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F-1 Student Status

An F-1 nonimmigrant is a foreign student entering the United States solely for the purpose of study and who is pursuing a full course of study in an approved school, college, university or other academic institution. A nonimmigrant is defined as a foreign national having a residence in a foreign country that he or she has no intention of abandoning and who is seeking temporary admission to the United States.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) is the bureau of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that administers the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Act provides the basis for controlling the flow of aliens into the U.S. for permanent or temporary residency. The Act is administered outside the U.S. by the U.S. Department of State through its consular posts around the world.

The Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) and the Designated School Official (DSO) are the designated school officials who function as the principal contacts between the school and the government. Their responsibilities include ensuring institutional and individual compliance with the law. Contact Human Resources to locate these individuals at Rockefeller.

SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is the internet-based, electronic tracking system implemented by the Department of Homeland Security for the purposes of monitoring and tracking the status of F and J nonimmigrant visitors in the U.S.

Very Important Documents

The most important documents which must be valid and in your possession during your stay in the U.S. in F-1 student status are:

  • SEVIS Form I-20;
  • I-94 card (arrival/departure record);
  • Letter of financial support from the Office of Graduate Studies; and
  • Passport.

The form that was issued to you by the University is called Form I-20, also known as a “certificate of eligibility.” This form must remain valid during your entire stay in F-1 status. The validity dates of the form appear in item 5. The form is issued for the length of time it is expected to take to complete your course of study. Rockefeller Ph.D. students are currently given six years. If you will require additional time an extension request must be made. Details of this process will be discussed later.

The I-94 card (the white card stapled in your passport) is your arrival/departure record given to you at inspections when you enter the U.S. and taken when you depart the U.S. (Please note that your card will not be taken when you travel to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, excluding Cuba, for less than 30 days, pursuant to automatic revalidation.) The number at the top of the card is your “admission number.” Your I-94 card should be marked with a “D/S”, which stands for “duration of status.” Duration of status is explained below.

These documents must always be valid, and you will always need them with you when you travel abroad — to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp if needed — and you will need to present them to the U.S. immigration official at the airport when you re-enter the U.S.

Visa Stamp Application and the SEVIS FEE

As per the Department of Homeland Security, all F-1 students who use an I-20 to gain initial status must now pay the SEVIS fee of $200. Please visit for instructions on how to download form I-901 and pay the fee. This fee must be paid when first applying for the F-1 visa stamp.

Procedures at the Border — Entering the U.S. for the First Time

When you arrive at the border, you must present the U.S. immigration official with your passport, F-1 visa stamp, letter of financial support and SEVIS Form I-20. The official should then return to you the departure portion of your I-94 card (on which is stamped your date of entry/place of entry, your F-1 status and your unique 11-digit admission number) as well as your Form I-20. Please check your I-94 card before leaving the customs area to confirm that the official has noted F-1 and “D/S” on your I-94 card. The fact that you entered the U.S. in F-1 status is now entered into SEVIS and the school you are attending will be notified electronically that you have entered the U.S. The school must notify SEVIS if you fail to arrive at the school within 30 days of entering the U.S. Please note that you will not be admitted into the U.S. more than 30 days prior to the program start date listed on the Form I-20.

Additional information about arriving at a U.S. Port of Entry is available at the link provided below:

Difference Between the Visa Stamp and the I-94 Card

A visa stamp gives you permission to apply for entry into the U.S. and the I-94 card enables you to remain in the United States. Your visa need not remain valid once you have used it to gain admission into the U.S. Your permission to stay (I-94 card and I-20), by contrast, must be kept valid.

The visa stamp will be issued to you by a U.S. consulate prior to entering the U.S. It is required to be admitted in F-1 status. (Presently Canadians are exempt from the need for a visa stamp.) While the visa stamp need not remain valid once you are in the U.S., you will, however, require a visa stamp renewal if you travel outside the U.S. and attempt to return. The renewal is applied for in the same manner as the first stamp, at a U.S. consulate with a valid Form I-20 and a valid passport. You will not be required to pay the $200 SEVIS fee again. (Please note that your passport must be valid for six months when applying for a visa stamp.)

It is important that you do not surrender your original, or any subsequent Form I-20, upon leaving the U.S. You will, however, surrender your I-94 card each time you leave, and you will be issued a new I-94 card each time you re-enter.

You should retain all Form I-20s.

Duration of Status

Duration of status (“D/S”) is defined per regulations as “the period during which the student is pursuing a full course of study in any educational program and any periods of authorized practical training, plus 60 days within which to depart the U.S.” Duration of status expires — and therefore your valid status as a student — if you do not maintain a full course of study. Full course of study means full time study and research leading to your degree, including vacations, medical emergencies, and periods of authorized practical training. A student must be making normal progress towards completing a course of study. Leaves of absence are not considered a full course of study and another nonimmigrant status should be acquired if you remain in the U.S on such a leave. If you need to drop below a full course of study or take a leave of absence, you need to first contact your School Official for prior approval or risk being out of status as no grace period applies in such a case.

Description of Stay

As an F-1 student at The Rockefeller University you must carry out your studies in the area described in section 5 of your Form I-20. Please notify your School Official if the information in this section, or any other information on your form I-20, is not accurate.

Travel Abroad and Re-entry into the U.S.

If your F-1 visa stamp has expired and you are traveling abroad, you must apply for a new visa stamp by presenting a valid SEVIS Form I-20, a letter of financial support and a valid passport at a U.S. consulate or embassy, (preferably in your home country). If you are traveling and require a visa stamp, it is recommended that you first visit the U.S. Department of State website at: to determine the consular processing times and procedures at the consulate you will be visiting.1

An F-1 student may be readmitted to the U.S. after a temporary absence, which is defined as a visit out of the U.S. of up to five months, if the form I-20 has been endorsed.

Your form I-20 needs to be endorsed by the School Official once a year if you are traveling out of the U.S. The signature is only valid for one year.

It is your responsibility to determine whether or not you need a visa stamp to travel to countries other than the U.S.

Reportable Actions/Notification Requirements

SEVIS requires that School Officials report the following information for all F nonimmigrants:

  • Name, date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship, source and amount of financial resources, academic program, level of study, program start and end dates;
  • Whether student enrolled or failed to enroll;
  • A change in the student or dependent¿s legal name;
  • A change of address must be reported within 10 days;
  • Graduation prior to the end date listed on the I-20;
  • Failure to complete the academic program or otherwise maintain lawful status;
  • Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to a criminal conviction;
  • Termination date and reason for termination; and
  • Other data concerning standard procedures such as program extension, school transfer, change in level of study, change of program, optional practical training and reinstatement.

The following reportable actions require prior approval of the School Official. Failure to notify the School Official will result in unlawful presence.

  • Drop below a full course of study (may be authorized for medical or academic reasons);
  • Leave of absence (may be authorized for medical or academic reasons);
  • Withdrawal from school; and
  • Extension of stay
  • Transfers

Dependents of F-1 Students (F-2s)

Your spouse and unmarried minor children may accompany you to the U.S. as your dependents in F-2 status. The purpose of their visit to the U.S. must be to accompany the F-1 student and they are dependent on the F-1 student. F-2 dependents require issuance of their own SEVIS Form I-20 (with their own unique SEVIS identification number) and an F-2 visa stamp to enter the U.S. Therefore, please notify your School Official if your dependents will be accompanying you. If possible, your dependents should apply for their visa stamps at the same time as you.

F-2 dependents may not accept employment under any circumstances and may not engage in a full course of study, except at the elementary or secondary school level. F-2 spouses may engage in part-time study that is recreational or avocational. If they intend to attend school full time they must switch to an appropriate nonimmigrant status.


Employment means the rendering of services, on either a part or full-time basis for compensation, including self-employment. While an F-1 student can apply for work authorization, either through the USCIS or the School Official, the Office of Graduate Studies of Rockefeller University does not allow students to accept employment.

Post-Completion Optional Practical Training

While Rockefeller University does not allow students to accept employment during their studies, F-1 students may request Optional Practical Training upon completion of their studies. Optional Practical Training (OPT) must be requested of the USCIS in a formal application procedure and requires the recommendation of the PDSO or DSO. OPT allows you to work in the U.S. for up to one year in an area related to your studies. It is advisable to apply for OPT prior to the completion of your studies, but it can begin within two months after the completion of your studies. Your School Official will be contacting you as your graduation approaches to discuss applying for OPT. If you expect to complete your studies early, please contact them immediately.

Effective April 8, 2008, recipients of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields can apply to USCIS for a one-time 17-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 29 months). To be eligible for the extension, the student’s employer must be registered in E-Verify, and agree to report to the DSO when the student is terminated or leaves employment. The student must also agree to make periodic reports to the DSO.

Transfer of Program

It is possible to transfer your program from Rockefeller University to another institution. You must be in valid status, as defined above, to be eligible for transfer. Please notify this office if you intend to transfer out of our program.

These are the fundamentals of your F-1 status that you must understand. If at any time you feel uncomfortable with any documentation you have been given, or have any visa related concerns, please contact your School Official.

1 If you are traveling solely to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean islands (other than Cuba), and your visit is for less than 30 days, and you have a valid I-94 card, Form I-20 and passport, you do not need to have a valid F-1 visa stamp to be readmitted to the U.S. Please contact your School Official prior to departure.