F-1 Visa and Immigration

It is your responsibility to understand and comply with the terms of your immigration status during your stay in the United States. A violation of the immigration regulations (for example, failure to maintain a full-time credit load) could jeopardize your F-1 status and legal stay in the U.S. Review this information carefully and contact International Student Services (ISS) if you have questions.

What is a Visa and F-1 "Status"?

A U.S. non-immigrant visa is issued in an individual's passport by a U.S. consul in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. A visa is used solely for the purpose of entry and reentry to the United States. The visa does not determine how long an individual may remain in the United States. Therefore, an individual may stay beyond the expiration date of a visa as long as the visa document (Form I-20) is valid. Most visa stamps are for multiple entries. Once the visa expires it will be necessary to apply for a new visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate when traveling outside the United States. It is not possible to apply for or to renew a visa in the United States.

“Status” is your nonresident category officially granted by an immigration official. To be in F-1 “status” means that you are legally in the U.S. and have benefits and restrictions specified in the immigration regulations for the F-1 visa category. You gain status either by entering the U.S. with F-1 documents (described below) or, for people already in the U.S. in a different status, by applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a change of status.

Period of authorized stay

Your admission to the U.S. is for “duration of status,” that is, for the length of your F-1 status. F-1 status covers the period when you are a full-time registered student making normal progress toward your degree, plus an optional period of practical training following completion of studies, plus a 60-day “grace period” to prepare to depart the U.S. or change to another status. Your length of authorized stay is not related to your F-1 visa expiration date. The F-1 visa is specifically for entry into the U.S. The F-1 visa might expire before your status expires, and your status might end before your visa expires.

Important Documents

Passport

Your passport must be valid at all times. Keep your passport and other important documents in a safe place. Report a lost or stolen passport to the police because your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. To renew or replace your passport, contact your country’s consulate in the U.S.

Visa

The visa is the stamp that the U.S. consular officer placed on a page in your passport. The visa permitted you to apply for admission into the U.S. as an F-1 student, and need not remain valid while you are in the U.S. Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. consulate.

If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new F-1 visa before returning to the U.S. Exceptions to this rule exist for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. For more information, visit our “Travel" section.

I-20 Certificate of Eligibility

Issued by Bennington, this document allows you to apply for an F-1 visa if you are outside the U.S, apply for F-1 status within the U.S., enter and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, and prove your eligibility for various F-1 benefits.The I-20 indicates the institution in which you are permitted to study, your program of study, and the dates of eligibility. The I-20 must remain valid at all times.

I-94 Arrival & Departure Record

When you enter the U.S. you are issued either an admission stamp in your passport. The admission stamp records the date and place you entered the U.S., your immigration status, and authorized period of stay (indicated by “D/S”, meaning “duration of status”). Be sure to check the stamp to make sure it is correct. If you receive a paper I-94 card instead of a stamp, keep it stapled in your passport. A $330 fee is required to replace a lost, stolen or damaged paper I-94 card.

You might need a printout of your electronic I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a Social Security Number. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record at CBP.gov/I94.

Applying For a Visa

After you review and sign your Form I-20, follow these instructions to apply for your F-1 student visa: 

File SEVIS Form I-901 and pay the fee

  • All students must pay this fee before applying for a visa and before arriving in the U.S. Pay the fee here. Be sure to print your confirmation after paying.

Make your visa appointment

  • Apply early! You may apply for a student visa up to 120 days in advance of your course of study start date.
  • Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest you to make an appointment. Find your consulate here.
  • Follow the instructions on the embassy or consulate website for the forms and fees you need to submit before making your appointment. Each country may have different requirements, but in general, all applicants for an F-1 visa must submit the following:
    • Visa application Form DS-160
    • Visa application fee
    • Form I-20
    • Confirmation of payment for SEVIS I-901 fee
    • Proof of financial ability to pay for the first year/term of study

Prepare for your visa interview

There are two things you should do to increase your chances of getting a visa:

  1. Have all the required documentation
  2. Be prepared

At your interview, the consular officer must be satisfied of 3 things: 

  1. That you are a bona fide student. Be prepared to discuss the reasons you chose Bennington College, your major, and your career plans. Bring school transcripts, TOEFL scores (if you have them) and anything else that demonstrates your academic commitment.
  2. That you have the necessary financial support for your studies. Provide solid evidence of your finances—either your personal funds or your sponsor’s.
  3. That you have strong economic, family, and social ties to your home country. Bring evidence of your family’s economic position, property you may own or will inherit, and your own economic potential when you come home with a U.S. education. Talk about close family members that live in your country, community or school activities that you have been involved in, and leadership, sports, and other roles that distinguish you as a person who wants to come home and contribute your part. 

Visa Approval: If your visa is approved, be sure to check it before you leave the embassy or consulate to make sure that your name and biographical information is correct, and that it is the correct visa type (F-1).

Visa Denial: If your application is refused, the consular officer is required to give you an explanation in writing. You may apply a second time, but if you reapply, make sure to prepare much more carefully. The officer will want to see fresh evidence sufficient to overcome the reasons for the first denial. For more information about visa denials, visit here

Arriving at the United States Port of Entry

  • Plan your arrival. You may not arrive in the U.S. more than 30 days before the program start date on your SEVIS I-20 Form.
  • Hand carry your admission documents. Do not pack these items in your suitcase. Remember, to pass security screening at the airport, you must show your:
    • Valid passport
    • Valid Form I-20 
    • SEVIS I-901 confirmation of payment
    • Evidence of financial support
    • Transcripts/grades, if you are a continuing student

Helpful U.S. Visa, Immigration, and Travel Links

Maintaining Your Visa

While studying at Bennington, you are required to maintain your F-1 non-immigrant status. As an undergraduate, this equates to a minimum of 12 credit hours per term. It is important that you adhere to the guidelines below as well as those provided by USCIS.

The information below is intended to offer general information on F-1 regulations and should not be taken as legal advice. Please note that your International Student Advisors (ISAs) are available to assist you, however, maintaining your legal F-1 status is ultimately your responsibility.

F-1 Compliance Guidelines

  1. You must meet with an ISA within the first week of classes to register in SEVIS. You will receive an updated and signed I-20.

  2. Inform your ISA of any name, address, or funding updates within 10 days of the change.

  3. Meet with an ISA for prior approval to drop below 12 credit hours, which is only feasible under certain extenuating circumstances.

  4. Inform an ISA of address changes, including changes over FWT.

  5. Keep your passport valid for at least six months beyond your program completion date.

  6. Do NOT work without prior written permission from an ISA. Students who work on campus must not exceed the maximum 20 hours per week while school is in session.

  7. To transfer out of Bennington College, you must notify an ISA of your intentions to transfer before your F-1 status ends.

  8. Upon completion of your degree, you will have a 60-day grace period to depart the United States. You may also transfer to another program, change education levels, or apply for post-completion OPT. Please visit the work authorization page (link here) to learn about your options.

Renewing Your Visa

Students may stay in the U.S. on an expired F-1 visa as long as they maintain their immigration status by being in possession of a valid I-20 and an I-94 Arrival/Departure record. If students are traveling and will not use automatic revalidation to re-enter the U.S., they must have a valid visa.

Visas cannot be renewed inside the U.S. Once students have made a visa interview appointment at a U.S. embassy/consulate abroad, they should review the embassy/consulate’s website for details on the visa renewal process including required documents. Students are also able to check on the visa wait times for a specific U.S. embassy/consulate through the U.S. Department of State website.

The Department of State recommends that students apply for a visa in their home country. Students who must apply for a visa in a third country must remember the following:

  • Students cannot return to the U.S. until their visa has been issued.
  • If the visa application is denied, students will not be able to return to the U.S. and will be required to return to their home country.
  • If the visa application is denied in Canada or Mexico, automatic revalidation does not apply.

Leave of Absence

International students must notify ISS of their plans prior to taking a Leave of Absence (LOA) from the College. Depending on the type of leave, the Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) may require ISS to terminate a student's F-1 status. 

Types of Leaves

1. Academic Withdrawal Leave
2. Medical Leave
3. Military Leave
4. Personal Leave
5. Study Abroad

Study Abroad

If you are taking a study abroad LOA, you can most likely continue to maintain your current F-1 status, provided that your LOA has been approved by the Director of Study Away and that you have received approval from ISS prior to departure from Bennington.

If you will be outside of the United States for a period longer than five months, there is a possibility that ISS could terminate your F-1 status. Please continue to stay in contact with an International Student Advisor to ensure the proper maintenance of your immigration status. 

Please visit Study Abroad for more information.

LOA Effects on OPT 

SEVP mandates that ISS terminate a student's F-1 status if they are on a non-study abroad LOA. If your F-1 is terminated, you must return to Bennington for two consecutive semesters in full-time status in order to be eligible for Post Completion Optional Practical Training or Curricular Practical Training. 

Returning to Bennington

When you are ready to return to Bennington after a LOA, please notify ISS at least 3 months prior to your intended return to request a new I-20 visa document. An International Student Advisor (ISA) will assist you with this process.

If your plans for program completion change and you drop below a full course of study, you must meet with an ISA. Should you take a leave of absence, withdraw voluntarily, or become suspended, you are required to change your non-immigrant status, transfer to another school, or leave the United States. If you are suspended or required to withdraw from the college, you must leave the U.S. immediately. The only exception to remain in F-1 status and in the U.S. is through a valid Medical Withdrawal. This option must be discussed with an ISA prior to filing for withdrawal.

Out of Status

If you have fallen out of status while pursuing your education at Bennington, you must complete the application Form I-539 through USCIS. If you have been out of status for more than five months, you are not eligible for reinstatement, and it is recommended you meet with an ISA.

Transfers & Leaving Bennington

F-1 students who have been admitted to Bennington and are coming from another institution are considered F-1 program transfers. The students will have to complete the transfer in form and submit this form to ISS. They must also speak with the international student advisor at their current school and request that their SEVIS record be electronically released from their current school to Bennington.

Transfer from Bennington to another institution

F-1 students who have made a commitment to attend another institution must inform ISS and request that their SEVIS records be electronically released to the new school. They must also submit the transfer out form.