Information for ELP Students: Maintaining Legal Student Status in the United States

As an F-1 or J-1 international student at the English Language Programs (ELP) at the University of Pennsylvania, your primary purpose for being in the United States is study.  International students must comply with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) regulations while in the United States.  Please read the "Instructions to Students" on page 2 of your I-20, or on page 2 of your DS-2019.  Following those instructions and the information below will assist you in maintaining legal student status in the United States.  If you have any questions please visit International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and we will be happy to discuss your situation with you.

  • Your Important Immigration Documents
  • Be very careful with your immigration documents:

    • Passport
    • Entry Visa Stamp (F-1 or J-1, except for citizens of Canada and Bermuda)
    • I-94
    • I-20 or DS-2019

    These documents provide official information about you, your nonimmigrant status, and/or your academic program.  They can be difficult (and expensive!) to replace. Keep them in a safe place and make a set of copies to keep in a separate location.

  • Keep Your Passport and Your I-20/DS-2019 Valid At All Times
  • If your passport will expire within 6-12 months, or to replace a lost or stolen passport, contact your embassy (in Washington, DC) or consulate (most likely in New York City) in the United States. Your country's governmental representatives in the United States are responsible for issuing passports to its citizens. ISSS has a list of embassies in the United States. You can also find this information at

    Your I-20/DS-2019 must always reflect your current academic program and dates. The expiration of your educational program is listed on your I-20 (item 5, on page 1), or on your DS-2019 (item 5, page 1). You must be aware of this date and follow ELP's schedule for continued study at ELP. If you will continue to study in the United States after the expiration date on your I-20/DS-2019, see below for information on changing your I-20/DS-2019 to your new program.

  • Report Any Change in Name or Your Local Address within 10 Days of Moving
  • Immigration regulations require students to report any change of names or local address to their sponsoring institutions within 10 days of the change.  Institutions must then report changes to the government's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).  At Penn, we require you simply to go to the ELP main office and report your change of address.  ISSS receives address changes from ELP on a daily basis and forward them to SEVIS. If Penn is not the sponsor of your DS-2019 or I-20, you must report any change of address to the agency or school that prepared your form.

  • You Are Eligible to Take a Session Off (a Break) After Completing 4 Consecutive ELP Sessions
  • Four ELP sessions correspond to one full academic year. After completing four sessions, an ELP student may take one session as a break. The student must re-enroll in the next ELP session.

    For example:

    1. Student starts in Fall 1 Session
    2. Studies in Fall 2 Session
    3. Studies in Spring 1 Session
    4. Studies in Spring 2 Session
    5. The student is now eligible for a break for the Summer 1 Session
    6. The student must resume studies in Summer 2 Session
  • Accept Only Authorized Employment
  • DHS and DOS consider working without proper authorization as one of the most serious violations of your student status. If you refer to page two of your I-20 or DS-2019 form you will see the statement "Warning -- a nonimmigrant who accepts unauthorized employment is subject to deportation." It is most important to be sure of the employment regulations before you accept an offer of employment or begin work. Consult with ISSS if you have questions.

    F-1 student employment

    • Generally, F-1 ELP students are permitted to work on campus only. F-1 students may work a maximum of 20 hours per week during the ELP session. Please refer to the following link more information
    • Full-time work is permitted on campus during official university breaks and between ELP sessions.

    J-1 student employment

    • J-1 status holders sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania may also work on the Penn campus up to 20 hours per week during ELP sessions. Full-time work is permitted during official university breaks and between ELP sessions. 
    • J-1 status holders must receive employment authorization from their program sponsor (e.g. Penn) before working in the United States. 
    • Please refer to the following request form
    • J-1 status holders sponsored by other organizations (not the University of Pennsylvania) must obtain permission from their program sponsor before working in the United States.
  • Obtaining Your Social Security Card
  • The Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number is required for tax reporting for individuals working in the United States or receiving a taxable scholarship.  To apply for a Social Security number, F-1 and J-1 students must:

    1. Find employment on campus and ask your employer confirm your job offer by signing the ISSS Social Security letter
    2. Visit the ELP Main office to obtain an enrollment letter
    3. Visit ISSS to obtain a Social Security letter
    4. Take the letter, along with your immigration documents to the Social Security Administration Card Center

    Please see the following link for additional instructions

    Please note: you must wait 15 days after arrival in the US to apply for a Social Security Number.

    Additionally, Social Security numbers are required for a Pennsylvania driver's license. However, if you are not employed and therefore ineligible for a Social Security Number, you will need to obtain a letter from the Social Security Administration Card Center confirming your ineligibility, then present this letter to the license bureau. Please refer to the following link for more information on obtaining a Pennsylvania driver’s license or ID card.

    Numerous other governmental agencies and private businesses, services and organizations will also ask for Social Security numbers when filing applications, completing paperwork, etc.  However, a Social Security Number is not required for these purposes.  These organizations will be able to provide an alternate identification number if you do not have a Social Security Number.

  • Have Your I-20/DS-2019 Signed by ISSS before Traveling Outside the United States
  • If you will travel outside the United States, you must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019. This signature must be obtained from ISSS:

    1. Visit the ELP Main Office to obtain an enrollment letter
    2. Visit ISSS to obtain a travel signature

    Each signature is valid for one year or the duration of your program if it lasts less than one year.  Please note that only continuing students may use their student immigration documents for entry into the United States between ELP sessions.  Once you have completed your final ELP session, you may not use your I-20/DS-2019 for entry into the United States.

  • Notify ELP in Advance If You Intend To Continue Studying At the Next Session
  • Your current I-20/DS-2019 has an expiration date showing the end of the current ELP session.  If you intend to study for an additional session you must inform ELP during the fourth week of the current session.  Failure to notify ELP on time may jeopardize Penn's ability to obtain an extension of your immigration document.

  • Transfer-In Students
  • If item 3 of your I-20 indicates “transfer pending,” please be aware that an updated I-20 will be issued to you after you attend ELP student immigration orientation and complete the required immigration registration.  Item 3 on the new I-20 wil state “continued attendance at this school” which means that the transfer process is complete. You will be notified via email by ELP as soon as the new I-20 is ready. Please be sure to pick up the new I-20 as it is important immigration document.

  • Transferring To Another Academic Program or To Another University
  • If you continue your studies at Penn in a different academic program, or if you change universities, you must also change your I-20 or DS-2019.  Notify ELP of your decision to attend a different program or school before the end of your ELP session.
    ISSS and ELP will coordinate the change with your new program or school, and with SEVIS.  Failure to notify ELP and your new school early of your intent to change your academic program or your school may jeopardize your ability to change.  The student must complete an ELP Transfer-Out Request Form at the ELP office.  F-1 transfer and change of program level procedures must be completed before the end of the 60-day grace period following your program end date.  J-1 transfer procedures must be completed before your program end date. Please discuss your intent to transfer with an ISSS Advisor.