The F-1 visa is intended for non-immigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs for a period of time in the United States.
On August 9, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) instituted a revised policy directed at F, J and M visa holders who violate their visa status. According to this policy, USCIS will begin counting and tracking unlawful presence for any individual on one of these visas who does something, intentionally or unintentionally, to violate the terms and conditions of their visa status. It is now more important than ever for all nonimmigrants (individuals on U.S. visas) to maintain valid visa status at all times. Penalties of unlawful presence could result in individuals being barred from returning to the U.S. for three years, ten years, or even permanently. You can read more here.
What is unlawful presence?
You will accrue unlawful presence if you violate the terms of your visa status (see below). It is your responsibility to maintain your F status. The HIO is here to help you understand often complex immigration regulations and provide resources to keep you up to date with immigration regulations. In order to avoid accruing unlawful presence you must:
• Report a new residential address to the HIO within ten days of moving to a new address
• Enroll full-time while school is in session
• Not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session
• Obtain authorization from the HIO for off-campus employment prior to the start of the employment
• Apply for an extension of your status before your current I-20 expires
• Depart the U.S., transfer to another F program, or change to another visa status within the 60-day grace period at the end of your F program
• Check your I-94 record each time you enter and reenter the U.S.
• Never accept any public benefits or assistance from federal, state or local government such as MassHealth, free school lunches, food stamps, etc.
Unlawful presence can have serious, negative effects on your U.S. immigration status and future U.S. immigration options. We do not want anything to interfere with your purpose for coming to Harvard – whether it be studying, teaching, or doing research. Please read all emails from the HIO and contact your HIO advisor if you have any questions.
F-1 and F-2 Visa Details
The F-1 visa is intended for non-immigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs for a period of time in the United States. The F-1 visa program is managed by a shared database called SEVIS. F-1 students are granted permission to remain in the United States until the completion date noted on the Form I-20 plus 60 days provided they remain enrolled full-time and meet all other terms and conditions of their F-1 status.
Students may obtain F-1 visa stamps by visiting a U.S. embassy or consulate and presenting a Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 Student Status) issued by Harvard University. F-1 students are expected to attend the educational institution that issued the Form I-20.
The F-2 visa status is intended for the spouse and/or children (under age 21) of an F-1 student. It may be obtained by presenting to a U.S. embassy or consulate the Form I-20 issued to each family member and proof of adequate funding for the support of the accompanying family members. Proof of marriage for spouses and birth certificates for children are also required. No paid employment is permitted for F-2 visa holders under any circumstances.
The F-2 dependents are allowed to enroll in less than full course of study even if that part-time study eventually leads to a degree or certificate. The F-2 child may only engage in full-time study if the study is in an elementary or secondary school. The F-2 spouse and child may engage in part-time study that is recreational in nature.
F-1 students are responsible for complying with the terms and conditions of their visa status. In order to maintain F-1 status, students must assume the following responsibilities:
- New F-1 students must register in person with the HIO as soon as possible after arrival in Cambridge/Boston and no later than 30 days after the program start date on their Forms I-20. The HIO must report F-1 arrivals to the government within 30 days of the start date.
- Every F-1 student must pursue full-time study each semester and make normal progress toward completing the program of study. Each school within Harvard has its own definition of what is considered full-time. Students are advised to consult the registrar's office for the definition of being full-time.
- Students must not drop a course and become less than full-time without prior authorization from the HIO. Please note that there are very limited circumstances in which pursuing less than full-time study is allowed.
- Students must get authorization from the HIO before taking a leave of absence or medical leave.
- Students must not engage in unauthorized employment.
- Students must report any change of residential address to the HIO within 10 days of the change. F-1 students may report their address changes in the Change of Address section.
- Students must notify the HIO if they will complete their program earlier than expected (earlier than the end date of the Form I-20) or if they change their program of study.
- Students who need additional time to complete their programs of study must request and be granted a program extension before the current expiration date/program end date on the Form I-20.
- Students should keep their passport valid for six months into the future at all times.
- Federal regulations change frequently. Please be sure to check the HIO website on a regular basis for the most up-to-date immigration related information.
The accompanying spouse and children (under age 21) of the F-1 visa holder are referred to as F-2 dependents.
- F-2 visa holders can remain in the United States as long as the F-1 student is enrolled or otherwise maintaining status.
- F-2 visa holders are not permitted to engage in paid employment in the United States under any circumstances.
- F-2 spouses are allowed to enroll in less than full course of study even if that part-time study eventually leads to a degree or certificate. F-2 children may enroll in primary or secondary school.
- F-2 visa holders are not eligible for Social Security Numbers.
To request a Form I-20 for accompanying dependents(s), please fill out a Dependent Data Sheet and submit it along with a Document Request Form to the registrar's or admissions office at your school. You may need to show additional funding for dependent expenses.
- On-Campus Employment
- Off-Campus Employment
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Definition of Employment
Employment is defined as any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, food, or any other compensation.
Employment Eligibility Verification
Within the first three days of beginning work, the employee and employer must complete a form entitled Employment Eligibility Verification (USCIS Form I-9), which will be kept by the employer. To complete the Form I-9, students may need to show their passports, visa documents or other documents proving that they are authorized to be employed in the United States. The Form I-9 must be updated each time the work permission is renewed or there is a change of employer. Anyone earning income in the United States is required to have a U.S. Social Security Number.
Notes of Caution
One should not assume that students are automatically eligible to work in the United States. USCIS considers unauthorized employment to be the most serious violation of F-1 status. Students should consult with their advisors in the HIO before accepting any employment. The HIO can help with matters pertaining to applications for employment authorization.
Reporting Change of Employer on OPT
Students on OPT must report changes to the name and address of their employer within 10 days.
Social Security Numbers
F-1 students are eligible for Social Security Numbers (SSN) only when they provide evidence that they are employed at the time of application.
If you are an F-1 visa holder with on-campus employment, take your passport, your Form I-20, your Form I-94, the HIO Social Security letter, and the job offer letter from your on-campus employer confirming your job offer to the Social Security Administration Office at 10 Fawcett Street, 1st Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.
To get the HIO Social Security letter, you must bring the employer offer letter to the HIO. The advisor on call will issue the HIO letter to you. Please have your employer refer to the Sample F-1 SSN employer letter for instructions on what needs to be written in the letter. You must wait at least ten days before applying for an SSN upon arriving at Harvard for the first time.
If you are an F-1 visa holder on OPT, take your passport, your Form I-20 with the OPT recommendation, your Form I-94, and your EAD to the Social Security Administration Office at 10 Fawcett Street, 1st Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. Please note that you cannot apply for an SSN until the start date of the EAD.
If you are an F-1 visa holder on CPT, take your passport, your Form I-20 showing your authorized CPT, and your Form I-94 to the Social Security Administration Office at 10 Fawcett Street, 1st Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. You cannot apply for an SSN more than 30 days before CPT employment will begin.
At the Social Security Administration Office, you must complete an application form. You will receive your Social Security Number card in the mail. The process usually takes four to eight weeks. If you have not heard within this time period, please contact the HIO. You may call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security Administration website with any questions.
NOTE: Once students have obtained a U.S. Social Security Number, it is not necessary to apply for a new one if the employment changes.
The following is general information regarding taxation of international students. To review detailed tax information (including tax return filing during tax season) please visit the tax section of this website.
International students should be aware that taxes may be deducted from salaries, stipends, and scholarships if funds are from U.S. sources. The available income after taxes may be less than anticipated as scholars may be subject to federal, state, and/or Social Security taxes which can range from 14-30% of one's total income. The amount of taxes students may pay depends on the type of income they receive and their tax status in the United States. In addition, there are many tax treaties between the United States and other countries which may exempt certain earnings and scholarship stipends from taxes. Those who receive funding from Harvard will receive information from the University Financial Services office.
All international students and their dependents with U.S source income such as scholarship or fellowship are required to report their annual income by completing tax forms between January 1 and April 15 of the following year. Most international students at Harvard are on F-1 or J-1 visas and are considered non-residents for tax purposes. Accompanying dependents on F-2 or J-2 visas must complete at least one tax form as well.
To help guide individuals through the tax filing process, the HIO has purchased Windstar, a web based tax return preparation software designed exclusively for international students, scholars, and their dependents who are nonresidents for tax purposes. It is available to anyone with a valid Harvard ID and PIN. Users will need their HUID and PIN to access the software.
Due to legal restrictions, the HIO staff is not able to answer questions regarding individual tax situations. For additional information regarding U.S. income tax issues, please visit the tax section of this website.
Travel & Re-entry
For travel outside the U. S. the following documents are required for re-entry to the U.S.
- Valid Form I-20, signed once a year on page two by an advisor in the HIO.
- Valid F-1 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens)
- Valid passport
- Evidence of the financial support listed in the Financials section of Form I-20
For information on travel after graduation while on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), please see here.
- Valid Form I-20, signed once a year on page two by an advisor in the HIO.
- Valid F-2 visa in the passport (except for Canadian citizens)
- Valid passport
Form I-20 Extension
Students who will not complete their degree programs by the date listed on item #5 of their Form I-20 will need to obtain an extension from the HIO BEFORE the current Form I-20 expires. Failure to extend the Form I-20 in a timely fashion will have negative consequences for the student's immigration status, so students should allow sufficient time for the processing of the extension.
In order to be eligible for an extension of the Form I-20, students must be in good standing and making normal academic progress towards completion of their programs.
How to Request an Extension of the Form I-20
Students must obtain documentation from their schools/departments indicating the new estimated program completion date together with the amount and source of financial support for the remainder of the program. Students who are using personal funds should obtain a recent bank statement showing the funds available. Students should also complete a document request form and take all paperwork to their schools' Registrar.* The information will be forwarded to the designated advisor at the HIO, who will issue a new Form I-20. The student will be notified when the Form I-20 is ready.
* unless indicated otherwise in the list below:
- Graduate School of Design - Student Services
- Graduate School of Education - Financial Aid Office
- Harvard Business School - Admissions Office
- Harvard Law School LLM & SJD - Graduate Program Office
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health - Admissions Office
- Harvard College
- Kennedy School of Government - Admissions and Financial Aid Office
Students moving from one Harvard school or program to another within the University should contact both the admissions office of the new school/program and the HIO advisor for that school for information on how to update and extend the Form I-20.
Transfers and Leaving Harvard
Transfer to Harvard
F-1 students who have been admitted to Harvard and are coming from another institution are considered F-1 program transfers, which is not necessarily the same as an academic transfer. The students will have to complete the Transfer In to Harvard form and submit this form to the admissions offices of the schools to which they have been admitted. They must also speak with the international student advisor at their current schools and request that their SEVIS records be electronically released from their current schools to Harvard. Once the SEVIS record is released and all other admissions materials have been submitted, the new Form I-20 from Harvard will be processed and sent to the student by the admissions office.
Transfer from Harvard to Another Institution
F-1 students who have made a commitment to attend another institution must inform their HIO advisors and request that their SEVIS records be electronically released to the new school. It is advised that students discuss their travel plans and new program start dates with the HIO advisor before settling on a SEVIS transfer release date.
F-1 Grace Period
F-1 students may remain the United State for 60 days following the completion of their academic programs if they have not applied for OPT. Individuals in F-1 status may also remain in the United States for 60 days following the expiration date of post-completion OPT. Students may remain in the United States during the grace period to prepare to leave or to change to another visa status. Students are not permitted to travel outside the United States and return on F-1 status during the grace period. Students are not permitted to work or study during the grace period.
Remaining in the United States
Individuals intending to remain in the United States for more than 60 days after completing their programs at Harvard should take the initiative, during the grace period, to prepare and submit proper paperwork to change to another visa status in order to maintain lawful immigration status in the United States.
Moving from the United States
Individuals are expected to leave the United States at or before the end of the 60 day grace period.