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F-1 international students

A page within International Education & Engagement

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Here you will find important information about your responsibilities and restrictions as an F-1 student. Please read this information carefully. If you have questions about your status, please do not hesitate to contact your international student advisor.


Understanding Your Immigration Documents

As an F-1 international student, you have four primary immigration documents to understand and maintain:

Please make copies of these documents and keep them in a safe place, separate from the originals.


Issued by your home country’s government.  Your passport must be valid at all times while in the United States and should be valid at least six months into the future. Please make sure you know your passport’s expiration date. You must renew your passport with your home country’s embassy or consulate a minimum of six months prior to your passport's expiration date.

F-1 Visa

Authorizes you to apply for entry into the United States.  Your F-1 visa can expire while you are in the United States as long as your I-20, passport and I-94 are valid.  However, your F-1 visa must be valid each time you re-enter the United States.  Visa renewal is only permitted outside of the United States.  Please be aware of the type, number of entries and expiration date listed on your visa.


Permits entry into the United States and indicates the purpose of your admission and your permitted length of stay.  Form I-94 is an electronic stamp inside of your passport near your U.S. visa. Check your Form I-94 for the following notation: F-1 D/S.  Also, check that your name on this form is written exactly as it appears in your passport and your date of birth and entry date are correct. To obtain an electronic copy of your I-94 please visit the should print a new I-94 each time you re-enter the U.S.

Form I-20

Issued by UWL and needed to maintain status in the United States. All information on your Form I-20 must be current at all times. If any information changes, see your international student advisor within 10 days. Changes could include your financial support, the school you attend, your degree of study, your education level, or your program completion date. Keep all pages of your I-20 stapled together.

Change of Status

Contact your international student advisor to discuss your options and the change of status process. When you enter the United States in non-immigrant status, you do so for a specific purpose, such as study, work or travel. You may enter the U.S. with one purpose and later change that purpose. If this happens, you may need to obtain a new status. Different visa/status categories allow for different activities.

Full-Time Enrollment

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations state that students must be enrolled in a full course of study each fall and spring semester. Enrollment in summer classes is not required unless your initial entry document (I-20 or DS-2019) indicates you are to begin your program in a summer session. The minimum number of credit hours required is listed below.

  • Undergraduate: minimum of 12 credits
  • Graduate: minimum of 9 credits
  • Summer: minimum of 6 credits
  • *Distance Education Courses: Only one class worth 3 credit hours, of distance education can be counted towards the full-course of study requirement.
  • *Audit Courses: Audit courses do not count towards full-time enrollment.

There are very few exceptions to the full course of study requirements.  For example, students in their last semester before graduation may be authorized for a reduced course load. 

You must have prior approval from an international student advisor before dropping below a full course of study. The Reduced Course Load Approval Form (RCL) must be completed and submitted to International Education & Engagement prior to the beginning of the semester during which you intend to take a reduced course load. If you drop below full-time without prior approval from an international student advisor, you will be considered out of status. Approval can only be obtained through IEE. If you have additional questions, please make an appointment with your international student advisor.

It is very important that you stay enrolled in a full course of study. If you feel you must drop below a full course of study for any reason, make an appointment with an international student advisor immediately.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is defined as required or optional employment which is an integral part of established curriculum.

Eligibility: Students who are in F-1 status and are enrolled at the UW–La Crosse, may apply for curricular practical training as part of a required internship, practicum, cooperative education program, or for training, which can be shown to be an “integral part of an established curriculum.” Undergraduate students must be in F-1 status for at least nine months prior to being granted CPT. Graduate students are eligible for CPT immediately upon enrollment at UWL if their program requires.

CPT may be part-time (20 hours/week maximum) or full-time (more than 20 hours/week). Part-time CPT students are still required to maintain their full-time academic enrollment.

In order to receive authorization for Curricular Practical Training from International Education & Engagement, students must submit the following items at least seven business days prior to the requested CPT start date:

  • CPT Employment Authorization Packet
  • A letter from employer on company letter head
  • F-1 Curricular Practical Training Advisor Form, which is completed by academic adviser or program director and signed by the appropriate faculty member, department chair, or program director
Limitations to Curricular Practical Training:
  • You may not begin CPT employment until you have received your new I-20 with CPT authorization from your international student advisor.
  • Employment for the primary purpose of facilitating employment authorization does not qualify for CPT.
  • Students who use 12 months of full-time CPT will lose eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  • Part-time CPT will not affect eligibility for OPT.
  • Students may not work past the authorization date listed on page 2 of their I-20 without applying for and receiving an additional authorization for employment.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined as temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study.  If authorized, the employment you obtain must be commensurate with your educational level. This type of practical training can be used prior to the completion of your program of study or upon graduation. The standard OPT allows students to apply for 12 months of employment authorization once per progressive educational level. OPT requires approval from a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Service Center.

OPT expanders

What must I do to be eligible to apply for OPT?
  • Maintain valid F-1 status
  • Make normal progress towards degree requirements
  • Be in F-1 status for at least one academic year (may apply for OPT before one year, but cannot start OPT until after one year is completed)
  • Have not been authorized for 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Have not already used 12 months of full-time OPT at the same degree level
OPT Options

Pre-Completion: OPT can be authorized at the following times:

  • During annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session; can request part-time or full-time
  • While school is in session, provided that employment does not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session; part-time
  • After completion of all required coursework for the degree while the student is completing a thesis or dissertation; full-time

Post-Completion: OPT can be authorized at the following times 

  • After completion of the course of study; only full-time can be requested.  
  • Students in a master's or doctoral degree program, after submission of all degree requirements; only full-time can be requested
What are the benefits of Post Completion OPT?
  • Can work full-time
  • Can apply for STEM extension (if applicable)
  • Eligible for cap gap extension (if applicable)
When should I apply for OPT?

If applying for pre-completion OPT, you may apply 90 days before the requested OPT start date.

If applying for post-completion OPT:

  • You can apply 90 days prior to the program end/completion date and up to 60 days after the program end-date. The program end date is the last date of the semester or the final date you submit all required documentation to the Graduate School.
  • All post-completion OPT must be completed within 14 months from your program end date.
  • Cancellation of an OPT application is very complicated. Make sure you are ready to apply and your course work/thesis defense will be completed.
  • It can take up to three months to process an OPT application. It may go faster if job offer is included with the application; however, a job offer is not required to apply for Post-Completion OPT.
What are my responsibilities for reporting while on OPT?
While on OPT you are still an F-1 degree-seeking student. You must continue to comply with all F-1 regulations and reporting requirements. Failure to do so can result in termination of your F-1 status. Specifically, you must update your international student advisor within 10 days of any change to the following:
  • Change of address
  • Legal name
  • Employer name/address
  • Change or loss of employment
  • OPT approval/denial (a copy of your EAD card)
How do I apply for OPT?

There are several steps which need to be completed in order to apply for OPT. You will submit your final application to USCIS (after all the below steps are completed), so it is crucial to follow all steps accurately and completely in order to have a successful adjudication (approval).

  • Attend an OPT workshop.
  • Submit an OPT Application Packet to IEE with all of the necessary documents (listed in application packet).
  • IEE will review your documents and recommend OPT in SEVIS.
  • Retrieve OPT application packet from IEE; processing time will vary.
  • Send your OPT application packet to the appropriate USCIS Service Center. This must be sent to USCIS within 30 days of the IEE recommendation and within 60 days of your program completion date. This application process is not complete until you mail your application to USCIS.
What do I need to know after I receive me EAD card?

Do not start work before receiving your EAD or before the start date on the EAD.

Do not work after the expiration date.

Send your international student advisor a copy of your card. Scanned copies are acceptable.

Make a copy of your EAD card and keep it in a safe place.

Report your employment to your international student advisor with the following information:

  • Company name and address
  • Job title
  • Supervisor contact information
  • Description of the work and how it is related to your field of study
  • Employment dates

Report the above information to your international student advisor every six months or within 10 days of any changes.

*During the period of OPT, maintaining your status is dependent on employment.  During the initial, 12-month period, you may not be unemployed for more than an aggregate of 90 days from the start date on your EAD. Please report any unemployment to your international student advisor immediately. Remember – you can volunteer for 20+ hours per week and that will count as employment as long as it is in your field of study and is commiserate with your degree level.

What should I do when my OPT ends?

If you change your immigration status prior to the end date on your EAD, please send your international student advisor copies of your new immigration documents.

You have 60 days from the end date on your EAD to leave the U.S., apply for a change of status, or to receive admission into another academic program.

During your 60 day grace period, no work is allowed.

What if I want to travel while on OPT?

Travel outside of the U.S. while your OPT application is pending is not advised.

Travel once your OPT is approved is allowed; however, you must carry your EAD card and a job offer letter/letter from employer with you or you could be denied re-entry into the United States.

Travel signatures are still required from your international student advisor every six months.

What is the STEM Extension?

Students completing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) may be eligible to apply for an additional 24-month STEM extension.

The Department of Homeland Security maintains a STEM-Designated Degree Program List.

Applications for the 24-Month STEM extension should be filed 90 days before your current EAD expires and must be filed and received by USCIS before your current EAD end date and no later than 60 days from the date the DSO recommended the STEM OPT in SEVIS..

Employment authorization is automatically extended when extension is timely filed and pending for up to 180 days after the expiration of the student's post-completion OPT.

Who is eligible for the 24-Month STEM extension?

  • Obtained a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degree in a STEM field from an accredited and SEVP certified U.S. school within 10 years of extension application. There is a new expanded list of STEM eligible CIP codes. The CIP Code is listed on the I-20 form under the section Student’s Program of Study.
  • Currently on Post-Completion OPT
  • Have fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on Post-completion OPT.
  • Employer must be registered with E-Verify program
    • E-Verify is an Internet based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA) that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees.  The program is free and voluntary.
    • Volunteering and self-employment will not qualify under the new STEM rule.
  • There is a lifetime limit of two periods of 24-month STEM OPT; each occurring after a higher degree level has been obtained.  A STEM degree obtained at a U.S. university prior to your current degree may be the basis for a STEM extension under certain circumstances.

On-Campus Employment

International students may work up to a total of 20 hours per week on campus while taking academic classes (this includes summer and winter session). During scheduled university vacations (winter break and summer session) international students are allowed to work over 20 hours per week on campus, if they are not taking classes. International students must receive a written job offer from an on-campus department, Chartwells or the University Bookstore before beginning employment. All students who wish to work will need to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN).

Off-Campus Employment

Off-campus employment is very limited and requires prior authorization from an international student advisor or the United States government. There are only three types of off-campus employment a student may apply for (but authorization is never guaranteed):

  1. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) – Employment that is an integral part of a student’s academic program (for example - a required internship).
  2. Optional Practical Training (OPT) – Practical training that is directly related to your field of study.
  3. Severe Economic Hardship – For students who are facing an unexpected and unforeseen hardship. This option is very difficult to apply for.

Always meet with your international student advisor before considering an option to work off-campus. Remember that the application process can take from a few weeks to several months, so planning ahead is crucial.

There are several CPT/OPT information sessions each semester. Watch your email or check IEE’s website for more details on these opportunities.

Program Extension

An F-1 or J-1 student who does not complete his or her educational program by the completion date noted on his or her most current, valid I-20/DS-2019 must apply for a program extension prior to the end date on their immigration documents.

Failure to do so will result in being ‘out of status.’ The maximum amount of time for any one extension is 12 months.

Who is eligible?

Any F-1 or J-1 student who has continually maintained status and who has a compelling academic, medical or other reason for not completing the educational program by the completion date on the I-20/DS-2019 is eligible for a Program Extension. A "compelling reason" may include such things as a change of major or research topic, unexpected research problems, or a documented illness, which has interfered with full-time study. Academic suspension and probation are not considered acceptable reasons for a Program Extension.

Address/Information Updates

If you have moved since your last address update, please contact your international student advisor immediately. You also need to update your address in your WINGS account. 

Keeping your address current with IEE is very important for staying in status. Failure to update us within 10 days of any changes in address, name, major, etc. will result in your immigration status termination. 

Travel Outside of the United States

If you plan on traveling outside of the United States and re-entering on your F-1 student visa, there are several questions you should ask yourself before you travel:

  • Is my passport expiring soon?
  • Do I have a valid visa to re-enter the United States?
  • Do I need a travel signature?
  • Am I returning to UWL after my travels?
  • Is my program end date approaching?
  • Do I need a visitor’s visa to enter the country I am traveling to?


It is your responsibility to check which countries require a visitor’s visa to enter and obtain the proper documentation to travel to that country. A great place to find this information is the website of the country’s (where you want to go) embassy.

F-1 students who are planning to travel outside of the U.S. will need to have their international student advisor sign their I-20/DS-2019. Travel signatures are valid for six months. Please bring your I-20 to your international student advisor to be signed at least two weeks prior to your departure date.

You should not travel outside of the U.S. if your passport is set to expire within six months. Please check with your embassy in the U.S. on how to renew your passport.

You must have a valid visa to re-enter the United States.

Maintaining Immigration Status

How do I maintain my status while at UW-La Crosse?

"Status" is doing what you are authorized to do while you are in the United States based on the immigration category in which you entered.

The following statements are general rules to follow to maintain your F-1 status. If you have questions please make an appointment with your international student advisor in International Education & Engagement.

  • Pursue a full course of study while at UW-La Crosse during each fall and spring semester except during official school breaks, or unless approved under a specific exception, in advance, by your international student advisor. Summer enrollment is only required if it is the first or last semester of enrollment at UW-La Crosse. Always visit with an international student advisor before dropping courses if it takes you below the required minimum number of credit hours.
  • Report a change of address to IEE within 10 days of the change, so that SEVIS can be updated.
  • Do not work off-campus without authorization and do not work on-campus for more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.
  • Get a travel signature two weeks prior to departure on your current I-20 if you are traveling outside the country.
  • Be aware of the end date listed on your I-20. If you will not complete your program before the end date listed, you must request an extension before your current I-20 document expires.
  • After you successfully complete your degree, F-1 students have a 60 day grace period to stay in the U.S. It is your responsibility to inform your international student advisor of your plans (i.e. continuing studies, applying for work authorization, returning home, transferring, etc.)
  • Always read e-mails from IEE. We will only e-mail your UW-La Crosse account concerning any potential issues or problems with your immigration status.

What does "failure to maintain status" mean?

Failure to maintain status means that the F-1 student has violated a requirement of the regulation governing the F-1 visa category. Some examples of failure to maintain status include dropping from full-time to part-time enrollment without prior approval from your international student advisor, attending a school other than the one a student is authorized to attend, failure to apply for a timely transfer or I-20 extension, unauthorized employment, and failure to report a change of address.

What are the consequences if a student fails to maintain status?

If a student fails to maintain status, the student would be reported to the U.S. immigration authorities, via SEVIS, and they would be out of status. The student may apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for reinstatement if the violation resulted from circumstances beyond his or her control. Reinstatements are intended to be a rare benefit for exceptional cases. The student may not apply for reinstatement under any circumstances if he or she is out of status longer than five months. If immigration does not reinstate the student, he or she may not appeal that decision. 


F-2 dependents are defined as a spouse or an unmarried minor child (under 21 years of age) of an F-1 student. If you would like to invite your spouse or children to join you here in the U.S., please make an appointment with your international student advisor for more information.

Transferring to a New School

As an F-1 visa holder, you have a SEVIS record with the U.S. federal government. Only one U.S. institution has access to your SEVIS record at any time. If you have been studying at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse or are participating in OPT recommended by International Education & Engagement (IEE) and now plan to attend another U.S. educational institution, your SEVIS record must be released by IEE to the new SEVIS approved institution. After the release date, the new institution will be able to issue a new I-20 for you.

Am I eligible to transfer?

  • The student must be maintaining status at their current school
  • The student has been admitted to the transfer-in school, and the course of study at the transfer-in school must begin within five months of the end of the course of study at the transfer-out school, or within five months of the release date set by the transfer-out school, whichever is earlier
    • For students on OPT, the course of study must begin within five months of the end of OPT, or within five months of the release date set by the transfer-out school, whichever is earlier
  • The student must be eligible for an I-20 at the transfer-in school
  • The proper transfer procedures must be followed in SEVIS, within the required deadlines

What are the steps to transfer?

  1. Receive admission to another SEVIS approved institution within the U.S.
  2. Complete and submit the Request to Release SEVIS Record Form along with a copy of your admission letter to the new school.
  3. IEE will review your request and enter the transfer release information into SEVIS.
  4. You should then contact your new institution about receiving a new I-20 form.

*By completing the Request to Release SEVIS Record Form (SEVIS Transfer Out Form), you are giving IEE permission to release your SEVIS record.

What are the deadlines to transfer my SEVIS record?

If you meet the eligibility requirements, as mentioned above, your SEVIS record may be transferred at any time while you are a current student. Students who have successfully completed their program of study (or OPT) must transfer within their 60-day grace period.

This request is only for your immigration record. There are other procedures across campus that you will still need to take care of before you leave. Below we have listed a few important procedures.

  • All outstanding bills must be paid. Contact the Cashier's office with questions.
  • You are responsible for making sure all of your classes are dropped. Contact your college Dean's Office for instructions. If you do not drop these courses, you will be billed for them and will be expected to submit payment.
  • Notify Residence Life (or your landlord) of you plan to leave UW-La Crosse. Be aware that there may be fees associated with leaving early.
  • Notify Dining Services of your plans to leave UW-La Crosse. Be aware that there may be fees associated with leaving early.

If you plan to withdraw from or leave UW-La Crosse and return to your home country, you must contact International Education & Engagement to complete the Departure Form. After submitting your Departure Form, IEE will end your SEVIS record. 
An F-1 student who has obtained written authorization from an advisor in IEE  prior to withdrawing from classes will be allowed a 15-day grace period for departure from the U.S. A student who terminates their course of study without prior approval or otherwise fails to maintain status is not eligible for any grace period for departure.

Once you have withdrawn from your courses at UW-La Crosse, you are not allowed to work on-campus or engage in any benefits approved for you based on your current status.

In order to return to the U.S. at a future date and resume study at UW-La Crosse, you will need to apply for readmission and obtain a new I-20.  See your international student advisor if you have additional questions.

Miranda Panzer
International Student & Scholar Advisor