International Student Registration Guide: Legal Status in the U.S.

Upon entry to the U.S., you become subject to the laws and regulations of the U.S. as well as the requirements and restrictions of your visa. In the last few years, American immigration laws and regulations have become stricter and it is important to be aware of your legal obligations.

To maintain your legal student status in the U.S. you must understand the requirements of your immigration status in the U.S. Some of the requirements are:

  • You must report to the school that issued your I-20/DS-2019 by the designated date.
  • You must maintain a full course load every semester. A full course load is 12-17 credit hours.
  • You must make normal progress toward your degree.
  • You may not work off-campus without the permission of the federal government.
  • You may not drop out of school or take a semester away from school and remain in the U.S.

As you enter the U.S., your I-20/DS-2019 is stamped with the date of entry, place of entry, immigration status, and date of expiration of your stay. An I-94, which is issued electronically, must be printed after your arrival and carried with you when you travel. You will print your I-94 during orientation. These are very important documents. Do not lose them. Always carry your passport, visa, I-20/DS-2019, and I-94 with you while traveling in the U.S. or internationally.

Once you have entered the United States, you must maintain your non-immigrant status in order to continue to stay. Maintaining your status includes reporting to the university that issued your I-20, attending your classes, and not taking unauthorized employment. If you violate your student status, you are immediately considered “out of status” and may be required to leave the U.S. It is essential that you understand and make every effort to abide by the conditions of your status. Even if you have a valid student visa, you can still be required to leave the United States if you do not maintain your non-immigrant status.

All of the regulations may seem complicated or confusing—but the Center for International Students is happy to help. It is not difficult to maintain your status; however, you do need to be aware of the rules. Fortunately, you do not have to do this alone. If you need any help or have questions about whether something is allowed on your visa and in your status, please contact the Center for International Students.