Carnegie Mellon University

Documents & Legal Rules

International students are required to abide by United States immigration regulations throughout their stay. Students are admitted to the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be full-time students. Participation by students in any other activity, from employment to travel, is considered to be a privilege and is only allowable under strict DHS rules. Penalties for violations of immigration law can be severe and can include deportation and 10-year bars from reentry to the U.S., so it is extremely important for students to understand their responsibilities.

International students are normally admitted to the U.S. for "Duration of Status" (D/S). This means that they are allowed to remain in the U.S. as long as they "maintain legal student status," which may be longer or shorter than? the length of time listed on their initial visa or Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019 form).

Listed on this page are the documents that F-1 or J-1 students need to keep current while they are studying in the U.S., along with basic rules that students must follow to maintain legal student status in the U.S.


Your passport is the legal document issued by your country of citizenship. It must be kept valid at all times during your stay in the U.S. and must be valid at least 6 months into the future to re-enter the U.S. or apply for a visa. Your passport can usually be renewed through your home country's embassy or consulate in the United States.

Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019)

Your I-20 (for F-1 status) or DS-2019 (for J-1 status) is the document issued by your school or a sponsoring agency. It is specific to the institution and program of study you will attend in the U.S. It must be presented to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad to obtain an entry visa and to immigration officials to enter the U.S. in student status. Extensions or updates may be made by contacting OIE or your sponsoring agency. After your initial entry, a travel signature less than 12 months old is required to re-enter the US in student status. Signatures can be obtained from OIE.

Entry Visa

Your U.S. entry visa is a sticker on a page of your passport which permits you to enter the U.S. Students will have either an F-1 or a J-1 entry visa. You can still maintain your student status even if your visa expires while you are in the U.S. However, if you travel outside and then wish to re-enter the U.S., you will need to apply for a new entry visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate while outside the U.S. You cannot renew your visa while in the U.S

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

Upon entry to the U.S., a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer will stamp your passport with your arrival date, classification (F-1, J-1, etc.), and the expiration date of your status. The expiration should be D/S (duration of status) and not an actual date. F-1/J-1 students are permitted to remain in the U.S. as long as they have a valid I-20/DS-2019, are enrolled in the academic program listed on the I-20/DS-2019, and have otherwise maintained their immigration status. After entry to the U.S., you can view your I-94 record online. Check the website, verify the information, and print or save a copy for your records every time you re-enter the U.S. Contact OIE for assistance if the information is not correct. Check this document for accuracy.

You Must Always:

  1. Maintain a valid passport throughout your stay in the U.S.
  2. Attend the school you are authorized to attend by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is the school whose name appears on your I-20 or DS-2019.
  3. Enroll full-time at CMU. For undergraduates, full-time is a minimum of 36 units per semester (fall & spring). For graduate students, the minimum is determined by your department and may range between 36-72 units per semester for two or three semesters per year. No more than one distance education/online course per semester may count towards the full-time enrollment requirement. You cannot drop below full-time except under specific circumstances and with prior approval.
  4. Make normal progress toward completion of the degree listed on your I-20 or DS-2019. Normal progress means the "normal" amount of time it takes for a student to finish their degree - or by the end of the date on their document (i.e., 4 years for undergraduates or 5 for BArch, 9 months - 3 years for master's students depending on the program, 4-6 years for Ph.D. students depending on the program).
  5. Keep your Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019) valid at all times and apply for extensions of stay at least one month before the document expires, if needed.
  6. Keep your local and permanent address information current while in the U.S. Enrolled students may do this through Student Information Online (SIO). The "off-campus residence" address must be completed with your current U.S. residential address (except for undergraduate students living on campus). Your permanent address must be your foreign permanent address. Students on post-completion work authorization should report address updates on MyOIE or the SEVP Portal.
  7. Complete necessary immigration transfer procedures when changing from one school to another in the U.S. by consulting an international student advisor at your new school and informing an international student advisor at your current school of your intent to transfer.
  8. Maintain valid health insurance coverage. For students in F-1 status, this is a CMU requirement. For students in J-1 status, this is both a CMU requirement and a federal requirement.
  9. If you are in F-1 status and intend to engage in Optional Practical Training (OPT) after the completion of your program, apply for OPT 90 days before program completion or before the end of the 60-day grace period following program completion. OIE strongly recommends applying before completing the requirements for your program.
  10. If you are in J-1 status, you must apply for Academic Training before your DS-2019 expires.
  11. F-1 students have a 60-day grace period and J-1 students have a 30-day grace period in which to do one of the following:
    • Depart the U.S.
    • Change to another immigration status.
    • F-1 students may also use the 60-day grace period to obtain a new certificate of eligibility for a new school or program.

Note: Program completion is also the end date for any on-campus employment. Students lose on-campus work permission upon completion of their program requirements or the end of their I-20/DS-2019, whichever comes first.