International students who are studying in the United States on F1 visa may stay in the US until the completion of their academic program. However, F1 students may apply for F1 visa extension if more time is needed to complete their coursework than what is authorized on their Form I-20.

When it has reached the program end date specified on your Form I-20, you may not continue enrollment in your academic program. If you think that you may need additional time to complete your degree program past the specified end date, you should apply for F1 visa extension.

Eligibility for F1 Extension

Once you have determined that you will need more time to complete your coursework, you should visit your Designated School Official (DSO). In order to be eligible for F1 visa extension, your DSO will verify that you have been maintaining F1 status and are applying for an extension based academic or medical reasons such as:

  • Change of major or research topic
  • Unexpected problems encountered in research
  • Documented illness

There is a good chance of F1 extension approval if the delay was caused by a valid academic or medical reason, you have enough financial support to fund yourself throughout the extension, and the extension request is made within a reasonable time before the program end date specified on Form I-20.

You may not be eligible for F1 visa extension if you are requesting an extension for any of the following reasons.

  • Enroll in extra coursework for personal interest or to improve GPA
  • Complete pending coursework for a grade that was marked incomplete
  • Participate in non-required Curricular Practical Training or enroll in coursework that was delayed by participating in non-required Curricular Practical Training
  • Complete coursework delayed by academic probation or suspension

How to Apply for F1 Visa Extension

You should file for F1 visa extension within the 30 day period before the end date of your academic program. To apply for F1 extension, you must:

  • Meet with your DSO at your university.
  • File I-20 extension along with the following documents:
    • Your passport
    • Current Form I-20
    • Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Document
    • A letter stating the reason for your extension. If the extension is due to illness, you must provide evidence of the medical condition.
    • Proof of sufficient funds

If your request for I-20 extension is approved, you will receive a new Form I-20 that has a new program end date.

Reinstatement

If you waited too long to apply for an extension and your program end date has passed, or you are not eligible for an extension, you will have to file for reinstatement to F1 status. Reinstatement is the process of requesting to USCIS to have your F1 visa status restored without having to leave the US.

If you are unable to apply for F1 extension and do not want to apply for reinstatement, your other option is to return to your home country and apply for a new F1 visa there. In this case, you will need to obtain a new I-20 form and SEVIS ID number from your DSO. However, keep in mind that with this option, you have to wait one academic year upon returning to the US on F1 status before you are eligible for certain employment opportunities.