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F1 Student Immigration Rules and Regulations

U.S. immigration law is often confusing to international students who are not familiar with its regulations and procedures. This page is designed as a basic guidebook that you, as an international student, can use as a resource for your immigration concerns while you are studying at California Western School of Law.


Rules & Regulations

Refer to this guide whenever you have a question regarding your immigration status.

Although we attempt to keep this information up to date, there is always the possibility that there has been a change in immigration regulations since it was last updated. Always maintain close contact with us to make sure you are informed of any new immigration regulations or procedural changes.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires California Western School of Law to provide detailed and current information on all F-1 students in attendance. Because it is critical that we deliver accurate and up-to-date information, students should inform the Admissions Office immediately of all changes to their name, address, and academic situation. In addition, because it is the student's responsibility to maintain status, all students should review the latest guidelines and procedures.

  • SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on F-1 non-immigrant students and their dependents (F-2 visa holders).
  • SEVIS enables schools to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet, to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student’s stay in the United States.
  • The system reflects international student status changes, such as admission at Port of Entry (POE), change of address, change in program of study, and other details. SEVIS will also provide system alerts, event notifications, and basic reports to the end-user schools, programs, and Immigration related field offices.

F-1 Student Responsibilities

F-1 students are responsible for maintaining their immigration status. If you fail to do so you may face serious immigration problems which could lead to deportation from the United States. There are several important things you must do to maintain status:

F-1 Student Responsibilities

F-1 students are responsible for maintaining their immigration status. If you fail to do so you may face serious immigration problems which could lead to deportation from the United States. There are several important things you must do to maintain status:

  • Maintain full-time enrollment and normal progress towards your degree. Contact the Admissions Office immediately if you are unable to fulfill this requirement.
  • Keep your passport valid! Your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months past your expected completion date at all times. You can apply for a passport renewal with the Embassy or Consulate of the country issuing the original passport. You will need a certification of student status from California Western School of Law for your renewal application. Addresses of embassies and consulates are available at the admissions office.
  • Obtain extensions, as needed, of your permission to stay in the U.S. USCIS regulations state that F-1 students may stay in the U.S. for the duration of an educational program or a series of educational programs (for example, from an undergraduate degree through a master’s degree) plus the duration of optional practical training and then an additional 60 days. However, students who do not complete the stated educational program within the time indicated on their I-20 form must request a program extension prior to the completion date.

Those who do not request a program extension are out of status and must be reinstated by the USCIS. There are new laws that severely penalize non-immigrants who violate their status through overstays. Please make sure your I-20 does not expire.

  • You cannot work more than 20 hours per week on campus (first-year J.D. students are limited to 5 hours per week).
    • As an international student, the only employment you are permitted to engage in during your first year of study is on-campus employment.
    • You are not permitted to work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.
    • Working more than 20 hours per week is a violation of your student status and could lead to any number of USCIS penalties including deportation.
      During summer and other breaks, there is no hour limitation.

NOTE: On-campus, employment is not guaranteed. If you do wish to work on campus, please let us know when you arrive.

  • You cannot work off-campus without USCIS approval.  All off-campus employment must be directly related to your area of study and requires an Optional Practical Training (OPT) application, which must be approved by USCIS. Contact the Admissions Office if you are interested in working off campus.
  • Report a change of address, phone number, email address, and home country address to the Admissions Office within 10 days.

Necessary Documents 

SEVIS I-20 Immigration and Naturalization Form (Certificate of Eligibility) for F-1 Visa

  • SEVIS I-20 is the immigration document that is issued to a student to apply for F-1 status.
  • All actions (e.g., transfers, primary purposes, etc.) are recorded on this document.
  • Dependents will each have their own SEVIS Form I-20.
  • In instances of travel, a student with a SEVIS Form I-20 will have a separate page for the DSO (Designated School Official) signature authorizing travel.
  • After being accepted for admission and upon receiving your deposit, your Form I-20 is issued by California Western School of Law. This form serves as evidence the school has admitted you.
  • Before issuing the Form I-20, the school must make sure you have sufficient financial resources to study full-time for one academic year. The money can be from your own funds or those of close family members or even a corporate sponsor. Since living and studying in the United States can be expensive, a very important part of applying for the F-1 status is providing evidence of financial support.
  • The SEVIS Form I-20 indicates the estimated cost of one year's study at the school. If you apply for F-1 status, you are required to show that you can pay the cost of the first year of study in the United States and that you have dependable financial resources for the rest of your educational program.
    Proof of Financial support can be demonstrated in several ways:
    • Some applicants use what is known as an Affidavit of Support or Form I-134.
    • You will need letters from a bank, tax records, or other evidence confirming the financial resources of whoever signs your Affidavit of Support.
    • If you want to prove that you have personal resources to pay for your own education, you need to show that you can maintain yourself financially throughout the entire period of study. Evidence of bank accounts, a trust, or similar income must be presented.
    • If a distant relative or friend will support you, it is best for money to be put directly into your personal bank account rather than rely on an Affidavit of Support.


Visa Information

You must have a valid visa for entry and re-entry into the country. The visa is a stamp placed in the passport at a U.S. Consulate. It’s a permit necessary to enter the U.S. for the terms and conditions of that visa classification. The visa indicates the specific classification, the expiration date, the name of the bearer, the number of valid entries, and the location and date it was issued.

Obtaining a New Visa

You are required to have a valid visa in your passport when you enter the U.S. It is not possible to obtain an F visa in the U.S. They can only be obtained at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate outside the United States.
In general, it is always easier to obtain a new visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country.
Each time you are applying for a visa, you must prove to the Consular office that you have the funds to study, that you are a bonafide student, and that you plan to return to your home country after completion of your course of studies.

  • The Consular officers will need to see a new I-20 Form and updated financial documents proving your source of funding.
  • Many Consulates also require a copy of your transcripts.

Dependents (F-2)

The spouse and minor children of an F-1 visa holder are family members eligible for F-2 status. Please inform us of any dependents (spouse/children) who plan to accompany you to the U.S. 

Please be aware that bringing family members to the U.S. is not considered a valid reason for needing employment authorization.

  • You must furnish proof of financial support for yourself, your spouse, and/or children. You must provide proof of financial support in the amount of $7,000 per year for a spouse and $4,000 per year for each child, on top of your educational and living expenses.
  • Health insurance is mandatory for all dependents.
  • Under no circumstances will your spouse be permitted to take any employment after he/she reaches the U.S.
  • F-2 visa holders are not eligible for a Social Security Number but can apply for an ITIN number for income tax purposes.
  • Children in F-2 status can attend public school in the U.S.
  • A spouse in F-2 status can take classes at an educational institution.
  • F-2 visa holders can apply for a change in visa status to F-1 if they have been admitted to a program of study in the U.S. and have been issued a Form I-20.
  • Dependent family members will remain in legal F-2 status as long as the F-1 remains in legal status.

Traveling outside the U.S.

Visits to Mexico and Canada

Before traveling to Mexico or Canada, remember that you will be crossing an international border. To re-enter the U.S., you must have a valid passport and a SEVIS I-20. The I-20 should have been signed on the back by the DSO within the past six months.

To determine if persons of your citizenship are allowed to visit Mexico, check with the Mexican Consulate in downtown San Diego. To verify visa requirements for Canada, check with the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles.

In either case, consider the following if you plan to travel:

  • Do persons from your country need a visa to enter this country?
  • Do you have the necessary documents to re-enter the U.S.?

Traveling Home or Abroad

F-1 students: If you are planning to return home or to go to another country for a visit, make sure your I-20 is valid, has been signed by the DSO within the past six months, and that your visa is valid. If your visa is not valid, you will need to renew it at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Note: Have the back of your I-20 endorsed at least three days before your planned departure.

Social Security Number

To work in the U.S., a person is required to have Social Security Number (SSN). Students must have a social security number to work on and off-campus and to file an annual Federal Income Tax return.

  • To apply for an SSN, you will need your passport, visa, SEVIS I-20, and letter from the Admissions office stating you have on-campus employment.
  • You must apply in person at the Social Security Administration located at 880 Front Street, San Diego, CA 92101.

NOTE: Upon arrival, you will be issued a California Western identification number. This number is only valid on campus to register for classes, obtain a school I.D., etc. It cannot be used in place of the SSN.

You do not need to have a social security card to open a bank account. The Social Security Office will not issue you a social security card for bank purposes.

If your bank asks for a social security number, you need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The W-7 form which is used to obtain an ITIN is available at the IRS website.


Students earning money while in the U.S. may have to pay federal and state income taxes.

  • The completion of a W-4 form at the time of hire determines the amount of tax withheld from each paycheck.
  • Students often mistakenly claim "exempt" on this form only to find they must pay a large sum of tax on April 15.
  • Students should only claim "exempt" if they are positive, it will not negatively affect them.
  • It is recommended not to claim "exempt."

More information on federal taxes can be obtained from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by calling 1.800.424.3676. The IRS also offers tax-recorded information on a variety of topics through their Tele-Tax service at (619) 293.5020. State tax information can be obtained from the Franchise Tax Board by calling 1.800.852.5711.

The following federal tax publications are of special interest to international students; Publication 519: U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens; Publication 520: Scholarships and Fellowships; Publication 901: U.S. Tax Treaties.

Optional Practical Training

Optional practical training (OPT) is an opportunity to gain work experience to complement your academic program. F-1 students are entitled to one year of practical training.

  • When it is time for you to apply for practical training, you must contact the Admissions Office for processing.
  • You must apply no more than 90 days prior to and no later than 60 days after your graduation, or USCIS will not authorize your practical training.

Students must complete one full academic year of study before being eligible for optional practical training/academic training.

More information about OPT is available in the Admissions Office.

Additional Advice:

  1. I-20 requests submitted to the Admissions Office require 3 business days to process. Plan accordingly!
  2. Bring your passport and all relevant immigration documents (I-20, passport, visa) and financial documents when you come to the Admissions Office with requests.
  3. If at any time you are uncertain about your status, check with the Admissions Office immediately. We are here to help you!

SPECIAL ATTENTION: All Immigration regulations set forth in this document are subject to change.


International Applicants

If you then feel you need additional information, feel free to make an appointment with our Principal Designated School Official for SEVIS, Baran Bulkat.

Contact Us
Admissions Office
225 Cedar St, 1st Floor
San Diego, CA 92101