If you are here in the United States as an F-1 student, it is important to understand when you need to request an extension of your status, and how to do so.
Unlike most nonimmigrants (people in the U.S. on temporary visas), you will not have an expiration date on your I-94 that tells you when your status expires. F-1 students are admitted for “D/S”, which stands for “duration of status.” Duration of status generally means that you are allowed to remain in the United States in F-1 status for the period of time it takes you to complete your academic program.
Some F-1 students make the mistake of assuming that the expiration date on the F-1 visa stamp is the end date for their status. This is not true. The visa stamp is an entry document that allows you to enter the country in F-1 status. When the visa stamp expires, your status in the United States is not affected. You will just have to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp when you travel outside the country, for reentry purposes.
The date you do need to know for extending your F-1 status is the program end date on the I-20 form you received from your academic institution. You are not allowed to be enrolled in your academic program as an F-1 student beyond that date.
If you are making normal progress towards your school degree, but you need more time than was authorized on your I-20 form, you need to meet with your Designated School Official (DSO). You must do this before the program end date on your current I-20.
Each academic institution will have its own policy on issuing extensions, but in general your DSO should extend your program end date as long as you have been maintaining your status throughout your stay in the United States, and you legitimately need more time to finish your studies. If the extension is granted, you will be given a new I-20 form with a new program end date.
If you fail to request an extension of your I-20 form before the program end date, you will be out of status. If this happens to you, you must meet with your DSO immediately. While each case is different, you will generally have the following options available:
The key is to act quickly, no matter what you decide.