Students classified in F1 status are governed by regulations of the USCIS, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security. For purposes of immigration law, your passport must be valid for six months beyond the period of your approved stay in the United States. Check your passport expiration date and get an extension if you need one. ISSS has a directory of foreign embassies and consulates in the United States if you need to locate your embassy/consulate to renew your passport.
The F1 visa stamp in your passport, along with your I-20, gives you permission to apply for entry into the United States. The visa itself has nothing to do with how long you can stay in the United States. Do not confuse the validity of your visa stamp as being an indication of your approved period of stay here. The visa must be valid at the time of any entry to the United States; it does not have to be valid for you to remain in the United States.
Permission to stay in the United States is indicated on your I-94 departure card, the small white card which is usually stapled inside your passport. It indicates the date and port of entry to the United States, your immigration classification (F1, J1), and the date until which you are allowed to remain in the United States. This date is important! If you wish to remain in the United States beyond this date, you must apply for an extension of stay.
For most students, this date will be “D/S” (duration of status). This means that you can remain in the United States as long as you are a full-time student, with a valid I-20. Beyond that, you can have up to 12 months of authorized Optional Practical Training, plus 60 days in which to depart the United States or apply for a change of status.
You should keep the stamped I-20 that will be returned to you at the port of entry to the United States. This is a permanent record of your F1 nonimmigrant status, and you will need it for any necessary endorsements and certifications by our office. We will also use it to record transfers and employment recommendations. This is also used for re-entering the United States after a brief visit outside.