisor before applying.
Curricular Practical Training
Curricular practical training is defined as work experience directly related to the student's field of study. Curricular practical training is the employment authorization used for F-1 students on co-op or graduate students on internship. You apply for curricular practical training work authorization from the international student advisor.
Optional Practical Training
Optional practical training is defined as work experience related to your field of study. You have 12 months of OPT for each degree level (B.S., M.S., and Ph.D.). The term optional refers to your option as when to use part or all of your practical training. For more information on how and when to apply, see the handout on Optional Practical Training available from the Office of International Students and Scholars.
There are three types of OPT: Pre-completion, post-completion, and STEM extension. Each OPT takes approximately 60 days to process, so it is important to begin your applications early!
Pre-completion is OPT used while students are still enrolled at WPI. Some students elect to use this option if their intended employment does not fall within the CPT guidelines. Any OPT a student uses during this time period will subtract from the total 12 months the student has available once they graduate. A student must have employment for a specific period of time in order to apply for this form of OPT.
Post-completion OPT is the most common form of OPT, and allows students to work for up to 12 months before either returning to their home country, beginning a new academic program, or applying for an H-1B visa to work for a company or organization for a longer period of time. The ideal timeline for applying for post-completion OPT is 60 days prior to your program completion date (example-- 60 days before the last day of exams in May, not the date of graduation.) Students can apply for Post-completion OPT without an employment offer, but to maintain F-1 status, must have employment within 90 days of OPT start date.
The newest form of OPT is the STEM extension which is only available to students majoring in STEM degrees: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Many of the majors at WPI fall into this category, but some do not, such as Masters of Science in Information Technology, which is classified as a management degree. If you want to verify whether your degree is STEM eligible, please contact the International House.
A student must apply for a STEM extension 60 days before the conclusion of their first 12 months of post-completion OPT. STEM extensions allow students to continue working on their OPT for an additional 17 months, giving them a total of 29 months of OPT work time, however currently the STEM extension can only be used once in the lifetime of a student, so if considering further study contact the International House to discuss OPT and H-1B options.