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Maintaining Your Status

While studying in the United States, it is important to maintain your F1 student status. Your visa says that you are coming to the United States to study. You should not consider any action that detracts from that purpose.


Upon Arrival

Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins. Immediately contact designated school official (DSO) at Santa Ana College when you enter the United States. When you arrive at school, you need to contact your DSO again, no later than the program start date listed on your I-20.



  • Attend and pass all your classes. International students must maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or the letter grade of C in coursework. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately.

  • If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.

  • You must take a full course (12 units) of study each semester; if you cannot study full-time, contact your DSO immediately.

  • Do not drop a class without speaking first with your DSO.


Upon Program Completion

  • Take action to maintain legal status after completing your program of study.

  • Once you complete your program of study and any authorized period of practical training, you may wish to learn about doing one of the following:

  • Transfer to another school

  • Change your education level (e.g. bachelor’s to master’s)

  • Apply to change status to another visa status (e.g. H-1B-temporary worker; O-extraordinary ability in science, art or business; P-athlete)

  • You have 60 days after completion of your program (the program end date on your Form I-20) to leave the United States.


Talk with your designated school official (DSO) first

  • Your DSO should be the first person you talk with if you have any questions regarding the legal requirements of your stay in the United States.

  • Your DSO can assist in answering your questions or help you find someone who can help.

  • Talk with your DSO if you are planning to do any of the following:

  1. Change your major, program, or degree level

  2. Change your education level

  3. Transfer to a new school or take a leave of absence

  4. Take a break from school

  5. Travel outside the United States

  6. Move to a new address

  7. Request a program extension

Working in the United States

The U.S. government takes working illegally very seriously. Do not work without authorization. An F1 student may work only when authorized.

If you want to work in the United States, talk with your DSO about your options. If you decide to work, the first step is always to talk with your designated school official (DSO).Your DSO may authorize certain work; other employment may require your DSO’s recommendation and authorization from.


If you choose to work without authorization, you will be forced to leave the United States immediately. You may not be able to re-enter the United States at a later date. If your DSO knows you are working without permission, your DSO must report it through SEVIS and your record can be terminated. That means that you will have to leave the United States immediately, and you may not be allowed to return. There are many opportunities to work and getting permission is easy.


On-Campus Employment

As an F-1 student in Active status, you immediately have an option for one kind of work: on-campus employment. However, there are some things to keep in mind.

Although you may work shortly after you arrive, you must be in Active status and your DSO must approve your request. After your DSO approves your request, you’ll be given a letter of approval. This letter, along with a letter from your employer, will help you get a Social Security number. When school is in session, you may only work 20 hours per week.


Off-Campus Employment

After a full year at school, you could be eligible for off-campus employment. Approval for this requires special authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In order to apply for this kind of employment authorization, you must receive a recommendation from your DSO and file a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” with USCIS. After USCIS approves your employment, they will send you a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document”(EAD).

You may not begin work until you have received your EAD. Just as with on-campus work, while school is in session you are restricted to a 20 hour work week.

As an F-1 student, you can receive work authorization for training related to your studies: optional practical training (OPT). Most of the time, you must have been enrolled in Santa Ana College as an F-1 student for one full academic year to be eligible for either type of practical training.


Optional Practice Training (OPT)

OPT must relate to your major or course of study, and although you can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, you must have your employment authorization document (EAD) card before you begin working.

In order to obtain your EAD, your DSO needs to provide you with a new I-20 indicating your DSO’s recommendation for employment, and you must submit a Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” to USCIS. Your EAD card will come from USCIS.

For more information, contact our Immigration Specialist at the International Student Center, at (714) 564-6047 or by e-mail:

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International Student Program
Santa Ana College
1530 W. 17th St. #U-204D
Santa Ana, CA 92706-3398 USA
Tel: (714) 564-6047 * Fax: (714) 667-0751

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