Legal Documents

As an F-1 status student you have important legal documents that prove you are legally in the U.S.  These documents state purpose of stay and duration of stay.  The four important documents are the passport, I-20, visa, and I-94.

  1. Passport.  You must have a valid (non-expired) passport at all times while in the U.S. Immigration suggests you should renew the passport within six months of the expiration date.  The passport must be valid for six or more months when applying for a visa or other immigration benefits while in the U.S.
  2. I-20.  This is the document used for requesting an F-1 visa.  Important information on the I-20 include the SEVIS ID number (top right corner), program of study, beginning and ending date of your program, and authorizations that may have been made (CPT, OPT, RCL).  The International Advisor signs the I-20 on the first and third pages. The third page signature is valid for one year with a valid I-20, for travel purposes.  The student will sign section (11) on the first page of the I20.
  3. Visa. The visa is the entry document issued by a U.S. Embassy (outside of the U.S.).  The visa indicates the length of time you are permitted to enter or  re-enter the U.S. either one time or multiple times.  The visa notes the visa type (F-1 for the student and F-2 for any dependents), the expiration date, and number of times entry is permitted. Pay attention to the visa expiration date.  You cannot enter the U.S. on an expired visa.  You may remain in the U.S. with an expired visa, if all other documents remain valid.  If your visa expires while you are in the U.S. and all documents are valid, you continue to have legal status.  When you do travel and the visa is expired it will be necessary to interview with the U.S. Embassy again to request a visa extension.
  4. I-94.  This document is very important while you remain in the U.S. The I-94 lists the date you entered the U.S., the Port of Entry (POE), the visa type, and permitted length of stay.  The length of stay should be duration of status (D/S).  D/S means you are permitted to remain in the U.S. for as long as you maintain the F-1 student status.  The I-94 can only be printed after processing through POE.  The POE does not do this for the student.  A clear copy of the I-94 is needed for student check-in, applying for a Tennessee driver’s license, social security number, etc.

Keep each of these documents in a safe and dry place (as you travel and when in the U.S.).  If questioned by a government official, failure to produce these documents can result in deportation. Replacing lost or stolen documents of this kind is difficult and time-consuming.  Contact the ISS Office should your documents become lost or stolen.

Course Load

The F-1 student is required to maintain a full course enrollment during each spring and fall with a few exceptions that can be approved through the ISS Office.  The F-1 visa reflects that your main purpose for coming to the U.S. is to study in a degree seeking program.  The summer semester is optional you may enroll without a minimum course hour registration.  You may also decide not to enroll for the summer.  Courses are typically three credits each with some exception.  A full course load for undergraduate is 12 semester hours and for graduate is 9 semester hours.

There are specific circumstances when an F-1 student may be permitted to drop below a full course enrollment.  This is called a Reduced Course Load (RCL) and permission from the International Student Advisor is required.  Reasons for RCL are initial difficulty with the English language as noted by the academic advisor or a documented medical situation.  It should be noted by female students that USCIS does not consider pregnancy or duties of motherhood as an acceptable medical reason for RCL.  Dropping below a full course enrollment without permission from the International Student Advisor results in the student being immediately out-of-status with USCIS as well as being in danger of termination of his/her SEVIS.

GPA Requirement

The Graduate School requires that a master’s or doctoral student maintain a 3.0 gpa on a 4.0 scale to remain in good academic standing.  An undergraduate student is required to maintain a 2.0 or higher gpa to remain in good academic standing.  The student may wish to review further information in the respective graduate and undergraduate catalogs found at the UTC home page, on the Record’s Office link.


The good news is that all F-1 students in good academic and immigration standing are allowed to work up to twenty hours per week on campus beginning the first week of class.  The ISS Office cannot find employment but you will need to process through the ISS Office to request a social security number (required for employment in the U.S. and valid only with correct work authorization.)  Full-time employment, 20+ hours per week, are permitted on-campus during holiday breaks and summer if not enrolled in summer classes.
Federal regulations state that off-campus employment is permitted under specific circumstances under certain criteria.  Two full-time enrollment semesters in good academic and good immigration standing is required.  Off campus employment includes CPT, OPT, and Economic Hardship.  You should visit the ISS Office for further explanation.  REMEMBER—no off campus employment without processing through the ISS Office!


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