UCI International Center

Understanding Student Visa Requirements

Section 1

It is the responsibility of each student to be familiar with the immigration requirements related to your status. Following the guidelines below will help you maintain valid F-1/J-1 immigration status. If you have specific questions about your status, you can schedule an appointment to meet with an international student advisor at the International Center.

Understanding Visa and Status

What is a Visa?

The visa is a sticker placed in your passport at a Visa Office at a U.S. Consulate by the U.S. Department of State. When communicating with the staff and advisors at the International Center, you might hear us refer to it as “the visa in your passport”. The purpose of the visa is seek entry into the U.S.  

The visa is presented along with other documents (I-20/DS-2019, passport) to request admissions into the U.S. At the port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official will review the visa along with other documentation and decide if you will be allowed to enter the U.S. “admitted into the U.S.”


What is Status?

Status is your legal non-immigrant category under which you are allowed to remain in the U.S. At UCI, most commonly used visa status for international students, researchers and scholars are F-1, J-1 and H-1B.

Each visa category has certain responsibilities which you must follow in order to remain in legal status in the U.S.  Your status is a combination of you being admitted into the U.S., you maintaining a valid visa document (I-20, DS-2019) and a valid I-94, a valid passport and also following the requirements of your specific visa.

Peter_I-20 Peter_I-94 Peter Passport

Expiration Dates

Visa: Your visa will have an expiration date noted on the visa sticker. The purpose of the visa is to enter the U.S., once you are in the U.S. your visa can expire.  

If you are in the U.S. and your visa expires – you can remain in the U.S. as long as your status is valid. However, the next time you need to leave the U.S. and want to return – you must apply for a new visa. 

A way to understand this is to think of your visa as the “key” to unlock the door to come into your house. Once you are in the house, you no longer need the key. But if you left your house and needed to come back you will need to have a key to unlock the door again 

Status: Your status can never expire and you should ensure that you keep valid status. To ensure that your status documents are valid, you should be aware of the expiration dates on your I-20/DS-2019, your passport and your I-94.

How long will my visa be valid?

The length of time that your visa will be issued for is based on reciprocity agreements between the U.S. and other countries. Each country has a different agreement with the U.S.A. and the length of the visa may vary; it can be from a few months to several years. Some visas are only valid for one entry and some are valid for multiple entries.

Visa Cancellations 

A visa cancellation is not a cancellation of your status, you can remain in the U.S. You will need to view your visa as expired (see section above) and the next time you leave the U.S. you will need to apply for a new visa. 

If you ever receive notification from a U.S. Consulate informing you that your visa has been cancelled, please contact the International Center for an appointment with an Advisor to discuss your specific situation and next steps.

Maintaining Your Status Requirements

Keep Your Passport Valid

  • Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months into the future.
  • Contact your home country's embassy in the U.S. for information about renewing your passport validity.

Keep Your Local Address Updated

Maintain Full-Time Enrollment

  • You must be enrolled in 12 units each quarter.

Get International Center Approval Before Withdrawing from UCI

  • If for some reason you must withdraw from your program or drop below full-time, you are required to have approval from the International Center.

Attend the School On Your I-20/DS-2019

  • You must have a current, valid I-20 from UCI. If you previously attended another U.S. school before coming to UCI, the SEVIS transfer process must be completed through the International Center's online visa check-in, also known as iNavigate.

Keep Your I-20/DS-2019 Valid

Submit the Student Visa Document Request Form if you require an update of your I-20/DS-2019. These updates can include, change of major, degree, completion date, financial updates, replacement, or travel.

Discuss a Change of Major or Degree Objective with Your Academic Department

Any such changes should be discussed fully with your academic counselor before updating your visa document.

  • If you are a J-1 student, you must discuss a change of major or degree objective with your program sponsor before making a change to your visa document.

Get a Travel Signature

  • Before your departure from the U.S., request a signature for re-entry from an advisor at the International Center. The signature is valid for one year.
  • J-1 student sponsored by a third-party organization (Fulbright, LASPAU, or other): acquire a travel signature from your program sponsor.

Request Authorization for Employment

  • On-campus employment -- Limit employment to 20 hours per week during the academic year. Employment on-campus may be full-time (40 hours per week) during the summer and vacation periods.
  • Off-campus employment -- Do not work off-campus without permission. Work permission for F-1 students must be requested and approved by the International Center and USCIS.

Health Insurance Coverage

The University of California requires all registered students to have health insurance as a non-academic condition of enrollment. To assist students in meeting this requirement, the University provides the UC Student Health Insurance Plan (UC SHIP).

  • F-1: You are required to have health insurance as a registered UCI student.
  • J-1: You and your dependents must obtain health insurance coverage that meets J-1 federal guidelines for the entire length of your stay.

Transferring to Another U.S. School

If you wish to move from one university to another, you will need admission to your future school.

  • J-1 Students: You will need permission from your current Program Sponsor. If you wish to change universities, contact that organization as early as possible to receive authorization and further instructions.