F-1 Student Visa

If you are like most students at the University of Cincinnati, you will study using an F-1 visa status.

You will know to apply for an F-1 visa if we send you an I-20 form. If we send you a DS-2019 form, apply for a J-1 visa instead.

Apply for a Visa

After you apply to the University of Cincinnati, you will go through a multi-step process in order to get your student visa.

Maintain Your Visa Status

As an international student, you need to pay attention to all the US laws and regulations that apply to you. If you do not, you could be deported and barred from returning for some time. We want you to successfully complete your program at UC.

International students are required by federal regulations to be enrolled full-time each semester.

  • For undergraduate students, this means 12 credit hours
  • For graduate students, it means 10 credit hours

You are allowed to enroll for online distance education courses. However, there is limit to how many credit hours you can use of online courses to fulfill your full-time enrollment requirement.

  • International students may count only the equivalent of one class or three credits per semester toward the full course of study requirement. 
  • You are not limited in the number of online distance education courses you can take, you are only limited in the number of credit hours you can count toward fulfilling the full-time enrollment requirement. 

For example, if you are an undergraduate student you would need to be enrolled for at least 9 credit hours of traditional courses. You could then use one class (or three credit hours) of online distance education courses to reach the full-time enrollment threshold and, if desired, enroll for more online classes to increase your overall credit hours.

If you have finished all required course work and will no longer be enrolling full time, you may choose to enroll with a reduced course load. In order to do this, submit the “Reduced Course Load for Academic Reasons” eForm in iBearcatsGlobal.

International graduate students who have completed all required course work MUST register for at least one graduate credit hour during an academic year (preferably fall semester) to maintain university and immigration status. International students must also register for one graduate credit hour each semester (excluding summer) if:

  • they live in university housing; 
  • have office space or use university equipment, or laboratories; 
  • use any university facilities including computer labs, libraries, practice facilities or recreational facilities; 
  • they are authorized for Curricular Practical Training.

If you register for less than six credit hours, you will not be charged for the university student health insurance policy. If needed, graduate international students who are registered for one credit hour are eligible to purchase university student health insurance by enrolling through the student health insurance office. If you decide not to get the university policy, you MUST have insurance while in U.S.

Working on a reduced course load
Being on a reduced course load does not change the fact that international students are permitted to work only on campus and only 20 hours a week while school is in session. While registering for one credit hour (or not enrolling at all), it is assumed that you are writing your thesis or dissertation full-time for that semester as well as the semesters not enrolled. As such, international students can only work 20 hours a week except during the breaks stipulated above. Graduate Assistants on Reduced Course Load will need to register for at least one credit hour for each semester they will be working as graduate assistants (whether as a teaching assistant or research assistant). Students funded by grants do not need to be registered for 12 credit hours. For information regarding OPERS, Social Security and Medicare taxes exemption, see the UC International webpage about this exemption.

Returning to your home country and the U.S.
Many international graduate students who have completed all required coursework decide to return to their home country while working on their thesis/dissertation. If you leaves the U.S. for more than 5 months, your current SEVIS record will be terminated. If you plan to leave the U.S. for a period of at least 5 months, notify UC International Services prior to departure.

In order to return to the U.S., UC International Services will need:

  • Your college/unit to certify that you are still a student in good standing and when you will complete the program. 
  • You to submit proof of financial support for the remainder of their program of study. 

Upon receipt of these two items, UC International Services will create a new SEVIS record for you and send you a new I-20. Federal regulations require that you pay the SEVIS fee again, go to the U.S. embassy, and get a new F-1 visa stamp before you re-enter the U.S.

If you want to travel outside the US, you need a travel signature from UC International Services on your Form I-20. Complete and submit a Request for a Travel Signature eForm on iBearcatsGlobal at least 5 days prior to the anticipated travel date. We encourage you to submit the form even earlier. 

Students may work on campus no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.

  • These 20 hours include the work you do for your assistantship if you have one. 
  • You are not permitted to work off-campus without receiving prior authorization from the US Federal Government and/or UC International Services.

If you are interested in working in the United States, refer to our webpage outlining employment options for students.

Any time you change majors (such as chemistry to math) or degree levels (such as master’s to doctoral), you must obtain a new I-20. You must receive the new I-20 from UC International Services within 15 days of starting the new program.

Use the “Sources of Financial Support for Current Students” eForm in iBearcatsGlobal to request a new I-20 form. You must provide evidence of acceptance to the new program and proof of financial support for the new program.

All international students are required to carry the University of Cincinnati Student Health Insurance policy unless they can prove coverage equal to or greater than the University policy. If you are not registered for at least 6 credit hours or more, you will not be eligible for the University Student Health Insurance policy.

However, you must have insurance while in the United States.

If you are an F-1 student, you must file your change of address with the University within 10 days of moving. This includes address changes of any of your dependents as well.

You can notify the university of this change by completing the Change of Local U.S. Address eForm on iBearcatsGlobal and by updating your personal information in Catalyst.

If you leave the University before the program completion date on your I-20 or DS-2019, you are required to inform UC International Services that you are leaving and why you are doing so. Use the Departure Certification eForm on iBearcatsGlobal to notify us.

Some common reasons include early graduation, leave of absence, suspension, expulsion, or family emergencies. 

You are currently authorized to study or conduct research at the University of Cincinnati. If you decide to study or work at another school in the US, you must notify UC International of your intent to transfer and what school you plan on transferring to.

Complete a SEVIS Transfer Out eForm Request in iBearcatsGlobal. UC International will then enter a "Release" date in SEVIS. After this date is reached, the new school can issue you a SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019. You will then have to report to the Designated School Official/Responsible Officer at the new school within 15 days of the program start date.


If you have overstayed your authorized period of stay, or  failed to maintain your status, you may apply to be reinstated to lawful F-1 status.

Through a statement to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, you will need to prove the following:

  1. Are currently pursuing, or intend to pursue, a full course of study at a school which issues the student a Form I-20;
  2. Have not been employed without authorization;
  3. Establishes that your failure to maintain student status was due to circumstances beyond your control, or that failure to receive reinstatement would result in "extreme hardship";
  4. Are not deportable on any ground other than overstaying or failing to maintain status;
  5. Have not been out of status for more than five (5) months;
  6. Are not a multiple (repeat) offender.

Prepare a statement to explain what happened. If you did not know that you were breaking any rule, you should say so, but do not expect to be returned to status for that reason. Most of the rules were on your original I-20, and you were supposed to follow them.

Think carefully when you write. Do not leave out any important facts and talk about the violation. If you have always been a full-time student, this is in your favor—mention it. If you expect to be reinstated, promise to be a full-time student in the future. After you finish your statement, sign it.

Evidence can be very helpful to get reinstated. If you can think of any kind of evidence, such as a letter from home, newspaper clippings about conditions at home, your transcript, or anything else, attach it.

  1. Obtain a new Form I-20 from the University of Cincinnati issued for the purpose of “Reinstatement.” 
    1. You must hold active status in a University of Cincinnati program, provide documentation from the program that establishes what your graduation date will be, and provide our office with proof of financial support for the remainder of your program of study. 
    2. Use the “Sources of Financial Support” eForm in the Limited Services section of iBearcatsGlobal to upload your sources of financial support. The eForm is linked under the “Pre-Arrival Checklist” and the “Admission and Orientation” menu. 
  2. If you have been out of status for more than 5 months, you must pay the SEVIS fee and submit a copy of the receipt.
  3. Complete an I-539 form. Bring a check for the filing fee or a completed Form G-1450 Authorization for Credit Card Transactions to your appointment. 
  4. Prepare the following documents for submission: 
    1. your current I-94 record
    2. your visa stamp
    3. your passport biographical page and the extension page if applicable
    4. any previous certificates of eligibility (I-20)
    5. your written statement 
  5. Schedule an appointment for UC International to review your documents. 
  6. Mail the I-539 reinstatement application and supporting documents to the USCIS.

Once your application to be reinstated to F-1 status is approved, you will receive an I-797 approval notice from the USCIS.

  • You must provide UC International with a copy of the approval notice when you get it. 
  • Use the “Notification of Change of Immigration Status” eForm found in the Biographical Information section of your iBearcatsGlobal record to notify us. 
  • While the application is pending you MUST attend classes full-time.

In general, USCIS will not approve a reinstatement for a student who has been out of status for more than five months. If you have been out of status for more than five months and want to apply for reinstatement,  explain the reason for your delay in filing in an appropriate timeframe and try to document that the delay was caused by circumstances beyond your control. You will also have to pay the SEVIS fee.

If you worked without authorization, you MUST say so in your statement.

  • If you worked off-campus without authorization, you cannot be reinstated, unless the work was pursuant to a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship. 
  • If you worked off-campus without authorization, or worked on-campus more than 20 hours a week when school was in session, reinstatement is possible, though you must show that the violation was not deliberate or not your fault, and that it will not happen again. 

If UC International feels that you will have no chance of success, we may advise you to effect new status by traveling outside the United States and returning.

Length of Stay

The length of time you may stay in the United States is  outlined by your visa type. The expiration date on your visa is not the date that you need to leave by; it is the last date in which you can enter the US in general.

You are permitted to stay or extend your program length for as long as necessary to complete your degree, provided you are studying full time and making good academic progress.

Take a look at the Form I-94 online. You must exit the US on or before the departure date listed on the I-94.

 F-1 students have a 60-day grace period, and J-1 visa holders have a 30-day grace period. This means that F-1 students have sixty days past the "Duration of Stay" date on their I-20 to leave the country.

If you want to extend your stay in the US, you must do so prior to the expiration of your I-20 / DS-2019. If you stay longer than authorized, you may be barred from returning or deported from the United States.

You may apply to extend your stay if: 

  • You were lawfully admitted into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa 
  • Your nonimmigrant visa status remains valid 
  • You have not committed any crimes that make you ineligible for a visa
  • You have not violated the conditions of your admission
  • Your passport is valid and will remain valid for the duration of your stay

Submit an Extension of Program eForm through iBearcatsGlobal. A UC International advisor will review your documents and schedule you for an appointment.

As you get ready to complete your program of study, you can:

  • Apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) so you can work in the United States. Applications for OPT can be submitted before your completion date and no later than 60 days after your finish your degree.
  • Apply for a change of status if applicable. USCIS must receive the application before the end of your grace period.
  • Transfer to a new school. You will need to have your transfer approved by UC International before the end of your grace period.
  • Start a new program of study at UC. You must be fully admitted, and apply for and receive a new I-20  before the end of the grace period. Updated financial documentation will be required.
  • Leave the United States before the end of the grace period.