Entering the U.S. (I-20 and F-1 Visa)

You will need a University of Pittsburgh I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Student Status, a valid F-1 visa (the visa stamp in your passport) issued by the U.S. embassy/consulate overseas, a valid passport, and your SEVIS fee receipt. To enter the U.S. as an F-1 student, Canadian citizens do not need U.S. visas. Please be advised that you may not enter the U.S. more than 30 days prior to the Program Start Date in the Program of Study Section on your Form I-20 (refer to “Travel”, at the right hand side of this page). When you enter the U.S., you will receive an I-94 record marked “F-1” and “D/S” (duration of status). You can access this record on the Customs and Border Protection Website.

Maintaining Legal F-1 Status

As an F-1 student, you must meet certain obligations in order to maintain legal immigration status. Maintaining status is necessary in order to receive the benefits of F-1 status such as employment and program extension, and can be crucial to a successful application for a change or adjustment of status in the future. Failure to maintain your non-immigrant status can result in serious problems with immigration and could lead to deportation from the U.S. Due to the complexity of U.S. immigration regulations, we recommend that you consult with an Immigration Specialist in the Office of International Services anytime you have questions or concerns related to your F-1 status.

To maintain lawful status, an F-1 student must:

  • Attend the mandatory Orientation program with OIS.
  • Attend the university you are authorized to attend (i.e. the school that issued your Form I-20).
  • Complete the SEVIS transfer procedure if you decide to attend another school in the U.S.
  • Be in good academic standing and make progress towards an academic program.
  • Extend your Form I-20 prior to its expiration date if you are unable to complete your academic program by the original Program End Date (see Program of Study Section of your I-20).
  • In the event of a change in your academic program or level, obtain an updated Form I-20 in a timely fashion.
  • Maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year.
    • Undergraduate students must enroll for 12 credit hours each semester.
    • Graduate students must enroll for 9 credit hours or full-time dissertation study (FTDS) each semester.
      NOTE: The “audit” courses do not count toward the full-time enrollment requirement for immigration purposes.
  • Suspension, dismissal, expulsion, or any other similar action which prevents enrollment may have an effect on your legal immigration status. See an Immigration Specialist in OIS.
  • Limit on-campus employment to 20 hours per week during the academic year.
  • Do not work off campus without prior authorization.
  • Keep your passport valid at all times. The passport must be valid for at least 6 months into the future on the day you return to the U.S. from a trip abroad. Individuals from some countries are exempt. Check if your country is exempt by reviewing the 6-month club list.
  • Complete the OIS Departure Notification e-form via My OIS or otherwise notify OIS if you leave your program before the end date of I-20.
  • Maintain a valid home country (must be outside the US) and local US (must be your US residential address) in the My OIS system.  Addresses must be updated within 10 days of moving.

View your Compliance Form in My OIS.


U.S. government regulations require F-1 students to be in the U.S. for the primary purpose of attending school. In general, employment in the U.S. is restricted. The following employment possibilities exist for F-1 students:

  • On-campus employment: Limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session and available as full time during school vacation and holidays. On-campus employment is defined as work done on the premises of the school who issued I-20.  If anyone other than the University of Pittsburgh will be paying you, please consult with OIS prior to accepting employment.
  • Off-campus employment: Under certain conditions you may be eligible for off-campus employment either based on economic need or practical training. You may not begin the employment unless you have received official authorization.  All off-campus employment authorization must be coordinated through OIS.

For more information, refer to Employment Authorization for F-1 Students.


Dependents are defined as spouse and minor children under 21 years old of the F-1 student. Please be aware that each of your dependents will need his/her own I-20 in order to obtain an F-2 visa at the U.S. embassy/consulate and to enter the United States. F-2 status holders may not accept employment or engage in business under any circumstances.

F-2 dependents may participate in part-time study in any certified program at a school certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), so long as the study does not amount to what regulations define as full-time for an F-1 student. F-2 dependents may also participate up to full-time in vocational or recreational studies, such as hobbies. F-2 children can attend kindergarten through 12th grade full-time. However, an F-2 dependent who wants to enroll full-time in a course of post-secondary academic or vocational study must apply for and obtain approval to change their nonimmigrant classification to F-1 before beginning their full-time study.

For more information, refer to F-2 Dependents.

Grace Period

When an F-1 student successfully completes his/her academic program or Optional Practical Training, there is a 60-day grace period during which the F-1 student and any F-2 dependents may stay in the U.S. but may not work or travel nor reenter in F-1 status.�
Students who leave their program for any reason prior to completion might not be eligible for a grace period.  Contact an Immigration Specialist if you have questions!


F-1  students must file federal tax forms every year that they are in the U.S. The deadlines to file the forms are April 15, if U.S. money is earned (this includes money earned from graduate student assistantships), and June 15, if no U.S. money is earned.

F-2 dependents must also file a form.

A tax treaty may apply and you may be exempt from Social Security taxes. For more information, refer to Taxes.

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