International Student Services

Immigration Matters

On this page:

Collection of street signs, with labels: Disoriented, Bewildered, Perplexed, Unclear, Confused, Lost, Unsure

The International Student Services (ISS) Office helps you understand immigration and visa regulations and comply with regulations so that you avoid immigration problems. Though we work closely with immigration authorities, we are not enforcers of immigration law. It is our job to explain the regulations to you and help you understand what your options are in any situation. Another excellent resource to help you understand visa regulations is this Guide to Studying in the States .

Students on F-1 Visas

Reporting Requirement

You are required to report to the Director of ISS within 10 days of your first arrival at UH Hilo. Attending the required meeting for new international students during orientation satisfies this requirement.

Full-Time Enrollment

You are required to enroll full-time while you attend UH Hilo. For undergraduate students, full-time is 12 or more credit hours. For graduate students, full-time is 6 or more credits. If for some reason you might want to drop below full-time status, you must see the Director of ISS to request permission prior to dropping below 12 credits or you will be out of status. If you would like to drop a class and be enrolled less than full-time, you must discuss your situation with the Director of ISS first. (If you are enrolled less than full-time without authorization, you will be considered "out of status.")

Online Classes

You may take one online class each semester (however, certain scholarships may require that you take all of your classes at UH Hilo). This limit applies only to the number of credits required to meet your full course of study requirements. As long as you meet these requirements, you may enroll in additional online or distance-learning courses. For example, If you choose to take a total of 15 credits and 6 of those credits are online, that is OK because only 3 of those online credits are actually serving to maintain your full course of study of requirement.

Summer Sessions

Enrolling in summer session is optional (except for students who are admitted to UH Hilo for the first time during the summer session). If the summer session is your first term, you must enroll full-time for at least 6 credits.


You must inform ISS within 10 days if your address changes. Submit the Change of Address form online or fill out and print this Change of Address form and submit it to the ISS office. You should also update your address in MyUH Services.

Travel & Re-Entry to the U.S.

If you are planning to leave the U.S. for less than 5 months and return to school at UH Hilo, you need the signature of the Director of ISS on your I-20 to certify that you have been properly maintaining your F-1 status. Fill out and print the Request for Signature on I-20 Form for Travel form and submit it with your current I-20 Form to the ISS office at least one week before you are planning to leave Hilo. Along with your I-20 Form, you should have the following documents with you when you enter the U.S.: valid visa and passport, evidence of financial support, UH Hilo acceptance letter, and SEVIS fee (I-901) payment receipt. If you will need to renew your visa while you are away, please contact the Director of ISS for information. If you will be outside the U.S. for more than 5 months, you will be required to get a new I-20 Form prior to returning to the U.S. Students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) should also carry their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and proof of employment such as a letter from the employer stating when employment will begin or resume. If your OPT application is pending, you should bring your Notice of Action (receipt notice).

Travel to a Different Country

It is important to research requirements to enter any country that you plan to visit. If you plan to visit another country, a visa to enter that country may be required.


Your passport should be valid for at least six months into the future at all times. The Director of ISS can assist you by providing addresses and phone numbers of consulates or embassies if you need to renew or replace your passport.


A student visa does not determine how long you can stay in the U.S. It is OK if your F-1 student visa expires while you are enrolled at UH Hilo. You do not need to renew your visa unless you will leave and return to the U.S. (Visas can only be issued outside of the U.S.; you cannot get a U.S. visa while physically present in the U.S.) If you need to renew your visa, submit the online nonimmigrant visa application (Form DS-160 ). If you need assistance with renewing your visa, contact the Director of ISS . Note: Students from Canada do not require a visa to enter the U.S. from Canada (but they must have an I-20 Form).

I-20 Form

Your I-20 form must remain valid while you are a student. Check the expiration date on your I-20 form where is states "complete studies no later than [date]." That is the date that your I-20 will expire. You are allowed to remain in the U.S. for 60 days after that date. If you will not finish your program by the expiration date on your I-20 form, please contact the Director of ISS at least 45 days prior to the expiration date. The I-20 form is a very important document so be sure to keep it secure.

I-94 Form

An I-94 form is a record of your arrival date in the U.S. and your immigration status. If you need a copy of your I-94 form for purposes such as getting a U.S. social security number or getting authorized to work in the U.S., it can be accessed online.


The purpose of an F-1 student visa is for study the U.S. Because it is not a work visa, employment opportunities while you are in F-1 status are limited. You may work on-campus part-time (up to 20 hours per week) when school is in session and full-time (up to 40 hours per week) when school is not in session. Learn how to find a job on-campus from Student Employment Services. Students on F-1 visas are not eligible for Federal Work-Study ("FWS") jobs.

You do not need permission to work on-campus, although certain employers may require you to submit an Application to Accept On-Campus Employment form signed by the Director of ISS.

Students on F-1 visas are not permitted to work off-campus, except in certain limited circumstances. The Director of ISS may also be able to authorize you to work off-campus if you are experiencing severe economic hardship, through Curricular Practical Training or Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (see below), through the Special Student Relief Program, or through certain employment sponsored by international organizations. Working off-campus without authorization is a violation of your F-1 student visa status and can result in serious consequences.

Social Security Numbers

A social security number is a tax identification number issued by the U.S. government to individuals in the U.S. who are authorized to work. You can get a U.S. social security number if you get a job. Provide a document showing proof of a job offer to the Director of ISS, who will then give you a letter authorizing you to apply for a social security number. Then, bring the letter along with the completed social security application form , your passport, a copy of your I-94 form, and your I-20 form to the Social Security Administration office located at the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo (open Monday-Friday 8:30 am-3:30 pm, except Wednesdays when the office closes at 11:30 am). View the steps to follow to get a U.S. social security number.

U.S. social security numbers are not required to open a bank account, obtain a Hawai'i State driver's license or Hawai'i State ID card, renting or buying a car, or for a mobile/cell phone. A U.S. social security number is also not required to rent an apartment. If it is requested, it is probably for a credit or background check. Explain to the landlord or rental agency that you do not have a U.S. social security number because you are not eligible for one. If they wish, the Director of ISS can provide a letter explaining the background check process the international students undergo when they obtain a student visa.

If you have an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and then get a social security number, you must use the social security number for tax purposes and discontinue using your ITIN. You must notify the Internal Revenue Service in writing. Write a letter explaining that you have an ITIN but you now have been assigned a social security number and that you want your tax records combined. Include your complete name, mailing address, and ITIN along with a copy of your social security card. Send the letter to Internal Revenue Service, Austin, TX 73301-0057.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN)

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to individuals who are required for U.S. tax purposes to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have and are not eligible to get a social security number. An ITIN does not entitle you to work in the U.S. and does not change your immigration status. Not all international students need to get an ITIN. Examples of students who need to get an ITIN include:

  • An international student who will receive some sort of non-work payment, such as a stipend issued by the University.
  • An international student who is required to file a U.S. tax return but who is not eligible for a social security number, or who is claiming an exception to the tax return filing requirement.
  • An international student claiming reduced withholding under an applicable income tax treaty for which an ITIN is required. (See IRS Publication 515, Withholding of Tax on Nonresident Aliens and Foreign Entities .)
  • A dependent/spouse of an international U.S. student visa holder, who is not eligible for a social security number.

For information on how to apply for an ITIN, go to the section on ITINs on the Taxes section of this website.

Extension of Stay

As a student in F-1 visa status, you are authorized to stay in the U.S. only until the date in section 5 of your I-20 Form (your "complete studies" date). If you allow the "complete studies" date on your I-20 Form to pass without extending it, you will be "out of status." If you believe you may need more time to complete your program and graduate, contact the Director of ISS at least 45 days before your I-20 Form will expire. You will need your academic advisor to support your request for an extension by completing the Advisor Recommendation for Extension form. Please take the form to your academic advisor and ask them to fill it out.

Transferring to Another School

If you decide to transfer to another college or university, you will need to ask the Director of ISS to help you transfer. The Director will have to transfer you out of UH Hilo in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) so that the next school will be able to transfer you in.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

After you have been in the U.S. in F-1 status for one academic year, you are eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT ). CPT usually takes the form of an internship in your major field of study where you earn academic credit for your experience and may earn money as well. Using full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Make an appointment to see the Director of ISS if you are interested in applying for CPT and bring a copy of the CPT Application Form with you.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)


After you have been in the U.S. in F-1 status for one academic year, you are also eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) . OPT is authorization to work off-campus in your field of study. You may work 20 hours per week while classes are in session and 40 hours per week during vacation periods. If you do OPT before you graduate ("pre-completion" OPT), you need to be aware that only 12 total months of standard OPT are available. OPT done before a degree is completed will count against that 12-month total and reduce time available after the degree is awarded.


Most students decide to save their OPT until they have completed their degree and graduate. If your application for OPT is approved, you will be allowed to work in the U.S. in a job directly related to your major field of study for up to 12 months. Students whose major field of study is in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT. You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before you graduate and up to 60 days after you graduate. Learn more about OPT and information about 24-month STEM OPT extensions . View information about how to complete the I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT students.

Make an appointment to talk with the Director of ISS if you are interested in applying for pre-completion or post-completion OPT. The fee is $410.

Students on OPT must report information about their employment and provide current contact information, which you can do by submitting this form online or through the SEVP Portal .

Change of Address While OPT Application is Pending

OPT applicants who have changed their address since submitting their OPT application (Form I-765) and have not received their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card can file the USCIS Online Change of Address form (AR-11). Or if you filed your OPT application electronically, you can update your address in your USCIS online account. If you submitted an OPT application on paper and the receipt number begins with IOE, you can create a USCIS online account and update your address online. Failure to update your address can cause delays in receiving your EAD.

Watch a video about work visa options after OPT.

Students looking for post-graduation employment can access College Central to search for jobs, get advice on resumes and more, as well as consult with the UH Hilo Career Development Services. You can also find advice on careers for international students.

Travel During Optional Practical Training (OPT)

In general, an F-1 student on post-completion OPT may travel outside the U.S. temporarily and be readmitted to resume F-1 status and employment for the remainder of the period authorized on their Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You must not have exceeded the maximum OPT unemployment time (90 days of unemployment). To re-enter the U.S., you will need to present the following at the Port of Entry:

If OPT application is pending (12-month only, not STEM):

  • Valid passport with unexpired F-1 visa
  • I-20 form, signed by the Director of ISS within the preceding 6 months
  • I-797c ("Notice of Action" receipt from US Citizenship & Immigration Services)
  • Letter of employment offer (recommended)
  • Travel during this period is risky and discouraged for the following reasons: 1) If a request for evidence is sent to you, it requires immediate attention, and 2) If your OPT application is approved while you are outside the U.S., you will be required to present the EAD upon re-entry to the U.S.

If OPT STEM extension application is pending:

  • Travel is not allowed after the 12-month OPT period has expired and while the STEM extension application is pending
  • Travel is permitted if you have a valid 12-month EAD card for re-entry along with the documents listed above.

If OPT or STEM extension is approved:

  • Valid passport with unexpired F-1 visa
  • I-20 form, signed by the Director of ISS
  • Unexpired EAD
  • Letter from employer stating that you will begin or resume your employment

Health Insurance while doing OPT

Students who have graduated and are doing OPT are not required by the University to have health insurance. Many employers will offer health insurance as a benefit of employment. But if an employer does not offer health insurance, individuals doing OPT can purchase health insurance from one of the following health insurance companies:

Financial Difficulties

All F-1 students are required to show sufficient funding to meet the costs of attending UH Hilo before we can issue an I-20 form. However, we understand that sometimes circumstances change. Perhaps the currency back home has been devalued or your original source of funding is not available. Unfortunately, only limited financial assistance is available for international students at UH Hilo. Some scholarships based on excellent academic performance may be available. If you have a financial problem, schedule an appointment with the Director of ISS to seek advice and possible solutions.


If you violate any regulation and fall out of status with U.S. immigration regulations, you will need to apply for reinstatement with the U.S. immigration authorities. There is a fee to apply for reinstatement and it is not guaranteed. If reinstatement is denied, a person must leave the U.S. Therefore it is best to comply with the regulations and avoid falling out of status. If you have any questions about F-1 student regulations, please talk with the Director of ISS.

Diversity Visa Lottery

The Diversity Visa Lottery is an opportunity held every year for non-U.S. citizens who want to try to become a U.S. permanent resident (i.e., to get a “green card”). There is no fee to register. The lottery usually takes place between October 1 and early November each year.

Students from the Compact of Free Association Nations

Students from the Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau) are not required to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. You are eligible to work on-campus and off-campus without a visa. You do not need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work in the U.S., although you may obtain an EAD for free.

Social Security Number

Students from COFA nations may obtain a free U.S. social security card in the U.S. To apply for a card, fill out the application form and bring it with your passport and a copy of your I-94 form to the Social Security Administration office located at the Prince Kuhio Plaza in Hilo. The Social Security office is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 am-3:30 pm (except Wednesdays, when it closes at 11:30 am). You must be present in the U.S. for at least 10 days before you can apply for a social security card.

I-94 Forms

An I-94 form is a record of your arrival date in the U.S. and indicates your immigration status. If you need a copy of your I-94 form, you can access it by visiting the I-94 website.


Your passport should be valid for at least six months into the future at all times. The ISS office has passport application forms, but you may also access passport application forms and instructions at the following websites:

Birth Certificates

FSM citizens can visit the FSM Embassy website to access birth certificate request forms.