STUDENT FAQs

Search below for basic information about the most commonly asked questions. If you have additional questions, or your case requires advising, please contact ISSS.

general information

What services does the ISSS office provide?

ISSS provides a variety of programs, advising support and services that are of direct benefit to international students, including:

  • Orientation, welcome services and programs for newly-arrived students, designed to acquaint students with the University and community, and to assist in making a good adjustment to life in Champaign-Urbana
  • Advising on a variety of matters including immigration, financial, campus life, and personal concerns.  Same-day advising for students with urgent advising needs.
  • Updating of immigration documents for F-1 and J-1 students and their dependents; letters to verify enrollment at the University.
  • Purchase of site license tax software to assist students with their federal income tax obligations.
  • Publications and handouts covering many topics of concern to international students.
  • Workshops designed to provide information and assistance on a wide variety of topics

What changes does ISSS need to know about?

Students are responsible for ensuring they are compliant with their student nonimmigrant status. Below is a brief outline of some of the information ISSS needs to know about:

  • Changes in your major/adding a second major
  • Transferring to a different institution within the U.S.
  • Taking time off of your studies
  • Moving to a new location within the C-U area
  • Extending your program

Please refer to the iSTART page for more information

istart

iSTART is the case management system ISSS uses to update your student record and personal information. Students will fill out e-forms through iSTART to request changes to their I-20 or DS-2019. A list of all forms are available on the Student Forms page.

immigration documents

What are the required immigration documents I need to have?

Students should have the following documents while pursuing coursework on campus:

  • I-20/DS-2019 (with valid travel endorsement, if traveling)
  • Valid F-1/J-1 entry visa
  • Valid passport

Keep all documents in a safe location. It is not necessary to carry these around with you on campus.

Why am I getting so many I-20s/DS-2019s?

F-1 and J-1 students must have passports that are valid for at least six months past their date of admission to the U.S. If your country is on the passport list, the six months requirement does not apply, and your passport only needs to be valid on the date of entry to the U.S.

Should I discard my old I-20/DS-2019?

No! It is important that you keep all previous I-20’s/DS-2019’s for your records.

Can you mail my I-20 to me (only applicable to those who are in F-1 status, and currently live outside of Champaign-Urbana)?

Yes, you will need to fill out the Mail my Reprinted I-20 e-form in iStart, and we can send the new document to you. You will find this e-form under F-1 Student Services in iStart.

Can my friend pick up my I-20 for me?

Yes, you can request this via the Mail my Reprinted I-20 e-form in iStart. Please remember to choose "my friend will pick up my I-20" from the drop-down menu. Also, please note that ISSS cannot release documents to a friend without permission from the student.

What are the passport requirements?

F-1 and J-1 students must have passports that are valid for at least six months past their date of admission to the U.S. If your country is on the passport list, the six months requirement does not apply, and your passport only needs to be valid on the date of entry to the U.S.

My entry visa is expiring, what should I do?

You can remain in the United States on an expired entry visa, as the entry visa is only required to enter the country. However, if you want to travel outside of the United States and return, you will need to apply for a new visa at U.S. consulate/embassy in your home country.

You may remain in the US and continue with your program as long as your are maintaining status here. The entry visa does not determine your length of stay in the US.

new international students

When can I enter the United States?

Up to 30 days before the program start date on your I-20 or DS-2019. All students should enter the United States and check-in with ISSS prior to the start date listed on their I-20 or DS-2019.

What materials will I need to enter the United States?

You will need your I-20 or DS-2019, valid US entry visa, passport and admission letter. Upon arrival at the Port of Entry, you will be issued and electronic I-94 arrival/departure record. To access this record, please go to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/request.html.

I'm a newly admitted student at the University of Illinois and haven't received my I-20 or DS-2019 yet? What should I do?

Your very first I-20 or DS-2019 for your program will be issued by either Undergraduate Admissions or the Graduate College. Please contact the appropriate office for further information about the status of your I-20 or DS-2019.

I'm transferring to the University of Illinois from another US institution. What should I do?

You will need to request a SEVIS transfer at your current institution. Please note that this can only be done while you are in the US. Once your SEVIS record is transferred, you will need to contact either Undergraduate Admissions or the Graduate College to find out when your new I-20 or DS-2019 will be ready. You will then need to check-in at ISSS once you arrive on campus.

What should I do when I first arrive in Urbana-Champaign?

All international students should check in with ISSS upon arrival. Please visit the Check-In section for more information.

How do I update my address to maintain my valid F1/J1 status?

You can update your address by following instructions in the link provided.

International Student Fee

All international graduate and exchange students are assessed $35 per semester to help support ISSS operations.  Undergraduate international students admitted from Summer 2010 already pay this amount as part of a tuition surcharge.  The $35 per semester will help support the continuation of advising, programs, and services offered by ISSS including the continued maintenance of SEVIS-reportable immigration records.

What is the International Student Fee?

The International Student Fee is assessed to international graduate and exchange students.  The amount of the fee is $35 per semester of registration. 

Why aren't undergraduate international students assessed this fee?

International undergraduate students are assessed a tuition surcharge, part of which provides a similar amount of financial support to the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office.

How do I pay the International Student Fee?

The fee will be billed through your student account.

May I request a waiver of the International Student Fee?

This fee cannot be waived since it supports all student-related advising, programs, orientation, and mandatory government reporting for international students enrolled at the University.

Why do we have this fee?

In recent years the federal government has imposed detailed regulations and reporting requirements for schools enrolling international students.  At the University of Illinois the ISSS office has responsibility for complying with most of those requirements.  In addition, international student enrollment continues to grow at the University, but State funding has shrunk.  The fee is necessary to insure that ISSS can comply with federal requirements while providing the advising and programmatic services that international students need during their stay here.

How is the fee money used?

The revenue from this fee will be used for programs, advising and services that are of direct benefit to international students, including:

  • Orientation and welcome services for newly-arrived students, designed to acquaint students with the University and community, and to assist in making a good adjustment to life in Champaign-Urbana.
  • Advising on a variety of matters including immigration, financial, campus life, and personal concerns.  Same-day advising for students with urgent advising needs.
  • Updating of immigration documents for F-1 and J-1 students and their dependents; letters to verify enrollment at the University.
  • Purchase of site license tax software to assist students with their federal income tax obligations.
  • Publications and handouts covering many topics of concern to international students.
  • Workshops designed to provide information and assistance on a wide variety of topics.

Who may I ask if I have questions about the fee?

Please contact ISSS at 333-1303, or stop by our office during working hours (8:00 AM - 5:00 PM, weekdays).

My course of study

What does ISSS consider to be a full course load?

A full course load is defined as 12 credit hours a semester (Fall and Spring). If Summer is the first or final semester of your program, you are required to register for a full course load of 6 credit hours. There are some exceptions to this rule. Graduate students are also encouraged to check with their department about requirements for course registration, as the exceptions listed are valid for immigration purposes only.

I am in my last semester and need less than a full course load to graduate. Do I need to take a full course load?

No, you are eligible to apply for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) based on this information.

Other students experiencing serious illness and new students struggling to adjust to the English requirements or teaching style of American higher education may also be eligible for a Reduced Course Load.

Whether an F-1 or J-1 student, ISSS requires that your academic advisor fills out an RCL form before you register for less than a full course. Choose the appropriate form below:

F-1 RCL Form

J-1 RCL Form

I would like to lengthen or shorten my program, what does ISSS require?

To extend or shorten the length of your program, please file an Extension Request in iStart. You will need to provide proof of funding to support your extension in the form of bank statements or department letter depending on your source of funding. You should always discuss with your academic advisor about your required coursework and the time you believe it will take to complete your degree.

I am going from a Bachelor's to Master's program at UIUC. Do I need a new I-20 or DS-2019?

Yes, you will need a new I-20 or DS-2019 because you will be starting a new program. Undergraduate students changing levels to graduate study will receive their new I-20 or DS-2019 from the Graduate College and not ISSS. Please contact them for further information.

I would like to change academic level (ex: Master's to PhD) at UIUC. What is required?

First, you will need to make sure that a petition has been filed with the Graduate College for this change of level. If you are unsure about this, please contact either you department or the Graduate College. Once your petition has been approved and you have been notified, please submit an application for Change of Level at ISSS via iStart. Make sure to include the following:

  • Approved Graduate College petition
  • Proof of Finances

I am taking under 12 credits and am unable to access the ARC. How can I gain access to campus recreation facilities?

If you are taking under 12 credits, the University of Illinois will not charge you the fee assessed for Campus Recreation Services. Therefore, you will need to purchase a gym membership to access this facility.

Driving in the US

Can I drive with a valid driver’s license from my home country

Illinois allows international students to drive using a valid driver’s license. Keep in mind this regulation may differ within other states so you will need to check the rules if you will be driving across states. Copies of the Rules of the Road handbook are available online.

What should I be aware of as an international student driver?

If you are caught drinking and driving, your entry visa will be revoked.

Where can I learn more about driving in Illinois?

Cyberdrive Illinois

Optional Practical Training (OPT)


The ISSS website has information about:

What are the reporting requirements on OPT?

Address update: log-in to iSTART, under ‘Biographical Information’, ‘Address Update’
Employer Information Update: log-in to iSTART, under ‘F-1 Student Services’, ‘OPT: Employer Information Update’.

IMPORTANT: In certain circumstances, if you do not report employment, USCIS may automatically terminate your F-1 record.

I'm on OPT and just received a job offer?  Do I need to let you know?  What if I change jobs?

Yes, please notify ISSS using iSTART if you receive an offer or switch jobs.

Why am I being asked if I want to receive a new I-20? Is this required?

While on OPT, you should have an updated I-20 that reflects your current employment situation. Although you have your OPT I-20 when you applied, now that you have an employer, ISSS will update this information on page two of your I-20. You have the option to receive a new I-20 at the time you update your employment or you can request an I-20 through iSTART at a later date.

i just submitted an employer update in iStart. Why am I being asked if I want to receive a new I-20? Is this required?

While on OPT, you should have an updated I-20 that reflects your current employment situation. Although you have your OPT I-20 when you applied, now that you have an employer, ISSS will update this information on page two of your I-20. You have the option to receive a new I-20 at the time you update your employment or you can request an I-20 through iSTART at a later date.

I applied for OPT and received a Request for Evidence (RFE). What should I do?

If you applied for OPT and received a Request for Evidence letter from USCIS please visit ISSS as soon as possible. Bring the letter with you to discuss the best course of action with an advisor.

I don't have my EAD card yet.  My friends have their EAD cards already. Is something wrong?

It takes 90 days from the date you mail off your application for USCIS to approve your OPT. It may then take an additional 1-2 weeks to process the actual EAD card. If you receive your EAD card before 90 days – great!  However, in most cases, it will take the full 90 days to process your application.

Can I work while I wait to receive my EAD card?

No, you must have your EAD card AND the ‘valid from’ date on the card must have arrived to work on OPT.

I've applied for OPT but don’t have a job offer yet, when does my unemployment time start?

The 90 days of unemployment ‘clock’ does not begin until the ‘valid from’ date on your EAD card. USCIS never backdates the start date of your OPT. Check your EAD card to determine when your 90 days of unemployment begins.

I thought OPT was issued for 12 months. Why is my EAD card valid for less than 12 months?

In some instances USCIS may not issue the full 12 months, especially if the application was sent less than 90 days from the requested start date. However, if you believe there is an actual error, please contact ISSS.

I’m applying for jobs that are asking me about sponsorship. Can I still apply for these positions?

OPT allows F-1 students to work and build experience in the U.S directly related to their field of study. This means that while you are on OPT, you do not need sponsorship. However, some employers inquire further as to your future sponsorship needs. Please visit the Career Center to discuss how to approach these applications, or contact the employer directly for more information about what's being asked.  

I’ve decided not to use my OPT and leave the U.S. Do I need to notify ISSS?

If you have received work authorization and your EAD card and decide not to use it to work in the U.S, please notify ISSS by completing the ‘unemployed or permanently leaving the U.S’ e-form through iSTART.

My major is in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM), I heard can work for more than a year on OPT, is this correct?

This will be possible only if your program of study is on the STEM list. If you are unsure of your program CIP code, please consult with ISSS. The STEM extension is a 24-month extension which may be used twice during your entire program of study at all levels. Students who qualify can apply up to 90 days before the end date of their current OPT.

Where can I find a list of STEM eligible degrees?

USCIS has a list of STEM-eligible majors.

How can I find out more about the OPT application process?

ISSS offers OPT workshops each semester. Please check our OPT workshop schedule for further information. If these times do not match your schedule, you may set up an appointment with an ISSS advisor to learn more about OPT.

Employment (besides OPT)

Can I work on campus?

Yes, F-1 and J-1 student are authorized to work on-campus. For further information, please visit the employment section of our website.

J students with outside sponsorship (Fulbright, LASPAU, etc.) will need to check with their respective program sponsor about employment both on and off-campus.

I am an F-1 student interested in getting a job/internship, what should I do?

After one academic year, F-1 students are eligible to pursue off campus work that is integral to your course of study. This is known as Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

I am a J-1 student interested in getting a job/internship, what should I do?

J-1 students are eligible for off campus work both during and after their course of study through Academic Training (AT). To apply for Academic Training, ISSS requires an Application for a new DS-2019 and a letter of recommendation from your academic advisor.

How do I obtain a Social Security Number?

You must have employment in order to apply for Social Security Number (SSN). Proof of employment can be determined by a job offer letter or pay stub. You will also need to obtain a SSN letter of eligibility from ISSS.

Travel

I would like to travel back to my home country during the break. What materials will I need to come back into the United States?

You will need an I-20/DS-2019 with a travel signature dated within one year of your travel, your passport, valid visa.

I want to travel to another country. What should I do?

You will need to make sure you check visa requirements to enter that country including countries eligible for automatic revalidation. You can do this by looking on the website of the consulate or embassy of that country.

My visa is expired and I want to travel to Canada. Do I need to get a new visa?

F-1 and J-1 students with an expired US entry visa may re-enter the US through Automatic Revalidation, with some restrictions, if traveling to Canada, Mexico and some of the Caribbean Islands. If you plan to travel to a country eligible for automatic revalidation, please check the entry visa requirements for the specific country you plan to travel to prior to your trip. You may need to apply for a visa. Students must have a multiple entry visa and the trip must be 30 days or less. For further information about automatic revalidation, please visit the appropriate page:

F-1 Travel
J-1 Travel

Please note that those with single-entry visas are not eligible for automatic revalidation.

I would like to travel while on OPT, what do I need?

You will need an I-20 with a travel signature dated within six months of your travel, your passport, valid US entry visa, EAD card and job offer letter. If you have not yet received your EAD card, a job offer letter and your Notice of Action from USCIS are highly encouraged.

I would like to travel within the United States after my graduation, can I do this?

If you are an F-1 student, you must leave the United States within 60 days of your program end date. If you are on a J-1 visa, your grace period is 30. You may travel within the US during your grace period.

Can ISSS write an invitation letter for my family members to visit me?

ISSS does not issue invitation letters.  Please contact the US consulate/embassy where your parents' visas will be issued to see exactly what they need. Oftentimes, embassies require the student to write an invitation letter to his or her family members. If the embassy requires proof of enrollment, you can apply for enrollment verification from the Registrar's office.

I would like to take time off, what do I need to do?

If you wish to take time off from your studies, including for military leave, please visit ISSS as soon as possible. Taking a leave of absence may impact your immigration status. Other students experiencing serious illness may be eligible for a Reduced Course Load. Please contact ISSS before taking time off for any reasons listed above.

Please note: This requirement is for immigration purposes and is separate from your academic registration. Discuss with your department regarding academic requirements.

Changing my Immigration Status

I would like to change my immigration status:

  • From dependent to student

You must first receive admission to the University of Illinois. You may then either apply for a Change of Status via USCIS or travel and re-enter in your new student status.

  • From student to dependent

You will need to added as a dependent to a primary status (F-1 or J-1), usually by your spouse. Once you have the appropriate document, you can then file a Change of Status via mail to USCIS or travel and re-enter in the new dependent status.

  • From F-1 to J-1 or J-1 to F-1

It is strongly recommended that you meet with an ISSS advisor to discuss your change of status situation, as each case is different.

Return from Academic Absence

I am returning to the University from a leave of absence or military duty. What paperwork do I need to provide to ISSS?

You will need to apply for a new SEVIS record in order to return from an academic absence. Please carefully read the instructions on this page to apply for your new I-20 or DS-2019.

Undergraduate students will need to contact their College. Graduate students will need to contact the Graduate College or their academic department for instructions on how to return to the University and receive a new I-20.

F-2 Dependents

Can my spouse work while on F-2 status?

No. An F-2 is not eligible to work while in the United States with an F-1.

Can my spouse go to school?

The F-2 spouse can enroll on a part-time basis at a SEVP-certified school in the United States. To engage in full time study, the F-2 must apply and be granted F-1.M-1 or J-1 status.

contact isss

ISSS can be reached at 217-333-1303 or isss@illinois.edu (Students) or isss-scholars@illinois.edu (Faculty, Staff, Scholars).

Information about ISSS hours and locations.

How can I schedule an appointment with an advisor?

You can schedule an appointment by calling ISSS at 217-333-1303 or stopping by our office. International students may also use the online scheduling tool to schedule an appointment. For emergencies, there is a walk-in advisor to handle urgent issues.

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