American Language Program / Visa / Maintaining Your Status

Maintaining Your Status

Our International Student Services (ISS) office is prepared to answer questions about foreign student status in the United States and to interpret regulations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly the INS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

It is your responsibility to abide by the laws that relate specifically to foreign students in the U.S. Failure to do this may subject you to deportation.

Maintenance of Visa Status

The DHS is taking steps to improve the tracking of international students on F-1 and J-1 visas in the United States. The USCIS is requiring schools to report your enrollment or failure of enrollment, status violations, changes in study plans, and change of address. This means that you have to be very careful to stay “in status” and keep the ALP or ISS office updated of any changes in your address or study plan. Being “in status” means that you attend all classes and that you make normal progress toward completing your course of studies. If you cannot attend class due to illness, you must bring or fax a doctor’s note as soon as possible to the ISS Office.


You must understand and follow USCIS regulations in order to maintain your F-1 visa status. A student who does not maintain his/her visa status may fall into a category of being unlawfully present in the United States. When this occurs, you could be required to leave the U.S. immediately or face penalties of being denied entrance into the U.S. for a period of three (3) to ten (10) years. If you have immigration questions, please come to the office or send your question by email. Please do not rely on what your friends tell you!

It is important to explain two legal terms to fully understand how to maintain your legal status in the U.S. People are often confused about the terms "Visa" and "immigration status.” For example, students frequently say to us "My visa is expired. How do I get my visa extended?"

In some cases, the students mean that the visa stamp in their passport is expired, while others are referring to their I-20 form. In order to answer the above question, a foreign student advisor must clarify what is meant: the visa stamp or the I-20.

If you are referring to the F-1 visa stamp in your passport, that stamp cannot be renewed within the U.S. - you can only renew it at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. However, you do not need to renew it if you do NOT plan to travel outside the U.S. with the intention of re-entering to continue your studies in F-1 status.

The expiration date on the visa stamp does not indicate the length of time you are allowed to stay in the U.S., it indicates only the latest date on which you can enter this country. When entering the U.S. through a "port of entry," the immigration inspector looks at your passport, your visa, and your I-20 or Certificate of Eligibility, your SEVIS record, and determines if you can enter the U.S. or not. The visa basically functions as a key to enter the U.S. Once you have entered, you don't have to worry about whether your visa is valid or expired. However, when you leave and need to re-enter the U.S., you must have a valid "key", or visa to return.

If you are referring to your I-20 form, then you need to see a foreign student advisor about a program extension or re-instatement.

Immigration Status

Once the immigration inspector at the port of entry determines you are admissible to the U.S., an immigration status is granted, which is indicated on your I-94 Arrival/ Departure card and on your I-20 form. The I-94 card is a very important document, so be sure you always keep it safely with your passport.

The inspector will write the terms "F-1" and "D/S" on the I-94 card. These refer to your status and the length of time you are permitted to remain in the U.S. "D/S" means duration of status. The number at the top of the card is your admission number, which you will keep for the duration of your stay. When you leave the U.S., you will be issued a new admission number upon re-entry to the U.S.

As a student, it is your responsibility to:

Report any change of address to International Students & Scholars within ten (10) days after the change occurs (use our Address/Phone Update Form). Please note that the USCIS requires we have a local address, not a post office box address. We will enter the address into SEVIS and the USCIS will be informed that way. However, you are required to inform us within ten (10) days of your move.

What is SEVIS?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an electronic database/website where schools process I-20s and report “events” such as program registration, transfers, program completion, change of address, etc. This is how the USCIS keeps track of foreign students.

When do I inform United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of an address change?

The Immigration and Nationality Act 265(a) requires aliens (a term for all individuals in the United States who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals) to report their address within ten (10) days of changing it. This law has been in effect for 50 years, and in the past it was not strictly enforced. However, it is now carefully monitored. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System – SEVIS – requires schools and programs to report the addresses of all non-immigrants in F-1 and J-1 status.

You must keep your passport valid at all times. For information on how to renew your passport, please contact your country's embassy (visit: for a directory). Students may request a letter from the International Student Services office to help in extending or renewing the passport. In general, passports should always have at least six (6) months before expiration.

ALP students must attend all classes to fulfill visa requirements for full-time enrollment. Exceptions to full-time study must be cleared through a foreign student advisor in advance. If for some valid reason (for example, medical problems) you are unable to register full-time for one semester, you must file a “Reduced Course Load” form at the International Student Services office. You must file this before the beginning of each semester - approval MUST be obtained before you begin classes. Failure to enroll for full-time study or to obtain approval from a foreign student advisor for less than full-time study may jeopardize your student status in the United States, including any future benefits to which you may be entitled. See a foreign student advisor in International Student Services office for more information.

If you wish to travel outside the United States during your program, you must obtain a travel authorization.

  • In order to receive a travel authorization signature on page 3 of your I-20, you must prove that you will return to the American Language Program. If you need to go home for an emergency, you should bring your plane tickets or itinerary showing a returning date with you to the International Students & Scholars office when you bring your I-20. If you will not be returning to the ALP before the session/semester ends and you are not returning the following term, you cannot receive a signature. At the end of a session/semester, you will only receive a travel signature if you complete the appropriate form which will be given to you by your homeroom teacher indicating that you will return to the American Language Program for the next term.
  • If you receive a travel authorization signature from the International Student Services office and use the ALP I-20 to re-enter the country, you are making a commitment with DHS to attend the ALP for at least one more session/semester. If you are returning to your home country and will be attending a different school when you return to the United States, you need to use a “Transfer” or an “Initial Attendance” I-20 from the new school when re-entering the country. Because you will use the new I-20, you do not need travel authorization from the International Student Services office.
  • If you plan to remain at CSUF after re-entering the U.S., you can use the I-20 form which has been endorsed on page 3 by the ISS foreign student advisor. The I-20 should be endorsed within the semester you are traveling. If you require a new I-20 because the information on the front of the I-20 has changed, you will need to re-verify your financial support. When making your travel plans, please remember that you must be a full-time student to keep your F-1 student status. You will be considered to be "in status" if you take the annual summer vacation, as long as you are eligible and intend to register for the next school term.

Travel to Contiguous Territory (i.e., Canada, Mexico, or Adjacent Islands other than Cuba):

  • You may require a visa to enter Canada or Mexico. To get current information directly from the consulates of those countries, go to the following web addresses: (Canada) or (Mexico).
  • When traveling to contiguous territory, international students do not surrender their I-94s (small white card usually stapled in the passport); therefore, you will need the I-94 to reenter the U.S. In general, to re-enter the U.S. from contiguous territory, you must present a valid passport with a U.S. visa stamped within (valid or expired), I-94, and I-20 (either the I-20ID a new I-20A-B) as well as financial documents. It is best to carry a transcript and current registration information.
  • Re-entry for most students with an expired visa is possible as long as the trip has been less than 30 days, the student has not traveled to a third country from the contiguous territory, and the student was in status in the U.S. when entering contiguous territory. If you are from certain countries (currently Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, Syria) you may not benefit from this visa revalidation.

F-1 and J-1 students must have valid health insurance at all times. You can purchase health insurance at the International Student Services office.

Students may work on campus for no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session. The benefit of working on campus requires F-1 and J-1 students to be in status (i.e. full-time registration and valid USCIS documents).

You are required to keep all Certificates of Eligibility. F-1 students should keep all I-20 copies together. J-1 students should keep all DS-2019 copies together. Do not throw away any old documents. In addition, students are required to keep their I-94 forms and passports safe. Students should inform the ISS staff if any of these documents are lost. Also, make copies of all important documents: passport, F-1 visa page, I-20 and I-94 and carry these photocopies with you. Keep the original documents and passport in a secure place.

If you first enter the United States with an American Language Program I-20, you should attend the American Language Program and not another school. Do not attend a school without completing proper transfer procedures. To be eligible for a transfer, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be in valid non-immigrant F-1 student status.
  • You must be, and have been, a full-time student at the school, either during the preceding term, or the term preceding an authorized school vacation.
  • You must have good attendance and good grades. If you have failing (F) grades, you may not be eligible for transfer.
  • You must intend to pursue a full course of study at the new school.
  • You must provide documentation that you are financially able to attend the new school.

If you are planning to transfer to another program, you should begin looking for a new school two to three (2-3) months before you plan to transfer. You may apply to one or more schools before the application deadlines, but you must choose one specific school in order to transfer out of ALP. When you contact the new school, you should indicate that you will be transferring from California State University, Fullerton's American Language Program. Once you are admitted to the new school, you must bring your admission letter to the Cal State Fullerton International Student Services office so that your SEVIS record can be transferred electronically from ALP to the new school.

SEVIS records the release of students from one program so that they can transfer to another program. The current school must set a “release date” in the system. Until that time, the student remains under the control of the current school. On the release date, the transfer school gains full access to the student’s SEVIS record and become responsible for that student. A SEVIS I-20 can be issued by the transfer school only after the release date is reached. In addition, the student can indicate only one school to which he or she should be released for transfer. These SEVIS procedures require students to make careful decisions as to which school they will attend if they have applied to more than one institution.

If you are transferring from another U.S. school to ALP and you have NOT left the U.S. before enrolling at ALP, you MUST complete the transfer of your I-20 within fifteen (15) days of the program start date listed on your new I-20 - start of your semester/ session at ALP. If you are transferring from ALP, you must notify the International Student Services office before you transfer to another school in the U.S., but the new school will process the transfer.

As a student, you are ultimately responsible for knowing the rules and regulations of your status while in the United States. Not knowing the rules is not an excuse with the USCIS. Not following the regulations can affect future immigration benefits. Ask the International Student Advisor in the International Student Services Office (CP-100) if you are unsure about any rules. 

Questions about maintaining your status?

Please contact our office at any time and we will be happy to assist you.


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