Immigration & Academic Advising
If you're a current IELP student, our international student advisors are available by email and personal appointment to answer questions about student visas and related immigration issues.
If you're a prospective student or incoming student with questions about visas, please see our Applying for a Visa page before contacting an advisor.
Our advisors can also offer guidance and suggestions about other issues, such as volunteering, making medical appointments, adjusting to American culture and living in Seattle.
The information below can help answer common questions about visa rules for current IELP students.
What is an I-20?
The I-20 Certificate of Eligibility form is used to obtain an F-1 visa, to enter the United States in order to begin or resume study and to document the visa holder's immigration status. The I-20 also allows students to apply for certain F-1 immigration benefits. It's very important to keep your I-20 safe and to make sure it's up-to-date at all times.
When does my I-20 expire, and how do I apply for an extension?
The expiration date of your I-20 ("Program End Date") is listed on the first page.
If it appears that your I-20 will expire before you can complete your studies, you must apply for an extension. We recommend that you begin this process at least one month before your I-20 will expire so you have enough time to get the proper documentation.
Follow these steps:
- Get a new bank statement or financial guarantee. You must prove that you still have sufficient funds to continue studying in the United States. If you’re on a scholarship, you must obtain a new scholarship letter or financial guarantee that shows that you still have a scholarship.
- Make an appointment with an international student advisor to request an I-20 extension.
If you have any questions about your I-20, or if you have any trouble getting updated proof of finances, please email us as early as possible. Note that your I-20 can’t be extended after the expiration date has passed.
How do I get an I-20 for my dependents?
If you need an I-20 for your dependent spouse or child, email us immediately. We’ll need a copy of each dependent's passport (the identification page with photo) and the dependent's country of birth. You'll also need to show proof that you have sufficient funds to support each dependent — for example, an updated bank statement or letter of sponsorship.
What if I lose my I-20?
If your I-20 has been lost or stolen, please email us immediately and an advisor will help you get a replacement.
If my passport is expiring soon, when should I get a new one?
Your passport should always be valid at least six months into the future. If your passport will expire soon, contact your country's embassy to request a new one.
What should I do if my passport gets lost, stolen or damaged?
Schedule an appointment with an international student advisor as quickly as possible so we can assist you. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also provides instructions on what to do in this situation.
What is an F-1 visa, and how long can I stay in the United States on it?
Your F-1 student visa is your permission to enter the United States. To keep your F-1 status, you must remain a full-time student in good standing with the institution that issued your I-20. Once you’re in the United States, you can stay as long as you have a valid I-20 Certificate of Eligibility and maintain your F-1 status.
While you're in the United States, it is okay if your visa expires. As long as you have a valid I-20 and are maintaining your F-1 status, you can stay in the country. If you leave the United States after your visa expires, you must apply for a new visa before you can reenter.
What should I do if my visa is lost or stolen?
What is an F-2 visa, and can F-2 visa holders study in IELP programs?
F-2 dependent visa holders can study part-time in certain IELP programs.
F-2 visa holders who want to enroll in full-time study must still apply for and get approval to change their status to an F-1 student visa.
Schedule an appointment with an international student advisor for more information.
I-94 & Entry Stamp
What is an I-94?
You’ll be issued an electronic Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) when you arrive in the United States by air or sea. This form tracks when you enter and leave the United States. If you’d like to print a copy of your Form I-94, you can do so on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection I-94 website.
What is an entry stamp?
You get an entry stamp from U.S. Customs and Border Protection on your passport when you enter the United States. The entry stamp indicates how long you are allowed to stay in the country. If you are an F-1 visa holder, you should receive an F-1 D/S notation, which stands for F-1 duration of status.
Staying in Status
What does “in status” mean, and how do I stay in status?
“In status” means that you are following immigration rules and are in the United States legally. If you fall “out of status,” it means that you have violated immigration rules and are not in the country legally. To ensure that you stay in status, make sure you:
- Attend classes. Daily attendance is extremely important; students who do not attend class regularly may be dismissed from the program. Please schedule an appointment with an international student advisor if you have questions about your program’s attendance policy.
- Make satisfactory academic progress. This means that you should be continuing to make progress in our programs. If you repeatedly fail classes or your grades continue to decline, you risk falling out of status.
- Notify the IELP office of any address changes. All F-1 visa holders are required by U.S. law to report address changes within 10 days of moving. If you fail to tell the IELP office that you've changed your address, you may fall out of status. To report an address change, email us or come to the IELP office to fill out a change of address form immediately after you move. We will then update your address in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
- Keep your I-20 Certificate of Eligibility up-to-date at all times. Do not let your I-20 expire!
Taking a Break
Can I take a break from my IELP studies?
After nine months, you may be eligible to take a break from your studies for one quarter. You must meet all of these requirements to be eligible:
- You've been studying continuously in the United States for at least nine months (three academic quarters) with an F-1 status.
- You must be eligible for and intending to enroll in full-time studies in the United States immediately after the break.
- Your I-20 Certificate of Eligibility is not expiring before the end of your vacation quarter.
- You've met with an international student advisor in person to obtain permission and to complete the break request form.
Please schedule an appointment with an international student advisor to check your eligibility for a break. You must receive approval by the end of the quarter before your break. For example, if you want to take a break during summer quarter, you must get approval before the end of spring quarter.
Can I work in the United States?
If you’re an F-1 visa holder, you're allowed to work up to 20 hours per week on campus while you're a full-time student. The UW must be your employer. Please be aware that not all campus jobs are open to IELP students. You are not eligible for “work-study” jobs or off-campus jobs.
Where can I find a job?
In the past, IELP students have found work in places such as the on-campus photocopy centers or computer labs. To find an on-campus job, ask to speak to the office supervisor or manager of the place where you’d like to work. Find out if there are any part-time jobs available for students. Even if there are no current job openings, the supervisor may contact you later when one becomes available.
To obtain an on-campus job:
- Apply for the job. You must get a special letter offering you employment and describing the nature of your job. You can get this letter from the supervisor.
- Bring the letter from your employer to the IELP office. An international student advisor will give you another letter to use when you apply for a Social Security card.
- Take both letters to the nearest U.S. Social Security Administration office to apply for a Social Security card. See information on your orientation flash drive for more instructions.
What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a special employment authorization that provides F-1 students with an opportunity to work in the United States for up to 12 months, earning money in a position related to their academic field of study.
To learn more, see the Optional Practical Training page.
Can I travel around the United States when I’m an IELP student?
While you're a UW IELP student, you are free to travel within the United States. You may also travel outside of the United States if you meet all of the following requirements:
- Your I-20 Certificate of Eligibility must be valid (not expired).
- You must have a current travel signature on your I-20. Each signature is valid for six months as long as you are a full-time student in IELP.
Can I travel to Canada?
Because Seattle is close to the Canadian border, many students choose to visit Canada during their stay. If you plan to visit Canada, be sure to:
- Find out if you need to obtain a Canadian visa. Citizens of some countries need a visa to visit Canada.
- Bring with you the original copies of all of your important immigration documents, including your I-20.
- Have a current travel signature on your I-20.
When is the best time to travel? If I leave the country, can I re-enter on my I-20?
After completing your program, you have up to 60 days to travel within the United States, as long as you’ve maintained your F-1 status. You must leave the United States or transfer to another SEVP-certified school by the end of that 60-day period.
The best time to visit Canada, Mexico or another country is before the end of your studies. (Please remember that Canada and Mexico are not part of the United States.) After you've finished studying in our program, you can't use your I-20 to reenter the United States.
How do I get a new travel signature?
If you need a new signature on your I-20 for travel, bring your I-20 to the IELP office a few business days before you plan to leave the U.S. You do not need an appointment to get a travel signature.
How do I transfer to another school in the United States?
If you plan to transfer from the UW to another school in the United States, you must first apply and get accepted to the new school. Then, follow these steps:
- Turn in a completed Transfer Out Form and written proof of admission to the IELP office. This can be a copy of your acceptance letter or an email from your new school's admissions office confirming your acceptance.
- If you’re currently enrolled in an IELP program and do not plan to continue studying through the end of the quarter, you must also turn in a completed IELP Withdrawal Form.
Your new school can't issue you a new I-20 until the SEVIS transfer release date. After this date, the UW will no longer have access to your SEVIS record, so you should only request a transfer after you are certain about your plans.
If you have questions about the transfer process, email us or schedule an appointment with an international student advisor. If you only need to turn in transfer paperwork — and aren’t planning to withdraw early from your program — you don't need an appointment.
How do I withdraw from the IELP program?
If you need to leave your IELP program before the end of the quarter, you must officially withdraw by completing the IELP Withdrawal Form and returning it to the IELP office. For further information, see the refund policy and schedule an appointment with an international student advisor.
If you're a UW IELP student and want to attend college in the United States, our international student advisors can help you with all aspects of the admission process, including:
- Registering for and taking the TOEFL, IELTS and GRE
- Selecting and applying to colleges
- General questions about American higher education
Applying to Colleges and Universities
Most American universities require international students to demonstrate proficiency in English to be considered for admission. Many schools also require at least three letters of recommendation from academic or professional references. You must also have financial statements that prove you have sufficient funds to study in the United States.
Please note that completion of an IELP program will not guarantee you admission to any college or university, including the University of Washington.
Schedule an appointment with an international student advisor to learn more about the transfer application process and to get tips for finding the right university for you.
Admission to the University of Washington
Admission to UW International & English Language Programs does not mean you have been admitted to the University of Washington. Admission to the UW is highly competitive; you must apply directly to the university and meet specific admission requirements.
Refer to the Office of Admissions website for more information about international student admission requirements.