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What happens when my F-1 visa expires?

f-1 visa
It's possible to remain in the country on an expired F-1 visa. Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

It’s no secret that the US is one of the most popular countries in the world for international students. Despite the pandemic, the land of the dreams saw 914,095 students enrolling in American institutions for the 2020-21 academic year.

Most international students are admitted to study in the US on an F-1 visa. You’ll apply for this visa if you plan to study at a US college or university, private secondary school, or an approved English language programme.

Naturally, you might wonder what happens when your F-1 student visa expires. Is it possible for me to maintain my F-1 visa status while I am still in the country? Can I travel outside the US once my F-1 visa expires? How do I renew my F-1 visa?

If you’re clueless about what to do when your F-1 visa expires, don’t worry. Here’s a one-stop guide for you:

f-1 visa

You are legally allowed to remain in the country with an expired F-1 visa so long as you maintain your visa status. Source: David Cannon/ David Cannon Collection/Getty Images/AFP

Determining your duration of status

An F-1 visa is granted for the duration of your coursework, commonly known as the “duration of status.” This refers to how long you can legally stay as an F-1 visa holder in the US.

The F-1 status covers the period when: 

  • You are a full-time registered student progressing through your degree
  • An optional period of practical training following the completion of your studies if you have applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT)
  • A 60-day “grace period” to prepare to depart the US or change to another status (in this situation, your grace period will start when you complete your degree or your OPT period) 

What does this mean to international students? As long as you are enrolled as a full-time student who is progressing towards completing your degree, you are maintaining your F-1 visa status. This also applies to students who have been approved for OPT after graduation.

In fact, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) provides that you are legally allowed to remain in the country with an expired F-1 visa so long as you maintain your visa status. 

Maintaining your F-1 visa status

It is good to know some common reasons for falling out of the F-1 visa status. These include:

  • failing to enrol full-time for a semester without authorisation from your DSO
  • working off-campus without authorisation
  • failing to extend your Form I-20 (a document issued to international students accepted by schools certified by the US Student and Exchange Visitor Programme) when you need more time to complete your degree
  • failing to apply to change your status or depart the US at the end of the 60-day grace period
  • leaving the US for an extended period without making arrangements for a temporary leave of absence with your DSO
  • committing a crime 
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If you travel outside the US after your F-1 visa expires, you would need a new visa to re-enter the country. Source: Scott Heins/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

Travelling outside the US after your F-1 visa expires

Are you travelling outside the US after your F-1 visa expires but have not completed your studies? Then you’ll need to apply for a new visa before you can re-enter the US. 

Ensure that you have prepared all the documentation you need for your visa application and consider the time it will take to process your new visa. Following the information on USICE’s website, you should prepare these documents:

  • A Form I-20, endorsed for travel and signed by your Designated School Official (these are employees that help students to maintain their F-1 visa status) 
  • Original evidence showing proof of necessary funds to cover tuition and living expenses 
  • Evidence showing your intention to return to your home country upon completing the programme, including evidence of compelling social and economic ties to your home country
  • A copy of your Form I-20 endorsed for OPT and your Employment Authorisation Document (if you have applied for or had OPT approved) 

The Department of State (DOS) recommends students apply for a visa in their home country. Check the DOS website for specific information concerning each embassy or consulate