F-1 to OPT to TN: What’s My Status?

Question: My F1 visa expired on May 2007 and I have been working under OPT until now. I just got approval from Homeland Security for my TN working permit, but still need to go to Mexico to get my TN visa stamp at the US Embassy. What was my status while I was in OPT? F1 (even if it had expired)?

Reply: I think you have mistakenly judged the duration of your F-1 status based on the expiration date of your F-1 visa stamp. Note the difference between a non-immigrant visa and non-immigrant status. A visa is a document affixed or stamped to an individual’s passport, which serves as a “ticket” and permits a foreign citizen to apply for admission to the U.S. Non-immigrant status refers to the particular classification and terms surrounding your visit in the U.S.

Form I-20 indicates when the student should report to school and complete his/her course of study. Form I-94 governs the period of authorized stay. F-1 students generally do not have a specific expiration date on their I-94s. Instead, F-1 students are admitted for “duration of status” (designated as “D/S” on the I-94). Students admitted for “duration of status” may remain in the U.S. for the time necessary to pursue their full course of study and to engage in any authorized practical training following completion of studies. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (5) (i). Additionally, an F-1 student who has completed a course of study and any authorized practical training may remain in the U.S. for an additional 60-day period. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (f) (5) (iv).

Even if your F-1 visa stamp expired, as long as you continued to pursue your studies or engaged in authorized practical training (such as OPT), you should have maintained your F-1 status. The expiration of the F-1 visa stamp does not affect your non-immigrant status, but generally precludes your ability to re-enter the U.S. Similarly, the approval of your I-129 petition for TN status permits you to remain and work in the U.S. But your lack of a TN visa stamp limits your ability to re-enter the U.S. under TN status. But see Travel with Expired Visa.