International Student FAQ
For complicated issues, you may wish to consult an immigration lawyer. Below is a list of links to directories of immigration lawyers in McLean County, Illinois, and the United States of America.
- I have a question for my ISSS Advisor. How do I contact them?
If you have a question for ISSS, try these resources!
- This FAQ! You're in the right place. Look to see if the answer to your question can be found in the FAQ you are reading right now!
- Try the Search Tool! Login to the ISSS Portal and click on the Search Tool icon in your Control Center.
- The tool will walk you through some common questions and point you to exactly where you can find that information on our website.
- If you can't find your answer using the Search Tool, it will give you the option to input your question and a staff member will follow up with you to provide the answer or schedule an appointment, if necessary.
- Have a question about an ISSS request? Try our
! You should submit a Request Inquiry if:
- You aren't sure which request to submit.
- You have questions about how to fill out a request you have recently started.
- You need to update a request you have already submitted.
- You don't see the request you want in your Control Center.
- It has been more than 10 business days and your request has not been processed.
- Have a quick question (10 minutes or less)? Come to Express Advising! The Express Advising schedule is updated weekly and posted to our website here. You can attend in person or virtual. You may need to wait if others are ahead of you in the queue.
- How do I get my document from ISSS?
If a new I-20 document has been created for you, you will receive an email from ISSS when the electronic I-20 has been uploaded to your ISSS Portal. You will find the document in your Control Center under the Documents section. Always print, sign, and date your I-20 document as soon as you download it.
If a physical paper document (SSN letter, DS-2019, etc.) has been printed for you, ISSS will send you an email when your document is ready. The request will allow you to choose from several delivery options. If you have opted to pickup your document from Fell Hall, please remember to bring your Redbird Card when you visit.
Worried you might have missed the email about your document? You can always view these emails in your ISSS Portal Control Center under the Messages section.
- I received a threatening phone call. How do I know if it is a scam? Do I need to report it to someone?
International students can often be targeted by scams. The scammer will often threaten deportation or arrest if the student does not wire them money or purchase gift cards.
Please understand that a U.S. government agency (IRS, Social Security Administration, DHS, ICE, USCIS, etc.) would NEVER contact you this way.
DO NOT give out your personal information to these scammers and ALWAYS REPORT the scam. You can read more about common scams and how to report them here.
- Is there financial aid/funding opportunities specifically for international students?
International students are not eligible for federal financial aid and not always eligible for the same kinds of financial aid as domestic students. However, there are still several funding opportunities available for international students at Illinois State.
See the Financial Assistance page of the ISSS website for full details.
Employment and SSN
- How do I apply for an SSN?
- If you are a new student, your first step is to complete the ISSS Check-In Request in the ISSS Portal.
- The second step is to secure a job. You must have a job in order to apply for an SSN.
- The third step is to have your hirinig department provide you with a Social Security Letter for On-Campus Work. The letter must be completed and signed by your hiring department and printed on departmental letterhead.
- Then you can submit an
SSN Letter Request
to ISSS via the ISSS Portal and upload the letter from your Hiring Department to the request. ISSS will process the request and provide you with another letter.
NEW STUDENTS PLEASE NOTE: Requests received from new students will not be processed until after the 10th day of classes. If you submitted your SSN Letter Request prior to the 10th day of classes, your processing clock will not begin until the 10th day.
- You will take both letters to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office in Bloomington, IL to apply for your SSN. Please visit here for full details on how to get to the SSA office and what documents to bring with you.
- My SSN Letter Request has not been processed. What is causing the delay?
Several factors can impact the processing time of your SSN Letter Request.
- You are a new student and have not completed the New Student ISSS Check-In Request , please complete this request in the ISSS Portal.
- It has not yet reached the 10th day (census day) of classes. If you submitted your request prior to the 10th day of classes, your processing clock will not begin until the 10th day.
- You are still within the 10-day processing time from the date your request was submitted or the 10th day of classes (whichever is later).
- Your employment has not yet been processed by HR and entered in iPeople. Please contact your HR Consultant for assistance.
- Your ISSS Advisor has emailed your regarding missing documentation and you have not yet provided it. Please check the Messages section of your ISSS Portal to find any emails from your ISSS Advisor. Once the missing documentation is received your 10-day processing clock will reset.
- I am nearing the deadline to submit my SSN to HR. What should I do?
If you are employed on campus, the University's Human Resources office will continue to send you reminders about your deadline to provide them with your Social Security Card.
ISSS recommends you keep your HR Consultant informed of each step you have taken towards obtaining your SSN to help avoid termination of your appointment. You should also provide your HR Consultant with a copy of your Social Security receipt once you have applied.
- How many hours can I work on campus during the Summer term?
If your were enrolled in the Spring semester and will continue your program the following Fall semester, then Summer is considered a vacation period and you can work up to 28 hours per week.
If summer is your first or last semester , you are limited to 20 hours per week.
- Can I work on campus more than 20 hours per week in my final term, if I have a reduced course load?
- Can I work on CPT while also working on campus?
Yes. The work hour limits for each of these employment types are calculated separately. If you are already working on campus and want to apply for CPT, your academic advisor must confirm that you can manage both your academic and employment obligations as part of the CPT approval process. You must be making normal academic progress towards degree completion and remain in good standing to continue to remain eligible for CPT.
ISSS encourages students to consider whether a job will interfere with their academic progress before accepting any employment. You entered the U.S. on a student visa, so your first priority is as a student.
- Can I work full-time on CPT during the Fall or Spring semester?
- Can I volunteer?
It's important to understand the difference between a volunteer and an employee. Some think the only difference is that an employee gets paid and a volunteer does not, but that is not true. Unpaid work can still be considered employment.
Whether the Department of Labor (DOL) considers you an employee or a volunteer is based upon several factors and focuses on the relationship between the employer and potential employee.
According to the DOL Fact Sheet:
Individuals may volunteer time to religious, charitable, civic, humanitarian, or similar non-profit organizations as a public service and not be covered by the FLSA. Individuals generally may not, however, volunteer in commercial activities run by a non-profit organization such as a gift shop. A volunteer generally will not be considered an employee for FLSA purposes if the individual volunteers freely for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, and without contemplation or receipt of compensation. Typically, such volunteers serve on a part-time basis and do not displace regular employed workers or perform work that would otherwise be performed by regular employees.
F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to perform volunteer work that meets the DOL criteria without any prior authorization. Some examples include volunteering to hand out blankets at a homeless shelter, visit the elderly in a nursing home, or fold bandages for the Red Cross.
If you are unsure whether an opportunity qualifies as volunteer work, ISSS recommends you reference the Department of Labor website and consult with an immigration attorney and a labor attorney. The link here will guide you to a list of attorneys in the state of Illinois that specialize in labor and employment law. You can find links here to help you find an experienced immigration attorney. If the "volunteer" work you performed is later deemed by U.S. labor laws to constitute employment, then you would have worked without employment authorization. Unauthorized employment can impact your legal status and future visa applications and your employer could be at risk for substantial fines.
If the volunteer opportunity is through ISU, then you should consult Human Resources prior to performing any volunteer work.
- Do I need CPT for an unpaid internship?
An unpaid internship is not the same as volunteering. Depending on the nature of the internship, you may be considered an employee and would therefore require employment authorization prior to beginning the internship.
According to the DOL Fact Sheet found here, the following seven factors consitute a "primary beneficiary" test used to determine whether you are considered an intern or an employee:
- The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa.
- The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions.
- The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit.
- The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar.
- The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning.
- The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.
- The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship.
ISSS highly recommends that all F-1 students request CPT authorization for all internships (paid or unpaid) that meet the CPT eligibility requirements. If you choose not to obtain CPT authorization, we highly recommend that you obtain confirmation in writing from your internship supervisor that the position meets the DOL requirements for unpaid internships and that you will not receive any compensation in any form during your internship. If the work you performed is later deemed by U.S. labor laws to constitute employment, then you would have worked without employment authorization. Unauthorized employment can impact your legal status and future visa applications and your employer could be at risk for substantial fines.
- Can I get a job as a cashier at a local fast food restaurant or as a delivery/uber driver?
No. F-1 and J-1 students are not permitted to work off campus without prior authorization. In most cases, off-campus work authorization cannot be approved until after you have completed one full academic year (Fall + Spring) and the work must be directly related to your degree program. Never work off campus before first speaking with your ISSS Advisor.
Visit our Curricular Practical Training page for more details about off-campus work eligibility.
- How do I get a travel signature if I am currently abroad?
You should request a signature by completing the online Travel Signature Request in the ISSS Portal. Your request will be processed within 10 business days. F-1 students will receive an automatic notification from the ISSS Portal when the I-20 has been uploaded to your request. Always print, sign, and date your I-20 document as soon as you retrieve it. J-1 students will be provided deliving/pick-up options in the request itself.
- The F-1/J-1 visa in my passport has expired or will soon expire. What should I do?
Your visa can expire and you can remain in the U.S. However, if you travel outside of the U.S., you will need a new visa before you can re-enter.
ISSS cannot assist you in obtaining a new visa. You cannot apply for a U.S. visa from within the U.S. You must apply at a U.S. consulate/embassy abroad. ISSS highly reccommends you apply from your home country. If you choose to apply for your visa in a different country, ISSS reccommends you contact the consulate to confirm they accept Third Country National (TCN) visa applications. Visit our Visa Information page for further details.
- I need to renew my visa, what documents should I bring to my visa interview?
You should bring all the items mentioned in the visa application link below for your status.
You should also bring any other items listed on the website of the specific consulate where you will apply.
At minimum, you will be asked to show your:
- Original I-20 or DS-2019
- Official acceptance letter
- Receipt for payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee
- Proof of financial support
We also recommend that you:
- Confirm you have a valid travel signature.
- Request official transcripts and/or an enrollment verfication letter from the Registrar’s Office.
- Print your SEVIS fee receipt. If you have been outside the US for 5 months or more or if your SEVIS number has changed, you may be required to pay the SEVIS fee again.
- Bring proof of finances. Students should be able to verify the amount shown as the total on their I-20/DS-2019 with financial documents such as a bank statement, Graduate Assistantship offer letter, or scholarship award letter.
- What documents should I take with me when I travel abroad?
When traveling abroad, be sure to carry your immigration documents with you rather than putting them away in your checked luggage. You must be able to show your papers quickly at various points during your trip.
It is recommended that you carry the following documents with you when traveling abroad:
- I-20/DS-2019 with a valid travel signature.
- Passport valid for 6 months past your date of re-entry.
- Valid U.S. F-1/J-1 visa (citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need a visa to enter the U.S.). If your visa stamp has expired, you will need to apply for a new visa in order to re-enter the U.S. Visit our Visa Information page for further details.
- I-94 Printoutmarked D/S
- Contact information for ISSS in the event that the border officer needs to reach an International Advisor.
- Main phone: (309) 438-1931 (during regular business hours)
- ISU Police: (309) 438-8631 (emergencies outside of regular business hours). This number should only be used in an emergency situation at the border, in which the border officer needs to immediately contact a school official (DSO/ARO).
- Other documents related to your status:unofficial transcript, recent tuition receipts, proof of finances (bank statement, scholarship award letter, etc.), Redbird card, ISU employment or invitation letter, documents related to any pending USCIS applications,SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.
- Valid visa for other countries: If you are not returning to your home country, you may need a visa to travel to or even through (transit visa) other countries. Check the foreign embassy/consulate website for every country on your itinerary.
- Visit the Department of StateLearn About Your Destinationsite to find important travel alerts/warnings and links to foreign embassy websites where you can check visa requirements.
- My passport is going to expire soon. Do I need to renew it?
You should keep your passport valid at all times. Make sure you know the expiration date and begin the renewal process at least 6 months before it expires.
Most passports can be renewed from within the U.S. Contact the embassy/consulate for your home country in the U.S. for information on the passport renewal process.
- Do I need to be enrolled full-time in my final semester?
If you need less than a full course load in your final semester in order to graduate, your ISSS Advisor may be able to approve you for a Reduced Course Load (RCL). See our Course Load Requirements page for full details.
For questions about how a reduced course load may impact your Graduate Assistantship, please contact the Graduate School.
- How do I drop a course after 10th day of classes?
F-1 students wishing to drop a course after the 10th day of classes, must submit a request through the Registrar. ISSS must approve the request before it will be processed. Your request will NOT be approved if dropping the course will take you below full-time enrollment, unless you have already been approved for a Reduced Course Load (RCL).
If you are going to drop a course and replace it with another course, you should first add the other course to your schedule.
- Do I have to take classes during the Summer semester?
If you were enrolled in the Spring semester and will be enrolled in the following Fall semester, then Summer semester is considered a vacation period. You do not need to be enrolled in order to maintain your F-1 status.
If Summer semester is your first or last semester, then it becomes a required semester and is no longer considered a vacation period. You must be enrolled full-time. If you will be enrolled less than full-time, then you will need to be approved for a Reduced Course Load (RCL). You are also limited to 20 hours per week for on-campus work.
See our Course Load Requirements page for full details.
- If I need additional time to complete my program, what do I need to do to extend my I-20?
F-1 students are only allowed to extend if they have a compelling academic or medical reason.
You must submit a Program Extension Request before the expiration date of your current I-20 . ISSS recommends you submit your Extension Request at least 2 weeks prior to your current I-20 end date, but no earlier than the semester within which your I-20 will expire. For example, if your end date is currently May 10th, you should apply no earlier than January of the same year and no later than April 25th.
If you do not extend your I-20 document before the expiration date you will be out-of-status and will need to file for reinstatement through USCIS (processing times could take 12+ months) or travel outside of the U.S. and re-enter in order to regain your F-1 status.
You can find the Program Extension Request in your ISSS Portal Control Center. ISSS will review your request and determine whether you are eligible for an extension. If approved, you will receive an updated I-20 document with a new program end date.
NOTE: Students working on campus must bring their extended I-20 document to Human Resources.
See our Extending Your Stay page for full details.
- If I want to transfer my SEVIS record to another U.S. university, what should I do?
To request the transfer of your SEVIS record, you must first be officially admitted to another U.S. institution and then submit an F-1 SEVIS Transfer Out Request in the ISSS Portal.
You should also contact the international office at the new school and ask them whether they have a Transfer In form that needs to be completed by ISSS. Your admission letter and Transfer In form will need to be uploaded to your Transfer Out Request .
See our SEVIS Transfer Out page for full details.
- I have a hold on my account, how can I get that removed?
You can find more information about the holds on your account by going to your MyIllinoisState account.
If you have a hold from ISSS, please go to your ISSS Portal to access your Messages for information on why the hold was placed and instructions on what you need to do in order for the hold to be removed. Once you complete the outstanding requirement(s), you should notify ISSS by raising International Student Help Ticket to request that the hold be removed or if you have further questions.
If you have a hold from International Admissions, or any other unit on campus, please contact that unit.
- How do I update my international address?
If you need to update your international address, you can raise a International Student Help Ticket to request the update.
- I have moved. How do I update my address with ISSS?
You are required by immigration regulations to notify ISSS within 10 days of any address change. If you move, you should notify ISSS by updating your Local Address type in your MyIllinoisState account. You can find more information on the Reporting Changes ISSS webpage.
Students on OPT/STEM should update their address information directly in the ISSS Portal.
- I lost my I-20. What do I do?
If your I-20 or DS-2019 has been lost, stolen, or damaged, you should submit a Reprint I-20/DS-2019 Request in the ISSS Portal.
- I am having trouble logging into my ISSS Portal and need help resetting the password. What do I do?
Current students:Login to the ISSS Portal using your Central Login credentials. Do not create a new account or new login. If you create a new ISSS Portal account, any requests you submit will not be processed because your ISSS Advisor will not be notified they were submitted.
Students on OPT/STEM:
Login to the ISSS Portal using your Portal account. You will not login using Central Login. Your username is the personal email address you provided when applying for OPT and you should have received an email to create your own password. If the email to create your password expired or If you have forgotten your password, you can hit the “Forgot your password?” link on the login screen. Do not create a new account or new login. If you create a new ISSS Portal account, any requests you submit will not be processed because your ISSS Advisor will not be notified they were submitted.
If you need help logging into your ISSS Portal, you can either report this through your ISSS Portal or email internationalstudents@IllinoisState.edu.
- I am not able to submit my request, what should I do?
Your ISSS request will not be processed until it is actually submitted.
When submitting a request, if the submission is not successful, you will receive an error stating that your submission is incomplete, followed by a list of the required elements that are still needed. Work on the listed elements in order to submit your request. You can also check to see that every section of the request has a check box under the completed column. If a check box is missing, then that element needs to be completed in order to submit.
If your request contains a Recommendation element, you will not be able to submit your request until your recommender has completed their recommendation. When the recommendation has been submitted, the checkbox next to their name will be checked. You can then log back into your ISSS Portaland “submit” your request.
- I worked on my request several weeks ago and it hasn’t been processed. Why is that?
If you start working on a request but do not click on the “Submit” button, your request has not been submitted and will not be processed . You will know you have successfully submitted your request because a green bar will appear at the top of the page that states "Your request has been submitted" or you will receive an automatic confirmation email stating your request was submitted.
ISSS will not respond to questions about the status of a request. You can always check the status of any request by logging into your ISSS Portal and reviewing the request. Make sure to also check for any emails from your ISSS Advisor regarding the request.
- How do I update my ISSS Portal profile information?
Log into your ISSS Portal and navigate to your home page. The home page shows a list of records on the left and a profile on the right. Follow these steps:
- Click on the “edit profile” button located below the profile.
- Click on the “information” button located at the top of the profile.
- Edit any information needed and click on the “update” button when finished to save your updates.
- How early should I start working on requests?
- My academic advisor says they never got my recommendation request. What should I do?
If your academic advisor needs the recommendation resent, please email yourISSS Advisor. Once your ISSS advisor resends the recommendation, your academic advisor will be contacted via email with another link to the recommendation.
Students on OPT/STEM
- When should I start applying for OPT?
You can apply up to 90 days before your program end date as listed on your I-20. USCIS processing time can take between 1-4 months for OPT approval. The earlier you can apply the better. You can still apply early even if you want your OPT to start later. There is a very useful Planning Tool for Post-Completion OPT located on the Study in the States website, which can help you determine your filing deadlines. More information about how to apply for OPT can be found here.
- What is STEM and when do I need to apply for it?
STEM is the abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM OPT is a 24-month employment extension for students in the STEM Field that directly follows employment on Post-Completion OPT. You can determine whether your degree qualifies as a STEM field by checking whether your major CIP code (found on page 1 of your I-20) appears on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.
If you have a STEM designated degree program, you can apply for a STEM extension upto 90 days before but no later than the expiration date on your OPT EAD card. More information about STEM eligibility and how to apply can found here.
- What if I am pursuing more than one degree? Can I apply for OPT for both?
You are only eligible to apply for OPT once per degree level. If you are pursuing more than one degree at the same level (Ex: two master’s degrees), whether you can apply for OPT based upon both degrees depends on the timing of when you complete each degree.
If you graduate from both programs simultaneously, then your OPT employment can be based upon either degree.
If you finish one degree program before the other, you will need to decide at the time of completing your first program if you want to apply for OPT based upon that degree or wait to apply for OPT upon completion of your second degree. You can only apply for OPT up to 60 days after your graduation date.
- Does unemployment start calculating if my OPT application is still pending but I have reached my requested start date?
- Can I travel internationally while my OPT/STEM application is pending?
- When an OPT application is pending:
- Traveling outside of the U.S. prior to receiving work authorization is strongly discouraged. Attempting to enter the U.S. without proof of employment may result in denial.
- More information about travel on OPT can found on the ISSS Travel on OPT webpage.
- When a STEM application is pending:
- In the new STEM Final Rule, Department of Homeland Security states that students currently on STEM Extension (or who have a STEM Extension application pending) may travel abroad and seek reentry in F-1 status.
- More information about travel on STEM can found on the ISSS Travel Abroad on STEM Extension webpage.
- How do I access the ISSS Portal and update my contact information while on OPT/STEM?
After you graduate, you will receive an email from ISSS notifying you to setup your new "non-integrated" ISSS Portal account. This email will be sent to the personal (non-ilstu) email you provided on the OPT Request you submitted to ISSS. You will access the ISSS Portal by clicking on the Alumni Login. Your personal email address will become your username and you will create your own password.
You will no longer go through Central Login to access the portal.
Personal Contact/Profile Information - changes to your personal contact/profile information should be made by logging in to the ISSS Portal and editing your profile information. The profile edits you make will be used to update your SEVIS record, and you will also see the changes reflected in your SEVP Portal account.
Email Address- if you need to update your email address while on OPT, email your ISSS Advisor. Once your ISSS Advisor has updated your email address in the ISSS Portal, you should receive an email asking you to reset your ISSS Portal login credentials based upon your new email address. Shortly, thereafter, you should also receive an email from the SEVP portal with new login instructions.
- How do I report that I got a new job while on OPT?
You should report each of your OPT employers by following these steps:
|STEP 1: Submit an OPT Relationship to Major Request in the ISSS Portal (one request for each new employer).|
|STEP 2: Login to the SEVP Portal and add your employment information.|
For additional information, see the SEVP Portal Help page on Study in the States
More information about OPT reporting can be found on the ISSS OPT Reporting Requirements webpage.
- I got a new job, how do I report this while on STEM?
If you change employers during your 24-Month STEM Extension, you should report this via the ISSS Portal by submitting a STEM Extension Update and following the instructions shown.
You must have the following documents:
- Form I-983 with the "Final Evaluation of Student Progress" (bottom of page 5) completed and signed by your previous employer
- Completed and signed Form I-983 Training Plan for the new employer
- The I-983 for your new employer must be complete and accurate.
- Responses should be typed directly into the form.
- ISSS recommends that you save your Form I-983 as a pdf before printing the document for signature.
- ALL SIGNATURES MUST BE SIGNED IN INK. ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.
- We will not accept a Form I-983 that has been digitally altered after having already been signed.
**If any item on the new Form I-983 is incorrect, we will not be able to process your request and will ask you to resubmit the form with new signatures. THIS WILL DELAY THE PROCESSING TIME OF YOUR REQUEST.**
More information about STEM reporting can be found on the ISSS STEM Extension Reporting Requirements webpage.
- I am on STEM and got an email to complete my 6-month periodic reporting, how do I do this?
You must report to ISSS every 6 months while on your STEM Extension, even if there is no change in information to report. To submit your 6-Month Validation Report, please complete a STEM Extension Update in the ISSS Portal. When you navigate to the webpage, click on the button “ Submit a 6-month Periodic Report ”. ISSS recommends that you submit your 6-Month Validation Report no earlier than 30 days prior to your 6-month mark (6 months from your EAD card start date) and no later than 10 days following.
NOTE: Emailing your ISSS Advisor stating that there are no changes in your information does not fulfill your reporting requirement. A periodic report needs to be officially submitted to ISSS through your ISSS portal.
- What documents should I take with me when travelling abroad on OPT/STEM?
When traveling outside of the U.S. following OPT/STEM approval, the following documents are required:
- Valid Passport
- Valid F-1 Visa
- I-94 Printout marked D/S
- Valid EAD card
- I-20 with a valid DSO travel signature on page 2 (the signature is only valid for 6 months from the date it was signed)
- Employment letter (stating: start dates, hours, and duties)