- Important Documents
- Maintaining F-1 Status
- Enrollment Requirements/ Exceptions
- Program Extensions/Changes
- Reinstatement and Reentry
- Health Insurance
Current F-1 Students
Federal law requires you to carry "registration" documents at all times, including I-20 (F-1) and I-94 card. For day-to-day purposes, we suggest that these documents be kept in a secure location such as a bank safe deposit box. However, if you are traveling within the U.S. you should carry these 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.
Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future. 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, as your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. To renew or replace your passport, contact your home country consulate in the U.S. at www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/fco . While in the U.S., always carry with you a photocopy of the passport's identity page and photocopies of the other documents listed below.
An F-1 visa that the U.S. consular officials place in your passport indicates that you are eligible to enter or re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student. It does not determine your length of stay in the U.S. If your F-1 visa expires while you are in the U.S., it is not necessary to renew it as long as you remain in the country. A visa can only be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the U.S. Canadian citizens are not required to have an F-1 visa.
Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility
Issued by your school, this document allows you to apply for a visa, enter or re-enter the U.S., and make certain other requests to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The I-20 must remain valid at all times. You must request a new I-20 prior to the expiration date listed in item #5. 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, you should change your passport first, before updating the I-20 with IPE. You are required to keep every I-20 issued to you for your permanent record. Do not discard old I-20s. To re-enter the U.S. to resume your studies at WWU after a temporary absence abroad not exceeding 5 months, you must obtain a travel endorsement from the International Student Advisor on page 3 of your I-20.
I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
The I-94 is a small white card, usually stapled into your passport, by an immigration official at the port of entry. This card and a valid I-20 permit you to stay temporarily in the U.S. as an F-1 student. The immigration official should indicate “F-1 D/S” on your I-94. D/S stands for “duration of status” and refers to the length of time an F-1 student is permitted to remain temporarily in the U.S. to pursue a full course of study. Except for brief visits (30 days or less) to Canada , Mexico and adjacent islands in the Caribbean, you are issued a new I-94 card with a new admission number each time you enter the U.S.
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.
An electronic record is created in SEVIS for you after you are admitted and confirm enrollment at Western Washington University. This allows WWU to issue an I-20 or DS-2019, which you need to gain F-1 or J-1 status. When you apply for a student visa and arrive at a U.S. port of entry, the consular officer or immigration official may consult SEVIS in addition to your supporting documents to verify eligibility for F-1 or J-1 status. International Programs & Exchanges (IPE) will continue to provide electronic reports throughout your academic career, noting information such as registration, address changes, academic program changes, degree completion, and immigration status violations.
University Reporting Requirements
Western Washington University is required to report the following information on F-1 students to Immigration through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System):
- Whether s student has enrolled at WWU or failed to enroll.
- A change of the student or dependent's legal name or address.
- Any student who graduates prior to the end date listed on the I-20.
- Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to a criminal conviction
- Whether the student drops below a full course of study without prior authorization from IPE.
- SEVIS record termination date and reason for termination.
- Other data generated by standard procedures such as program extension, school transfer, change in level of study or major, employment authorization, or reinstatement.
- Any student who fails to maintain status or complete his or her program.
It is important to understand the F-1 and J-1 student immigration regulations in order to maintain status while you are in the U.S.
If you have questions about maintaining your immigration status contact International Programs & Exchanges. IPE advisors will do their best to answer all of your questions on maintaining status.
In order for you to stay temporarily in the U.S. as a lawful F-1 student, you must comply with specific regulations of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which are listed below. (This is not an exhaustive list.) This is referred to as "maintaining status" or "being in status". In addition to making normal progress toward completing a course of study at WWU, you must:
- Be registered full-time.
- Keep your passport valid at all times.
- Complete your degree or request a program extension prior to the program end date specified on your I-20.
- Comply with required procedures for a school transfer.
- Obtain a new I-20 for change in education level, major or source of funding.
- Obtain an appropriate employment authorization for any off-campus work and do not be employed on-campus for more than 20 hours a week while school is in session.
- Update your current residential U.S. address via myWestern, https://websso.wwu.edu/cas/login?service=https%3A//mywestern.wwu.edu/mywestern/Login , within 10 days of any change.
- Depart the U.S. within the 60-day period following completion of your program; depart the U.S. within 15 days if you cancel enrollment in the middle of the quarter or depart without completing your program of study.
- Disclose fully and truthfully all information required by DHS.
- Obey all federal and state laws that prohibit the commision of crimes of violence.
If you fail to comply with any of the above regulations, you will be considered out of status. Subsequently, your status violation will be reported to DHS via SEVIS, and you will be ineligible for any immigration benefits.
In general, you must be registered full-time. This is defined as 12 or more credits each quarter for undergraduate students and 8 or more credits each quarter for graduate students. Only one online class may count towards the minimum credit amount. You can "concurrently enroll," which means you take classes at WWU and another school, and we combine the credits to count as full-time. To concurrently enroll, you must take the majority (7 credits) of your required 12-credit minimum at WWU. IPE will require you to submit proof of registration in courses from the other school.
Do not register for fewer than the required number of credits or withdraw from a course without first receiving permission from your IPE adviser. Part-time studies could jeopardize your stay in the U.S. and make you ineligible F-1 benefits.
Exceptions to the full-time requirement:
A Reduced Course Load (RCL) for specific academic reasons
You must obtain permission from the IPE advisor explaining that one of the following reasons apply to you.
- Initial difficulty with the English language
- Initial difficulty with reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
- Improper course level placement
Contact the IPE advisor for procedures for applying for a reduced course load.
A reduced course load (RCL) for a documented medical condition
You must submit a letter to IPE from a "licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist." A reduced course load due to a medical reason may be authorized multiple times so long as the aggregate period does not exceed 12 months. Regardless of the date during the quarter you request the RCL, it will cover the entire quarter and will subtract three months from your 12-month allowance. Contact the IPE advisor for procedures for applying for a reduced course load.
You may take as few credits as required to complete your degree as long as you register for at least one credit at WWU. Please notify the IPE advisor if you intend to take a reduced course load for your final quarter.
Graduate students registered for thesis credits may register for fewer than 8 credits and be considered full-time for immigration purposes. Check with the Graduate School about registration requirements.
Annual vacation quarter
An annual vacation quarter is a quarter spent in the United States while not registered for full-time credits. You are eligible for vacation if you have completed one full-time academic year (3 consecutive quarters) prior to the vacation and intend to register for the following term. During your vacation quarter, you may either enroll part-time or not at all.
An annual vacation may be requested for any quarter. Summer is the default vacation, and it is not necessary to notify IPE if you take summer as your vacation quarter. However, if you register full-time in summer and will take a different quarter as your annual vacation, notify the IPE advisor. A student who arrives in the U.S. for the first time and begins study winter or spring quarter may take the summer as a vacation quarter. You cannot take vacation in your final quarter.
If you fail to maintain status, you are ineligible for any of the benefits of F-1 status (for example, employment authorization). There are two ways to regain status: apply for reinstatement or depart the U.S. and seek a new admission to the U.S. in F-1 status.
Option 1: Reinstatement
When reuesting reinstatement, you must establish to the satisfaction of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that you:
- Have not been out of status more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement (or demonstrate that the failure to file within the 5-month period was the result of exceptional circumstances and that you filed for reinstatement as soon as possible under these circumstances).Do not have a record of repeated or willful violations of immigration regulations.Are currently pursuing, or intending to pursue, a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the Form I-20.Have not engaged in unauthorized employment.
- Are not deportable on any ground other than overstaying or failing to maintain status.
You must also establish that:
- The violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond your control. Such circumstances might include serious injury or illness, a natural disaster, or inadvertence, oversight, or neglect on the part of your ISS adviser, but do not include instances where a pattern of repeated violations or a willful failure on your part resulted in the need for reinstatement.
- The violation relates to a reduction in your course load that would have been within the international student adviser's authority to authorize, and that failure to approve reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to you.
If USCIS approves the reinstatement request, the adjudicating officer will endorse your I-20 to indicate that you have been reinstated and will return the I-20 to you. If USCIS does not approve the reinstatement request, you may not appeal the decision and need to prepare to leave the U.S. immediately.
Contact the IPE advisor for current reinstatement application materials and procedures.
Option 2: Travel and reentry
In some cases it may be advisable to depart the U.S. and re-enter with a new I-20, rather than applying for reinstatement. You may do this by obtaining a new I-20 from the school you are currently attending or wish to attend, then departing the U.S., applying for a new F-1 visa if the F-1 visa stamp in your passport has expired, and returning to the U.S. Note that students who violated status are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation. A re-entry to the U.S. after a status violation is viewed by Immigration as "initial attendance" in F-1 status. As such, you are bound by restrictions placed on new students, such as the academic year waiting period for eligibility for practical training.
To request a new I-20 for travel and reentry contact the IPE advisor. You must meet with your IPE advisor to discuss your case prior to a new I-20 being issued.
If you cannot complete your program of study prior to the completion date listed on your current I-20, you must request a program extension from the IPE advisor prior to the expiration of the I-20.
A program extension can be granted under two conditions:
- That you are currently maintaining immigration status; and
- That the delays are caused by compelling academic or medical reasons. For example: changes of major or research topics, transfer credit problems, documented illnesses, etc. You must provide financial documentatino for a program extension request if your financial situation has changed.
If you fail to apply for a program extension prior to the completion date on I-20, you are considered to be out of status.
Change of program
Your I-20 must accurately reflect the program of study that you currently pursue at WWU. You are responsible for updating your I-20 once your change of program becomes official.
Change of major
If you change your major, (i.e. from Biology to History) you must obtain a new I-20. Please contact the IPE advisor to obtain the new I-20 once you have officially declared your new major.
Change of level
If you complete one educational level and plan to continue to another at WWU (i.e. bachelor's to master's), you must obtain a new I-20 to reflect the change of educational level, which effectively notifies DHS that you are changing educational levels. You must obtain a new I-20 within the 60-day period following completion of the previous level.
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may be eligible for F-2 dependent status. Contact the IPE advisor 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. The regulations also restrict full-time study for F-2 dependents, with two exceptions:
- An F-2 spouse and child may enroll in courses that are avocational or recreational in nature. Enrollment in a degree program would not be considered as avocational or recreational.
- An F-2 child may engage in full-time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade).
An F-2 spouse or F-2 child desiring to engage in full-time study (other than as noted above) must apply to Immigration and obtain a change of status to F-1.
Western Washington University strongly recommends that students and scholars who are outside their home country and studying at WWU purchase and maintain an adequate health insurance plan (except “J” visa holders are required to do so). While many other countries bear the expense of health care for their residents, individuals in the United States are responsible for these expenses themselves. A single day of hospitalization can cost thousands of dollars. A good insurance policy gives you access to excellent medical facilities and provides protection against the enormous costs of health care.
So, although financial considerations may limit the ability to purchase a plan which meets the recommendations outlined below, the University feels the plan should have the following minimum amount of coverage:
- Medical expense coverage of $100,000 per injury or sickness.
- Accidental death & dismemberment indemnity in the amount of $10,000.
- Repatriation expense benefits of $15,000.
- Medical evacuation benefits of $50,000.
- Plan deductible waived for treatment at WWU Student Health Services.
- Exceed "J" visa minimum requirements.
Make every effort to be insured during your entire stay in the U.S., including your vacation quarters and after graduation if you stay for a period of Optional Practical Training or Academic Training.
You should research individual plans through companies that insure international students in the U.S. It is important to consider what type of coverage will be needed and who will be included on the plan. Policy costs vary, depending on coverage. For example, some policies exclude coverage of pregnancies, or coverage for care received in your home country. Before choosing a plan, carefully consider your personal and family health needs and weigh them against each insurance option. Some policies are listed for consideration below.
Note that WWU maintains no association with the companies listed. You are responsible for procuring and maintaining suitable health insurance and for any required correspondence.
- Gateway USA
- Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI)
- Compass Benefits Group
- ISO Student Health Insurance
To review a policy that provides medical evacuation and repatriation benefits only, visit International SOS.
WWU Student Health Center
Western Washington University maintains a professionally staffed Student Health Center, conveniently located on campus, to provide treatment for basic medical conditions for current WWU students. It does not, however, provide major surgery, major illness or overnight care.
The SHC offers same-day appointments every clinic day and discourage walk-ins, as the wait without an appointment can be significant. SHC advises calling as early in the day as possible.
When the SHC is closed students are advised to seek services from available after-hour medical facilities in the Bellingham area. Students who engage other health facilities must plan to use private funds or their health insurance policy, if they have one, to cover resulting charges. It is strongly recommended that all students have some form of health insurance to defray the substantial costs associated with serious accidents and illness. For life-threatening emergencies, dial 911 on any telephone.