Graduation and Beyond

If you will soon be graduating the ISSO congratulates you on your accomplishment! Read the following potential immigration options and information to help you transition from student status to alumni.

Delaying Graduation and Program Completion

  1. Ask Yourself: Am I eligible to graduate from the program on my I-20 / DS-2019?

  2. Ask Yourself: Have I completed all the courses required to earn a particular degree from UT Dallas?

    An F-1 or J-1 student in any of these situations has completed their program for immigration purposes, and MUST shorten their I-20/ DS-2019 program end date to that semester:
    • For most bachelor's degree candidates, the completion date is determined by the date when you complete all the courses required for your degree program and are eligible to graduate.
    • For master's degree candidates in non-thesis programs, the completion date is determined by the date when you complete all courses required for your degree program and any other program requirements, assuming the other program requirements are completed at the earliest possible date following completion of all coursework.
    • For master's degree candidates in thesis programs, the completion date is determined by the date when your thesis has been approved by the Graduate Dean and by your thesis committee.
    • For doctoral degree candidates, your completion date is determined by the date when you successfully pass your final oral defense of your written thesis.
  3. Ask Yourself: Do I want to postpone my graduation due to a poor job market, family concerns or for other reasons unrelated to my current academic degree program?

    These are not reasons the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept for delaying graduation, and you could be viewed as violating the regulations.  Also, if you postpone your graduation for administrative reasons such as missing the deadline to apply for graduation or applying in absentia, this does not postpone your program completion for immigration purposes.  Once you have completed all the requirements for your current course of study or degree program, you cannot remain in the U.S. unless you choose one of the options listed in section #8 of this handout.
  4. Ask Yourself: Do I want to postpone my graduation to take classes that are personally interesting or important for my area of study, but that are not required to get my degree?

    Courses that are not required by your degree program do not allow you to postpone your graduation.  Taking classes not required by your degree program which then delay graduation could be perceived by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as a violation of your F-1 or J-1 status.
  5. Ask Yourself: Do I still have a valid I-20/ DS-2019?

    USCIS regulations clearly state that you may only maintain status by pursuing a full course of study and by making normal progress toward completing this specific course of study.   A common misconception is that a student can remain in the U.S. as long as their I-20 / DS-2019 has not yet expired.  This is not true.  You cannot maintain your status as an F-1 or J-1 student by simply having an unexpired I-20 or DS-2019.  The completion or end date listed on your I-20 (section #5) or DS-2019 (section #3) is simply an estimate of the time it takes an average student to complete the same degree or academic program.
  6. Ask U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:  What do the actual written regulations say about this?

    ". . . .If the student is not required to take any additional courses to satisfy the requirements for completion, but continues to be enrolled for administrative purposes, the student is considered to have completed the course of study and must take action to maintain status.  Such action may include application for change of status or departure from the U.S." ". . .an F-1 student is admitted for duration of status.  Duration of status is defined as the time during which an F-1 student is pursuing a full course of studies at an education school approved by the Service for attendance by foreign students. . . . An F-1 student who has completed a course of study will be allowed an additional 60-day period to prepare for departure from the United States or prepare for transfer to a higher level at the same or another educational institution. . . .The student is considered to be maintaining status if he or she is making normal progress toward completing a course of study."
  7. Ask the ISSO:  How would U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ever know if. . .?

    USCIS might never know that you postponed your graduation even though you had completed your degree program.  However, we can tell you that USCIS generally performs thorough historical reviews for applicants applying for a change of status to H-1B or an adjustment of status to U.S. permanent resident.  They will ask for copies of all the I-20 / DS-2019 forms which were issued to you as well as transcripts.  They will scrutinize the timing of various events. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if the risk of any action you take is worth the potential future consequences.  USCIS holds you responsible for maintaining your F-1 or J-1 status . . . not the International Student Services Office or your academic advisor. Be aware that if the ISSO has evidence or knowledge that you are attempting to postpone graduation or have already completed your studies, they will shorten your I-20 / DS-2019 and deny future extensions.
  8. Ask ISSO:  What action would you recommend for someone nearing completion of their degree program?

    Plan ahead, know your upcoming deadlines.  F-1 students have a grace period of 60 days following completion of a degree program; J-1 students have a grace period of 30 days following completion of a degree program.

    F-1 Students

    In general, if you are maintaining your current non-immigrant status, you have the following options available during your 60 day grace period once you complete your course of study:
    • Begin anew course of study  at The University of Texas at Dallas during the next available semester.
    • Transfer to a new school or new program sponsor within the U.S. for the next available semester.
    • Apply for  F-1 Optional Practical Training in order to gain practical work experience directly related to the degree or academic program you just completed.
    • Apply to change your nonimmigrant status.
    • Depart from the U.S.
    J-1 Students

    J-1 students are encouraged to meet with an ISSO advisor to discuss end of program options: J-1 student transfers, changes of degree level, and Academic Training must be authorized prior to program completion. J-1 students with sponsors other than The University of Texas at Dallas should consult with their program sponsor.

In Your Last Semester

  • Verify completion of academic requirements with your academic department.
  • If you are working on-campus, or off-campus with CPT, prepare to end your employment by your program completion date. Read more >>

    If you are authorized for OPT, you may begin, or resume employment, on your OPT start date as listed on your EAD. Students graduating in absentia, or based on dissertation/thesis defense may consult with an ISSO advisor regarding when to end employment.

    Graduating Semester Last day of CPT or On-Campus Employment
    Fall 2016 12/15/2016
    Spring 2017 05/08/2017
    Summer 2017 08/12/2016
    Fall 2017 12/14/2017
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  • Apply for graduation.
  • Applying for graduation has the following potential immigration consequences:
    • Your immigration program completion date for the degree and major on your I-20 will be the last day of final exams unless you notify ISSO that you will be completing your program based of thesis/dissertation requirements. If the graduation application is for a major and/or degree that is different from what is on your I-20, please contact ISSO so that we may advise you on how to maintain your F-1 immigration status.

    • You may be eligible to apply for post-completion OPT based on the completion of your studies. Visit for links to forms, workshop dates and additional information.

    • You may not work on-campus as an on-campus student employee, or as a TA/RA, or off-campus based on CPT authorization after your program completion date.

    • If you do not apply for OPT, your electronic SEVIS record will be shortened to reflect the last day soon after the end of your final semester. If you are concerned that you may not graduate, or learn that you did not graduate, contact ISSO for advising in order to maintain your F-1 status. 
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  • Use the invitation letter template from the ISSO to create your own invitation letters to use in the tourist visa process if you wish to invite friends or family to come to the U.S. to attend your graduation ceremony.
  • If you will remain in the U.S. after graduation, make appropriate preparations, such as applying for F-1 OPT or J-1 Academic Training.

In Absentia Graduation

In absentia registration for graduation allows students who have completed all degree requirements but need more time to complete administrative requirements, such as submission of dissertation copies, to file for graduation in a future term without enrollment in that term.  Unfortunately, immigration regulations do not allow for this situation. F-1 and J-1 students must continue to be full-time enrolled or make program completion preparations, such as applying for OPT, even if their academic department has granted an in absentia filing. For more information about in absentia, see your undergraduate or graduate catalog.

Extension of Stay

F-1 Students

I-20 Program Extension
F-1 students are required to complete their academic programs within the time listed on their I-20s. If an F-1 student is not able to complete his or her program within this period of time, he/she may apply for an extension of stay.

  • You must be currently maintaining status and making normal progress toward completing your educational objective.
  • You must apply prior to the I-20 expiration date.
  • You must meet one of the valid Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reasons for an extension:
    • Compelling academic reason such as a change of major, research topics or research complications.
    • Documented medical reason such as hospitalization or prolonged illness.
    NOTE: Academic probation, suspension, or Curricular Practical Training are not valid reasons for a program extension.
I-20 Extension Application Process
Submit the following to the International Student Services Office (ISSO):
  • Program Extension Form.The form must be signed by your academic advisor or academic department head.
  • UT Dallas Financial Affidavit.
  • Proof of funding.
    • If the extension is for one semester or less, please submit proof of funds for one semester (half of one academic year).
    • If the extension is for two or three semesters (one academic year), please submit proof of funds for one academic year. To determine the amount of funding required, please refer to the Estimate Expenses for I-20..

J-1 Students

DS-2019 Program Extension
J-1 visa holders are eligible for an extension of their DS-2019 up to the Maximum Duration of Participation for their Exchange Visitor Category. For J-1 students, there is no maximum duration of participation. Therefore, if you meet the eligibility requirements below you can apply for an extension of your DS-2019.
  • In status and making normal progress toward completing your educational objective.
  • Have a valid reason for an extension:
  • Compelling academic reason (such as research complications and added requirements).
  • Documented medical reason (such as hospitalization or prolonged illness).
  • Apply prior to the expiration date of your current DS-2019

Application Process
Submit the following documents to the ISSO at  [email protected] or in person:

  • A completed J-1 Student DS-2019 Request Form, found here, signed by your academic advisor if for an academic reason.
  • Proof of financial support for the length of the extension for yourself and any dependents.
  • Processing time is 5 business days. You will be sent an email when the extended I-20 is ready for pickup.

After Graduation

Congratulations on completing your degree program! You have the following options after graduation:

  • Optional Practical Training(OPT)
    Up to one year of work authorization per educational level. You can apply up to three months prior to your program completion date and up to 60 days after. USCIS must receive your OPT application on or before the 60th day. USCIS processing time is 2-3 months.
  • Start or continue another academic program

    at UT Dallas – Obtain a new Form I-20 within 60 days of your program completion date. You must start classes in the new program within five months of your program completion date.

  • Transfer out to another school

    Arrange for your SEVIS immigration record to be released to the new school within 60 days of your program completion date. You will also want to check with an international student advisor at the new school to determine if a transfer clearance form is required.

  • Change to another visa category

    Your F-1 status remains valid for 60 days after the I-20 program completion date. If you will apply for a change of status while remaining in the U.S., your petition must be filed by the 60th day to avoid any gap in status. Seek legal advice to assist you with your change of status.

  • Leave the U.S.

    Leave within 60 days of your program completion date if you do not wish to pursue the options.

Maintain Copies of Your Immigration Documents

The ISSO offers a courtesy service for UTD students and alumni who need copies of immigration documents that the ISSO has on file.

  • Submit the Immigration Document Copy Request by email to [email protected] or in person to request the document copies
  • Processing time is 3 business days
  • Collect the documents or arrange to have them mailed. Due to security and privacy concerns, ISSO will not scan and email the documents Read more >>

    You have two options to obtain your endorsed I-20:

    • Pick it up in person or e-mail to authorize a friend to pick it up next business day. Provide their full name. You or your authorized person must bring a photo ID.
    • Request it be mailed to you:
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Remember, maintaining copies of all your immigration documents is your individual responsibility.

Alumni Relations

Whether you are remaining in the U.S. or returning home, you can connect with other UT Dallas graduates. Talk to the Alumni Relations office about benefits, campus news and ways you can contribute.