F-1 Student Guidebook

Students without U.S. citizenship who wish to study in the United States will generally require a student or exchange visitor visa. There are three nonimmigrant visa categories for people wishing to study in the U.S. These are commonly known as the F, J, and M visas. The J visa is given to short-term exchange students (and other categories such as visiting professor), while the M visa is given to students enrolled in vocational programs. This guide focuses on the F visa, which is given to students who seek to enroll full-time in an educational program of study.

Definitions & Abbreviations

  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS): federal department responsible for U.S. border security and enforcement of immigration rules and regulations. DHS comprises many agencies with a wide variety of responsibilities. Two of these agencies work directly with F-1 immigration:
    • United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS): federal agency (part of DHS) that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): federal agency (part of DHS) enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration.
    • Customs and Border Protection (CBP): responsible for immigration inspections at U.S. ports of entry. Also responsible for Customs Services and the Border Patrol.
  • Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP): The program organized by DHS responsible for managing schools that enroll international students as well as assisting nonimmigrant students (and dependents) in the F visa classification. They are responsible for providing information and guidance to students and support staff at schools.
  • Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): The web-based system for maintaining information on nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the United States. Every F-1 student has a SEVIS profile which is updated by RWU and accessed by government agencies.
  • Designated School Official (DSO): Staff member at RWU with authorization to prepare documentation required to receive an F visa. The DSO will send incoming students official forms indicating authorization to proceed with the visa application.
  • Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status: The Form I-20 is issued by RWU (or other SEVP-certified schools) and grants permission for a student to study in the United States. This form is necessary when applying for a student visa and when entering the U.S. as an F-1 student. This form must be signed by the DSO and the student in order to be valid.
  • F-1 Visa Status: All F-1 students have a visa status even if no physical visa stamp is necessary for their passports. F-1 international students are allowed to study in the United States for the “duration of their status,” which means as long as students are properly enrolled in a SEVP-authorized school.
  • F-1 Visa Stamp: The physical document placed in one’s passport (usually in the form of an official sticker) to indicate F-1 visa status. Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need a visa stamp to study in the U.S. These citizens still need F-1 visa status and an I-20 Form.

F-1 Visa Status Overview

An F-1 student is a nonimmigrant* who is pursuing a full course of study to achieve a specific educational or professional objective. At Roger Williams University, this includes undergraduate, graduate, and juris doctor studies (RWU School of Law). RWU has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to offer courses of study to F-1 students. 

*Nonimmigrant: Compared to immigrants who enter the United States to reside permanently, nonimmigrants are people who enter the United States with the purpose of temporary travel, work, or study.

  • F-1 students are enrolled in SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). Once the educational or professional objectives of the F-1 study has been attained, the F-1 student is expected by the U.S. government to return to their residence abroad or depart the United States. The following information outlines the role of the U.S. Government, RWU’s role, and the student’s role in adhering to immigration rules and regulations.

Form 1-20: Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 Status

A student acquires F-1 status using Form I-20, issued by a DHS-approved school through SEVIS. Form I-20 is a 3-page government form produced in SEVIS and is used with many F-1 procedures and benefits. This section familiarizes students you with this form.

Form I-20 Basic Information
  • The printed and signed Form I-20 is retained by the student. It must be kept safe, ideally with one’s passport and other travel documents.
  • Form I-20 can be modified to indicate updates in change of major, work authorizations, and travel signatures to re-enter the U.S. once the appropriate updates are conveyed to the DSO and updated in SEVIS.
  • F-2 Dependents must have their own Form I-20, which is issued in the name of the dependent. This form must be signed by the F-1 student.
  • DSOs are permitted to sign the form electronically, but students must sign in ink. Students should use black or blue ink only.
  • As of 2021, DSOs are permitted to transmit Form I-20 electronically. RWU’s protocol is as follows:
    • The INITIAL Form I-20 will be sent via email to the accepted student.
    • During International Orientation, incoming students will receive an updated CONTINUED ATTENDANCE Form I-20 in paper and via RWU email.
    • Current students will receive updated I-20 forms with work authorizations, major changes, etc. via RWU’s "Bridges" Learning Management System, which can be accessed with RWU credentials online. These forms should be printed and signed.
    • Students participating in OPT will receive updated I-20 forms via email.
  • All versions of Form I-20 should be retained in students’ records. Electronic records (except for the current Form I-20, which should be printed) are acceptable as long as the student’s signature is present.
Acquiring Form I-20
  • If the student is abroad: RWU will issue an Initial Status Form I-20. Students should refer to the steps below: 
    • Reach out to the appropriate RWU Admissions Office if you have not already done so. Please see their contact information below.
    • Complete RWU’s application procedure as outlined by International Admissions, Graduate Admissions, or Law Admissions. This includes submitting additional documentation as a prospective international student:
      • A clear scan of the photo/information page of your passport and all previous U.S. visas, if any.
      • A completed and signed copy of RWU’s I-20 Request Form for your appropriate academic level.
      • Verification of financial means to complete one academic year (two semesters) of study as outlined in the I-20 Request Form.
      • Verification of English Language Ability per Admissions requirements.
    • Receive an INITIAL Form I-20.
    • Acquire your F-1 student visa. Please refer to the next section, Acquiring F Status and Entering the U.S., for more information.
    • Upon receipt of your student visa, you will be cleared to enter the United States to study at RWU. You may not enter the U.S. sooner than 30 days before your program start date. This information and the exact date you may enter the U.S. will be listed on your I-20 form.
  • If the student is already studying in the United States with an F-1 visa: This applies to students transferring to RWU from another university or students studying with a student visa at a U.S. high school. Students should refer to the steps below: 
    • If you have been studying in the U.S. as an F-1 student at any education level, you already have a SEVIS record. This record must be transferred.
      • Note: This is different from an “academic” transfer, referring to students who have completed credits at a university besides RWU and are transferring those credits to RWU. An “immigration” transfer refers to transferring responsibility for your SEVIS record to a different educational institute (of any SEVP-approved level) in the U.S.
    • All students, regardless of education level (students moving from a U.S. high school to RWU OR students transferring from a different university to RWU, etc.) should first contact the appropriate RWU Admissions Office. 
      • An Admissions staff member will contact International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) upon receipt of all necessary documentation. At that point, ISSS will send a Form I-20 directly to the student.
    • Further questions regarding any visa and immigration questions or concerns should be sent directly to international@rwu.edu

The following information is a brief overview of the F-1 visa steps a student should follow once they have received an Initial Form I-20. For Initial Status, students who have not yet begun studies at RWU, please view our accompanying guide, “After Initial I-20: Next Steps.”

After Receiving Form I-20

  • Check for Errors
    • Students should review the form to make sure all information is accurate.
    • Students should contact the RWU International Services office (international@rwu.edu) immediately if they notice errors on their form.
  • Sign the Form I-20
    • Students will print the form, then sign and date on page 1 under the “Student Attestation” section.
    • Students MUST sign the form in black or blue ink. They may NOT sign it electronically. 
  • Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee

F-1 Visa Considerations

F-1 students coming to the U.S. for the purpose of studying MUST obtain an F-1 student visa to enter the country. 

The following pages of the U.S. Department of State’s website provide more information: 

Every country has a different visa process, and for most countries it can be very lengthy. Students are advised to begin the process as soon as they receive their Form I-20. 

  • F visas can be issued up to 365 days in advance of the start day for a course of study.
  • Students will NOT be allowed entry into the U.S. more than 30 days before the start date.

Visa Interview Basic Information

  • Students MUST complete the online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160) and pay a $160 processing fee. This fee is separate from the $350 I-901 SEVIS Fee. 
    • Students must keep the confirmation of completion from both the Form DS-160 and the Form I-901.
  • Students MUST contact a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for information on how to schedule an in-person visa interview. They should visit the website for the embassy or consulate of the country they are applying in. 
    • *Some countries do not require in-person interviews. It is important to inquire directly to the appropriate consulate or embassy to learn more. 
    • Students can visit Travel.State.Gov for general information about student visas and fees.
      • For estimated wait times for the visa process, students can scroll down to the "Appointment Wait Time" section and input their embassy or consulate.
Required Documents
  • Passport 
    • MUST be valid for at least six months beyond the student’s intended period of stay in the U.S. 
      • Example: If a student plans to arrive in 08/2023 and graduate in 05/2027 (4-year program), their passport must be valid until at least 11/2027.
    • There are many exceptions which allow for visas to be issued for passports valid just for the intended period of stay. See the Six-Month Passport Validity Update.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160) confirmation page
  • Application Fee Payment Receipt
    • ONLY if the student is required to pay before their interview.
  • F-1 Immigration Forms:
    • Form I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Student Status 
    • Form I-901: Confirmation of SEVIS Payment
  • Photo
  • Proof of Finances
    • Documentation of the student’s ability to cover the cost of their program, which should have already been provided to RWU Admissions. The same documentation may be used.
Additional Documents students may be requested to present
  • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools they attended.
    • Note: Transfer Credits from a university outside of the U.S., cannot be determined prior to arriving at RWU. This may affect the "end date" listed on the Form I-20.
  • Scores from tests required for admission, especially English Language Ability scores such as the TOEFL.
  • Standardized test scores

I-94 Admission Record

All F-1 students enter the U.S. with a F-1 immigration status. As students, they are admitted to the U.S. for the “duration of status.” Their immigration status will be valid as long as they maintain their student status and remain enrolled at RWU or another SEVP-approved school. 

  • A student’s status is noted on their I-94 arrival record with “D/S,” representing “Duration of Status.” They MUST confirm that their I-94 arrival record lists “D/S.” 
    • They can access their record by going to the I-94 website and inputting their passport information along with other basic information.
  • Students from Canada and Bermuda do not need an F-1 visa stamp to enter the U.S., but they still need an F-1 visa status, as they are also nonimmigrants entering the country for a limited time. They MUST also confirm their immigration status by checking their I-94 arrival record using the website above.

Entering the U.S. and RWU Check-in Requirements

Upon successful admission into the U.S., students are required to check in with RWU’s International Services office on or before the program start date listed on their Form I-20. If students fail to check in or are late and fail to notify the International Services office, their F-1 visa status will be terminated and they will be registered as not appearing at their academic institution.

  • Students MUST attend International Orientation and New Student Orientation.

Once they’ve received their F-1 visa and entered the U.S., F-1 students MUST “maintain visa status” by adhering to specific guidelines concerning their studies, work in the U.S., and communication with RWU’s International Services office. Students must check in with the International Services office regularly to ensure that they are maintaining visa status as they progress with their program of study (Undergraduate, Graduate, or Law studies).

Steps to Maintain Status

1) Inform the RWU International Services office of arrival in person.
  • Students are permitted to arrive 30 days prior to the official start date listed on their Form I-20.
  • Students will need to provide the International Services office with the following:
    • Updated residential address
    • Updated U.S. phone number
    • Verification that they are enrolled in a full course of study
2) Register a full course load by the end of the add/drop period every semester.
  • Full Course of Study 
    • Undergraduate: 12 credits.
    • Graduate/Law: Typically, 9 credits. 
    • Students should confirm full course of study requirements based on the program with their academic advisors/deans.
  • Online Courses 
    • F-1 International students are only permitted to take a certain number of credits online or through virtual learning. 
    • Undergraduate
      • 9 credits MUST be taken in person.
      • Additional credits may be taken online or in person. 
    • Graduate 
      • 6 credits MUST be taken in person.
      • Additional credits may be taken online or in person. 
  • If for any reason a student cannot register a full course of study in a given semester or if they must drop/withdraw from a course, they MUST notify the International Services office. Reductions in course load can be allowed under specific circumstances (e.g. medical necessity), but must be authorized in advance.
3) Keep U.S. address updated.
  • When students arrive in the U.S. or any time they move while pursuing their course of study, they MUST notify the International Services office within 10 days to update their U.S. address.
4) Report any changes to academic program, enrollment, major, or biographical information. 
  • The International Services office is responsible for reporting changes of information in a student’s SEVIS record. Students MUST notify the International Services office within 10 days of making any changes.
  • In some circumstances, students may need a new Form I-20 to reflect the change. Students must keep all Forms I-20 they are given.
5) Request an extension of the Form I-20 if more time is needed to complete the academic program.
  • A Form I-20 cannot be extended unless there is a compelling academic reason that necessitates more time to complete the academic program.
  • Students must apply in advance. I-20s cannot be extended after they expire.
6) Do not work without authorization.
  • Any off-campus employment must be authorized by the International Services office.
  • Internships and externships, even unpaid, are considered work and must be authorized prior to start. 
    • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) 
    • Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • While volunteering is permitted, "volunteer" activity is limited to specific situations. Unpaid activity is not necessarily volunteer activity. 
    • Volunteering
  • Working without authorization is a serious violation of F-1 immigration status. Students should ALWAYS ask if unsure.
7) Depart the U.S. by the end of the grace period.
  • The grace period is the period of time after successful completion of a program of study for which an F-1 student is permitted to remain in the U.S.
  • F-1 students are admitted into the U.S. for "duration of status.”
    • “Duration of status” is the length of the program of study (as indicated on a student’s Form I-20). The completion date will include any post-completion practical training if applicable.
    • As long as the program of study (including practical training) has been successfully completed, students are granted a grace period of 60 days to depart the country, change status, or enroll in a higher level of education, etc.

Reduced Course Load

There are several exceptions in which students may be permitted to enroll in a reduced course load (fewer classes than a full course of study) while still maintaining F-1 visa status. Students MUST contact the International Services office for approval BEFORE proceeding with a reduced course load (RCL). 

  • Academic Difficulties: Students who initially struggle with the English language or reading requirements, are unfamiliar with U.S. teaching methods, or were placed at the improper course level. 
    • A full course of study must be resumed the following semester, and this authorization may only happen once per academic level.
  • Medical Conditions: Temporary illness or medical condition. 
    • The total amount of RCL time due to medical conditions may not exceed a total of 12 months per academic level.
  • Completion of Studies: Students in their final semester need only take the remaining courses necessary to graduate. 

F-1 students visit the U.S. for the purpose of studying. There are other visa classifications for nonimmigrants entering the U.S. for employment. For this reason, F-1 students are generally not permitted to pursue employment in the U.S; however, there are several ways to be approved for work authorization, both during studies and after completion.

On-Campus Employment

Typically, F-1 students are permitted to work on-campus; however, they MUST confirm their work authorization with the RWU International Services office. 

Working for an RWU Department

  • While F-1 students are authorized to work for RWU departments on campus they are not eligible for federal work study aid. Other arrangements (such as Payroll positions) can be made.

Working for an On-Campus Commercial Business (bookstore, food service)

  • F-1 students are authorized to work for third-party commercial businesses ONLY if the workplace is on campus property and provides services to RWU students.

Other Considerations: Documentation, Time Restrictions, etc.

  • F-1 students must obtain a U.S. Social Security Number before they can begin working.
  • They are permitted to work no more than 20 hours per week while classes are in session, but they may work more than 20 hours per week during official school breaks.

Off-Campus Employment

Typically, F-1 students are NOT permitted to workoff-campus; however, there are some important exceptions that allow F-1 students to work off campus property.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Alternate work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.

  • Eligibility 
    • The practical training experience MUST be an “integral part of an established curriculum" and "directly related to the student's major area of study."
    • The student MUST have been enrolled full-time at a SEVP-approved institution for a minimum of one academic year before CPT authorization is possible.
    • One of two conditions MUST be met for the experience to qualify for CPT authorization:
      • The training is required to complete the program of study.
      • Successful completion of the training results in academic credit.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT authorization. 

  • There are two types of OPT:
    • Pre-completion OPT
      • Can be completed in place of CPT.
      • Deducts from post-completion OPT available to F-1 students.
    • Post-completion OPT
  • Eligibility
    • OPT employment MUST be related to a student’s program of study.
    • The student MUST have been enrolled full-time at a SEVP-approved institution for a minimum of one academic year before OPT authorization is possible.
Severe Economic Hardship

There are limited opportunities for F-1 students other than the employment options mentioned previously. Students should check with the International Services office to find out if they qualify for Special Student Relief or Temporary Protected Status. Whether they qualify depends on their country of origin. 

Obtaining a Social Security Number

Before beginning any form of employment, F-1 students MUST obtain a U.S. social security number. 

  • A Social Security Number is a unique 9-digit number automatically given to U.S. citizens. It is used to track the earnings of employees at U.S. companies. It is also used for many other identification purposes by banks, U.S. credit card companies, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
  • F-1students MUST visit a Social Security Administration office and present documentation indicating that they are eligible to receive a social security number.

Eligibility and Application for Social Security Number

There are three basic documents that F-1 students must bring with them, according to the Social Security Administration website:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Form I-20
  • I-94 Admission Record

Students will also need the following documents from Roger Williams University:

  • A letter offering employment. 
    • Students must coordinate with the on-campus department or their workplace to secure a letter offering employment.
    • A letter of employment form for on-campus employment can be found on the International Services website and MUST be completed by the hiring department.
  • A letter of F-1 visa status verification. 
    • F-1 students should present the letter offering employment to the International Services office. The International Services office will then issue a letter of F-1 visa status verification within 2-3 business days. 
  • Additional documents to help with the SSN application process can be found on the International Services website or in students’ Bridges accounts. 


Performing service for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons without the expectation or receipt of compensation in any form for services rendered.

  • Examples
    • Community-focused events (trash clean-up, etc.)
    • Regular contribution at shelters (e.g. animal shelter, refugee organizations, etc.)

Volunteering or Work?

If the volunteer experience relates directly to a student’s program of study, that experience is considered practical training and requires prior authorization. Students and staff advisors should consider who benefits from the volunteer experience. 

  • For example, regularly contributing at an animal shelter would appropriately be considered “volunteering.” However, if experience with animal handling relates to a student’s program of study and will benefit them in job searches, etc., then that experience would more appropriately be defined as practical training and would require authorization. 
  • Remember that volunteer work should involve service without receipt of compensation in any form. Compensation may be nonmonetary and includes relevant work training experience.

Curricular Practical Training

International students in the U.S. with an F-1 student visa should be aware that they must receive employment authorization before beginning curricular or extracurricular training opportunities off-campus. This includes internships, externships or any other type of practical training that is related to one’s program of study.

As defined by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE): Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education or other type of required internship or practicum that a sponsoring employer offers through agreements with a student’s school.


Study in the States (DHS): Training Opportunities in the United States

CPT Fast Facts (ICE): What is Curricular Practical Training?

CPT Requirements
Eligibility Requirements
  • Student must be in current valid F-1 status at an SEVP-approved institution.
  • Student must have been enrolled in full-time status for one full academic year at a SEVP-approved college, university, conservatory, or seminary (this does not have to be one full year at RWU, an important note for transfer students)
    • One full academic year: this refers to completion of two semesters, meaning that typical first-year students would be eligible for CPT in the summer after their first year.
    • If students take a leave of absence from their studies and their absence from the United States is greater than five months, the “clock” on the one-year counter restarts and they must complete another academic year before they are eligible.
  • The training experience must be directly related to a student’s degree, and must meet at least one of the following criteria:
    • The training must be required to complete the program of study
    • The training must result in academic credit
Location and Timing of Practical Training
  • Work on campus property, including on-campus internships, etc., is typically automatically authorized and may not require CPT authorization. Please consult with International Student Services (ISS) for more information.
  • Practical training that takes place off campus property must be pre-authorized. This is done by requesting CPT authorization with RWU’s Designated School Official (DSO).
  • Authorization can only be granted before the start of the Practical Training experience.
  • Pre-completion OPT in place of CPT may be an appealing option for some students, if internship/work opportunities are not directly related to the student’s curriculum. Please contact ISS for more information.
    • Please note that pre-completion OPT time deducts from post-completion OPT available to F-1 students (1 year for standard OPT). Part-time pre-completion OPT deducts from the time available at half rate.
CPT Application Procedures
  1. Student: Meet with the Designated School Official (DSO) when beginning to search for an internship to confirm that they meet the eligibility requirements outlined above.
  2. DSO: Confirm that the student is eligible and the proposed internship qualifies for CPT authorization.
  3. Student: Complete RWU’s CPT Application Form, which can be accessed online or found in Bridges. Requires signature from dean or registrar.
  4. DSO: Prepare updated Form I-20 with work authorization details as presented in the application form.
  5. Student: Begin work no sooner than the authorized date listed on the Form I-20.
Full Time and Part Time CPT
  • Full-Time CPT: More than 20 hours per week
  • Part-Time CPT: Less than 20 hours per week (no more than 20 hours)
  • Impact of Full-Time CPT on Optional Practical Training (OPT) Eligibility:
    • If accumulated full-time CPT authorization time exceeds 12 months, students will become ineligible to receive OPT authorization.
    • Part-time CPT authorizations do not impact OPT eligibility in any way. There is no limit to part-time CPT.
    • The International Services office will work with students to track the amount of full-time CPT used to ensure eligibility for post-completion OPT.
Considerations for Graduate and Law Programs
All Graduate Programs
  • Some graduate programs require internships or other practical training within the first year.
  • If practical training is required in the first academic year of a graduate-level program or higher, students can be authorized to participate in internships, etc. even if they have not completed one full academic year at a SEVP-certified school.
RWU School of Law
  • Students in RWU’s School of Law need to be particularly careful when they engage in practical training. There are a few programs that are not specifically required per the curriculum but are offered by RWU Law that require CPT authorization:
  • Pro-Bono Hours: 50 hours are required to graduate. CPT will be granted for those 50 hours.
    • These hours may be completed at any point before graduation. However, F-1 international students must adhere to the above guidelines when planning their pro-bono hours, including the one academic year requirement.
    • Some students may wish to engage in more than 50 hours, at which point a new CPT authorization must be granted. You should work with the Feinstein Center for Pro Bono and Experiential Learning (Feinstein Office) or the Deans of the Law School to arrange a way to engage in additional pro-bono hours for academic credit.
  • Clinics and Externships: The Law School offers many kinds of practical training opportunities in the form of clinics and externships. More information can be found here. F-1 international students should work with the ISSS Office to determine if CPT authorization is necessary for the type of training experience pursued.
  • Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program: F-1 international students should work with the ISSS Office and the Feinstein Office to make proper arrangements if there is interest in engaging in the Alternative Spring Break Program. Remember that CPT restrictions may prohibit most F-1 international students from participating in ASB during their first year of law school.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • Temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT authorization. 

OPT Eligibility and Regulations

  • Student MUST have been lawfully enrolled in a full course of study at a SEVP-approved school for a minimum of one full academic year to be eligible for OPT.
  • OPT is available to students both before and after completion of their educational objective, but different rules apply to pre-completion and post-completion OPT.
  • Students may engage in OPT for any employer for the duration of OPT authorization, as long as the employment qualifies under OPT standards.
  • Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level.
  • Use of pre-completion OPT impacts availability of post-completion OPT. 
    • Full-time pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12-month cumulative limit at the full-time rate.
    • Part-time pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12-month cumulative limit at a 50% rate.
  • A 24-month extension of post-completion OPT is available to certain STEM degree recipients.
  • Students may work no more than 20 hours per week for pre-completion OPT done while school is in session and the students still have coursework to complete.
  • Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks and in other special situations (e.g., students completing thesis requirements in their final semester).
  • For standard post-completion OPT and STEM OPT, a student must be adequately employed to avoid limits on unemployment.
Field/level of work
  • Must be directly related to the student's major field of study.
Offer of employment
  • No offer of employment is required to apply for standard OPT, but the student is expected to work during the OPT Employment Authorization validity period and MUST report employment. 
    • Students on post-completion OPT are limited to an aggregate maximum of 90 days of unemployment.
  • To apply for a STEM-OPT extension, students MUST have an offer of employment from an employer registered with E-Verify. 
    • Students on a STEM-OPT extension are permitted additional days of unemployment.
Effect on other work
  • Prior use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT.
    • Part-time CPT has no impact on OPT eligibility even if the total duration of part-time CPT exceeds one year.
Approval process
  1. The DSO determines the student's eligibility to apply for OPT and advises the student on terms and conditions of maintaining status while on OPT.
  2. The DSO recommends the student for OPT in SEVIS.
  3. The student files an I-765 application with USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
  4. Work begins ONLY after the student receives their EAD from USCIS, and on or after the start date on the EAD.
    • Special rules apply for applications for the STEM-OPT extension.
  • When doing pre-completion OPT, students MUST maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks). 
  • Students MUST report to their DSO any changes in name, address, or employer name and address; DSOs MUST update SEVIS within 21 days of notification. Students approved for STEM-OPT extensions are subject to additional reporting requirements.
  • Pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT MUST be filed for on separate applications.

 OPT Application Steps

SEVP Help Hub OPT Process Flow

Post-Completion OPT Application Steps and Important Dates
  1. Student: Requests OPT
  • Students are required to meet with the International Services to discuss the student’s eligibility for OPT and begin the process.
  • Students can request OPT within 90 days of the program end date and 60 days after the program end date. For example:
    • Students with a May 15th graduation date may request OPT between February 15th and July 15th.
    • Students with a December 15th graduation date may request OPT between September 15th and February 15th.
  1. DSO: Recommends OPT
  • RWU’s DSO MUST update SEVIS with the OPT recommendation before any further action is taken.
  • Students will receive a confirmation email from International Services to confirm that the OPT recommendation has been processed. Upon receipt of that confirmation, students may proceed with the next step.
  • The DSO will produce an updated Form I-20 indicating OPT recommendation. This form will be necessary to complete the next steps.
  1. Student: Files Form I-765
  • Students MUST submit Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization to USCIS within the allowed timeframe.
  • See USCIS.gov/i-765 to create an account online with USCIS and to access the form, file online, and view important information.
  • Students seeking OPT must submit the following to USCIS no later than 30 days from the DSO updating SEVIS with the OPT recommendation:
    • Form I-765
    • Form I-765 Filing Fee ($410)
    • Updated I-20 indicating OPT recommendation
  • If the timeline requirements are not met, the OPT request will be denied. The fee is not refundable.
  1. USCIS: Adjudicates Form I-765
  • Processing time can vary widely, and delays of up to 90 days are not uncommon. Students must plan accordingly.
  • RWU International Services will update students when changes are indicated in SEVIS.
  1. Student: Receives EAD and starts work; reports to DSO
  • When students receive their EAD, they will be cleared to begin working. Students must send a scanned copy of their EAD card to RWU International Services.
  • When students begin working, it is essential that they report the start of their employment to RWU International Services. The DSO will then be able to update SEVIS with employment information.
    • If students receive their EAD card and begin working but fail to report to the DSO, the time spent working without first reporting will be counted as unemployment. 
    • 90 days of unemployment are allowed for international students engaged in OPT.
  1. DSO: Reports address change and employer information
  • Students must report changes of address and changes of employer to RWU’s DSO so that they can be reflected, if necessary, with an updated Form I-20.

RWU is responsible for visa reporting regarding students engaged in OPT and terminating status if students fail to meet the reporting requirements. 

STEM-OPT Extension

More information to come. Please consult International Student & Scholar Services at international@rwu.edu with any inquires related to STEM-OPT Extensions.

Visa Renewal Process

A valid F-1 visa is necessary for students to enter the U.S; however, students may remain in the U.S. after their visa expires if:

  • They have a valid passport
  • They have a valid Form I-20
  • They are continuing a full course of study and properly maintaining status or they are employed under post-completion OPT and adhering to all OPT guidelines.

If a student’s visa expires while they are in the U.S. and they exit the country for any amount of time, they MUST obtain a new F-1 visa before re-entering the country. Visas can ONLY be obtained at a U.S. consulate. Students MUST complete the same application process to obtain a second F-1 visa.

  • Exceptions to this rule exist for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. 
  • To find the best U.S. consulate to meet your travel needs, please visit U.S. Embassy.gov.
  • See the State Department’s Student Visa page for more information, especially information pertaining to visa renewal.
Termination and Record Reactivation for Leaves of Absence
  • If a student must take a temporary leave of absence from studies due to unforeseen circumstances, SEVP has instructed DSOs to terminate the student's SEVIS record for Authorized Early Withdrawal.
  • 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv) establishes a 15-day grace period to depart the United States following an authorized early withdrawal.


Authority Cite – 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv)

(iv) Preparation for departure. An F-1 student who has completed a course of study and any authorized practical training following completion of studies will be allowed an additional 60-day period to prepare for departure from the United States or to transfer in accordance with paragraph (f)(8) of this section. An F-1 student authorized by the DSO to withdraw from classes will be allowed a 15-day period for departure from the United States. However, an F-1 student who fails to maintain a full course of study without the approval of the DSO or otherwise fails to maintain status is not eligible for an additional period for departure.

Reentry after an absence of more than 5 months unconnected to study
  • 8 CFR 214.2(f)(4) allows an F-1 student to be readmitted to the U.S. after "a temporary absence of five months or less." 
  • After an absence of more than five months that is unconnected to study, a student cannot be readmitted to the U.S. to resume F-1 status but will have to enter as an initial student and begin F-1 status anew.
  • Entering as an initial student would require a new SEVIS record, a new Form I-20, and a new payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee. 
  • As an initial student, the clock for eligibility for F-1 benefits such as practical training and off-campus work authorization would also be reset. See the discussion below on whether a student with an F-1 visa still valid on its face needs to obtain a new F-1 visa after an absence of more than five months.

The F-2 Visa is a non-immigrant temporary permit for the immediate family of F-1 Student Visa Holders. F-2 status enables dependents to stay in the U.S. during the F-1 student’s program. Dependents are defined as a spouse or unmarried, minor (under age 21) children.

Duration Requirements 
  • An F-1 student MUST maintain his or her status for the F-2 dependent to stay in the U.S. 
  • The authorized period of stay for an F-2 dependent should be the same as that of the F-1 student. 
  • At the end of the F-1 program, there is a 60-day grace period during which the F-1 student and F-2 dependent may stay in the U.S. Once the F-1 student has completed their studies and has left the U.S., the F-2 dependent must leave as well.

Applying for F-2 Status

Dependent documents can be requested as part of the admissions process or once the F-1 student has arrived in the U.S. F-1 students who plan on bringing their families with them at the beginning of their studies should submit their dependent documents and financial documentation as part of the admissions process.

To accompany the F-1 student, the dependent must obtain an F-2 Form I-20 from the RWU International Services office. They may do one of the following:

  • Apply for an F-2 visa at a U.S Embassy or Consulate
  • If already in the U.S. in another status, submit an application for a change of status to USCIS. 

Each dependent MUST have their own F-2 Form I-20 and a unique SEVIS ID number.

  • The F-2 Form I-20 MUST be signed by the F-1 student.
The F-1 student MUST submit the following documentation to the International Services office:
  • F-2 Form I-20
  • A clear scan of the photo/information page of the passport for each individual dependent
  • Document of legal relationship
    • Spouse – Copy of Marriage Certificate* with English Translation
    • Child – Copy of Birth Certificate or Legal Adoption Papers 
  • Financial documentation* showing ability to cover dependent expenses

*In order for same-sex spouses to be eligible for F-2 status, the marriage MUST be recognized in the place of celebration. 

*Financial documents can be in the form of a bank statement or bank letter in English or with official English translation issued within the last 6 months.

Processing Time: 10 Business Days 

Limitations on F-2 Work and Study
  • F-2 dependents are not allowed to work or engage in business activities at any point during their F-2 status.
  • F-2 dependents are NOT eligible for Social Security Numbers.
  • F-2 dependents can enroll in classes part-time at a SEVP-approved institution but are required to change to F-1 status if they choose to pursue a degree full-time.
  • F-2 minor children can engage in full-time study at the K-12 level.