International Student: Maintaining Legal Status

Dear International Student,

It is essential that you understand that as an F-1 student, you are subject to two related but separate sets of rules – College rules and policies and the U.S, Federal government rules and policies for F-1 students. On the college side you will interact with professors, the Dean of the College, the registrar, Student Affairs, etc. toward the goal of earning your degree. On the Federal government side, you will interact with the ISA toward the goal of maintaining legal status. That means that in addition to seeking approval from, or providing notification to, the college for various actions, you must also seek approval from and provide notification to the advisor in the International Student Services office (ISS).

Please note that not everything that the college allows a student to do is necessarily allowed by the Federal government. The rules do not always agree. And sometimes the school and the government use the same words but mean very different things. The bottom line is that while the school rules are flexible to some degree, the government rules are written in stone.  This can all be very confusing. Obviously, it is really important to ask questions of both the school and the international office to understand what you can do and how to do it.

F-1 students must comply with the Federal rules in order to maintain legal status in the U.S. Failure to maintain status can result in severe consequences. The role of the International Student Advisor is to provide you the information you need to maintain your status. ​However, YOU are responsible for your legal status, not the advisor.

The first page of your I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status, has information about you, about the school, about your program of study, the cost of attending Pomona College and how that cost is covered. The information on your I-20 should be correct at all times during your program. When you declare a major or change your major or add a second major, there is no invisible “behind the scenes” action that changes your I-20. YOU must contact ISS to request an update to the Program of Study Section and receive a new I-20.

On page two of the I-20, the section on employment authorizations will be updated if and when you engage in Curricular Practical Training during your studies or Optional Practical Training when you graduate. The last section is for Travel signatures. See International Student: Travel Abroad and in the U.S. for more details on Travel Signatures.


When do I need to have my I-20 with me?

You need to have valid I-20 form (not a digital scan) with a current travel signature each time you return to the U.S. from traveling abroad. You will need your I-20 to verify your student status when applying for a driver’s license or a Social Security Card. You need to contact the ISA when you need a travel signature. You should have it with you whenever you travel in the U.S., especially when that travel is within 100 miles of the U.S. border. See International Student: Travel Abroad or in the U.S.

Can I throw out old I-20’s when I get a new one?

No. You need to keep ALL I-20’s issued to you. You will need all your past I-20 forms when applying for future immigration benefits, possibly even 5 – 10 years down the road.