Center for Intercultural Engagement and Support

Dahl Centennial Union
700 College Drive
Decorah, Iowa 52101

Phone: 563-387-1014

Returning Students

Please click on one of the items below for more information on immigration and other topics that will likely impact you as an F-1 international student at Luther College:

The majority of Luther’s international students come to the U.S. on an F-1 student visa. An F-1 student is a “non-immigrant who is pursuing a ‘full course of study’ towards a specific educational or professional objective, at an academic institution in the United States”, approved by the Department of Homeland Security. “Once the educational or professional objectives have been attained, the F-1 student is expected by the U.S. government to return to his or her residence abroad.”

A student obtains F-1 status using a¬†Form I-20,¬†issued by Luther’s International Admissions Office (a DHS approved school). If you are in your home country you will then take the form I-20 to the nearest embassy or consulate to apply for the F-1 Student visa. If you are in the U.S., and transferring from another DHS approved school, a transfer I-20 will be issued. If you are in the U.S. under another visa status, Luther can help you apply for a change of visa status.

The Department of Homeland Security is the government body regulating all matters related to immigration. Effective March 1, 2003, the functions of the former INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) were moved into three Bureaus within the Department of Homeland Security.

  • USCIS‚ÄĒThe¬†United States Citizenship and Immigration Services¬†is now responsible for most of the applications and petition adjudications that had been done by INS. These would include change of non-immigrant status, authorization for off-campus work programs, reinstatement to status, etc.
  • USICE‚ÄĒThe United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responsible for immigration investigations, detention, removal, intelligence, and¬†SEVIS.
  • USCBP‚ÄĒThe United States Customs and Border Protection is responsible for immigration inspections at U.S. ports of entry, for the Border patrol, and for the Customs Service.

Once in the USA on an F-1 visa, there are specific requirements that are to be met by a student in order to maintain their status.

SEVIS is the database operated under the SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program), designed to allow the collection of information regarding foreign students and exchange visitors in the United States. All F-1 student I-20’s and J-1 scholar DS-2019’s are issued through the SEVIS database.

The school and the student both have responsibilities for reporting information in a timely fashion (see time restrictions below) to the DHS, either through SEVIS or individually. The following section describes the respective responsibilities with regard to reporting information and maintaining student status. Being out of status has serious implications, including the possibility of not being able to finish your program. Please contact the Luther Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success with any questions on how to maintain your student status.

SEVIS Reporting/Updating Requirements

The following information must be reported to the Designated School Official (DSO) so that it can be entered into your SEVIS record. The Principal School Designated Official (PDSO) in the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success is Alejandra Cruz (

  • U.S. Mailing Address Change: Notify the DSO of any change of address within 10 days of the change. You may use¬†this link¬†to submit a change of address to your DSO.
  • Permanent Home Address/Foreign Address Change
  • Temporary Foreign Address Change
  • Changes to your Program of Study (majors¬†and¬†minors): notify the DSO when you submit a major/minor declaration to the Office of the Registrar.
  • Transfer to another U.S. institution: notify the DSO¬†before¬†your program end date.
    • You must tell the DSO the school name and the “release” date (when you will be finished at Luther‚ÄĒusually the end of a term).
    • If you plan to transfer to another undergraduate institution or to graduate school, you should make an appointment with the DSO before the end of your last term.
  • Change of visa status: notify the DSO if you change from F-1 status to another visa category.
  • Change in program end date: notify the DSO in advance, prior to the program end date. There are limited criteria for extending one’s program‚ÄĒthis must be discussed with the DSO.
  • Reduced course load (less than full time, or less than 12 credits): The DSO can only approve a reduced course load for specific reasons.¬†Please speak to the DSO before registering for less than full time.¬†The DSO must note the approval in SEVIS, and the student must also note the¬†Resumption of Full Course of Study¬†in the subsequent semester.
  • Approval for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT), must be submitted by the DSO and entered into the SEVIS database.
  • Application for Off-Campus Work due to Economic Hardship must be submitted by the DSO and entered into the SEVIS database. The DSO will advise as to eligibility.
  • OPT completion date: Notify the DSO when you complete your Optical Practical Training employment.

A Social Security Number (S.S.#) is issued primarily for U.S. tax purposes. If you will be earning income in the United States, you must also file tax forms and will therefore need a Social Security Number. You will be asked for this number to open a bank account and by your employer for payroll purposes.

You will be issued a Social Security Card free of charge. In most cases, the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success staff will help you apply for a Social Security number during an orientation session. Otherwise, we will help you in the process of applying.

In order to apply for a Social Security number, you must be eligible to work (for F-1 students, this is on-campus work study) and must show a letter from the Luther Employment Office authorizing this work. In addition, you will need to have your passport, Form I-94, I-20, and the Social Security Application form.

For more information about Social Security and protecting your identity through your Social Security number, visit the Social Security Administration web page.

The Basics
All international students who are in the U.S. for any period of time during any calendar year must file a federal tax return, even if they do not have U.S. source income. Depending on income and withholdings, some international students may also need to file an Iowa income tax return.

The tax year runs from January 1 to December 31 of each calendar year. Federal tax returns for the prior year are due on April 15 of the following year (Example: 2021 tax return must be submitted by April 15, 2022.)

During International Student Orientation, you completed Form W-4 which allows Luther to withhold the correct amount of federal income taxes from your paychecks throughout the year. If you receive taxable scholarship from Luther, there will also be federal (and state) taxes withheld. Your tax return is like an end-of-year reconciliation; if the amount withheld was more than what you owe, you will get a refund, and if the amount you owe is greater than what was withheld, you will owe a tax payment.

Tax Treaties
Some countries have tax treaties with the United States which exempt them from federal income tax withholdings.

Luther partners with GLACIER to manage tax compliance for international students. During International Student Orientation, you set up your account in GLACIER so that Luther can accurately calculate your tax withholdings on scholarship income and track any tax treaty that your country may have with the U.S.

In late winter/early spring, CIES will email you with instructions on how to access GLACIER Tax Prep (GTP) software to complete your federal tax return. We will also include instructions on how to determine if you need to file an Iowa tax return and, if so, how to prepare the Iowa return on your own (GTP does not offer state tax return preparation).

**Please note that CIES staff members do not have the training or legal authority to provide individual tax advice to students. Students should direct specific tax questions to the IRS, Glacier Tax Prep support, or another tax professional. All general tax information that CIES provides should be viewed and used as a resource.**

If you are planning to travel, the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success offers the following tips:

  • Planning is the key.¬†Think several weeks in advance about what you will need for your trip and assemble it.
  • Visit the Luther¬†Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success¬†to get a new travel signature on your I-20 and to request a “Travel Letter/Good Standing Letter”. Do this a week or two before you travel. You will also want to make sure that the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success has your current Luther, home, and temporary addresses on file.
  • Make copies of the following documents:
    • All I-20s you have been issued from every school you have attended.
    • The pages in your passport showing your picture, birth date, passport number, expiration date, and your visa.
    • Your I-94 card
  • Keep one set of these copies in your carry-on luggage, one in your checked baggage, and one set at home (preferably with someone who can send them to you if needed).
  • Order a copy of your transcript¬†from the Registrar’s Office.¬† It may take one or two days to have your order processed.
  • Carry your registration verification for next semester.
  • If you are traveling in the United States,¬†make sure you carry your original passport, I-20, and I-94 with you at all times. If you are stopped by any government official, they may require you to show them.
  • If you are traveling outside of the United States:
    • If you are traveling to a country other than your home country, call the embassy of that country to learn if you need a visa to enter that country.¬† If so, ask what the requirements, cost, and time frame are to apply for a visa. Keep in mind that it often takes two to three weeks to process a visa application, even longer in some countries.
    • If you have changed your visa status to F-1 in the United States, you will have to apply for an F-1 visa at a US Embassy or Consulate before returning to the United States. Remember, you are currently in ‚ÄúF-1 status‚ÄĚ but you do not have an ‚ÄúF-1 Visa.‚ÄĚ
    • Check your U.S. visa in your passport to make sure it is not expired. If it is, you will need to apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to have it renewed before returning to the United States. You should contact the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in the country you are traveling to BEFORE you travel to learn how long the process may take. You may want to make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy in the country you are traveling to BEFORE you leave the U.S as it may take several weeks just to get an appointment.
    • Get current “Financial Support Documents” from your financial sponsor. If the financial documents you submitted to Luther are less than six months old, you may request a copy from the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success. They may be required to show them by an immigration official at the airport/border when you return to the United States. If you need to renew your visa, you will definitely be required to show your current/recent “Financial Support Documents” at the embassy where you apply for renewal.

Above all remember to have a fun and safe trip. We look forward to welcoming you back to Luther! If you have any more questions about the traveling you can visit the¬†U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Travel web page. You may also come into the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success. We would be happy to help you.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is temporary authorization for practical training directly related to your program of study (major, not minor). Practical training can include internships (paid or unpaid), paid training programs, employment, or practicums.¬†All internships that international students complete while at Luther must be authorized as CPT, and must be done for credit.¬†To participate in a CPT,you must complete the registration process before the semester’s end drop date.¬†CPT must be part of an established curriculum and must be integral to your major (not minor). CPT during a school semester will be limited to 20 hours per week, but during breaks such as January term or summer it may be either part- or full-time.¬†If you exceed 365 days of full time CPT, you are not eligible to apply for OPT.¬†(Please note that on-campus work study is treated separately from CPT, and as per F-1 regulations cannot exceed 20 hours per week while classes are in session)

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be on an F-1 student visa
  • Be registered full time
  • Have been a full time student for one academic year before (Sophomore standing) beginning CPT
  • Have declared a major and plan to complete your degree at Luther
  • Have been offered a job or internship that is directly related to your major and approved for credit by your major department

At Luther, it is the responsibility of your academic major department to determine whether the proposed off campus training experience is curricular, i.e. related to your major, and worthy of academic credit. You should discuss the internship with faculty in your area of study to determine its relevance to your major and the number of credits.

The Process to Apply for CPT at Luther

  • Pick up an internship registration form from the Career Center (Union 2nd floor).
  • Acquire a signature by a representative of your Major department, designating the amount of academic credit.
  • Return completed form to the Career Center, which will submit it to the Registrar‚Äôs Office.
  • The Registrar‚Äôs Office will contact the DSO / CIES to confirm.
  • Fill out the¬†CPT Registration Form¬†for CIES.
  • Provide the offer letter from employer to the DSO.
  • The DSO will print a new I-20 demonstrating CPT approval.¬†This I-20 is the only authorization you need to show your employer if required.
  • If you are on campus, it is best to physically sign your I-20 (pick up at the CIES office when DSO notifies you it is ready).
  • Participate only within the dates authorized on your I-20.¬†To extend your employment without authorization constitutes a violation of your visa status.

CPT Dates

  • Summer term CPT dates Earliest possible start date: the day after the last day of spring classes as determined by the official academic calendar.
  • Latest Summer term CPT possible end date: the day before the first day of fall classes as determined by the official academic calendar*.
  • Fall semester CPT dates Earliest possible start date: the first day of fall classes as determined by the official academic calendar.
  • Latest Fall semester CPT possible end date: the day before the first day of classes in the spring semester determined by the official academic calendar*.
  • Spring semester CPT dates Earliest possible start date: the day after the last day of fall classes as determined by the official academic calendar.
  • Latest Summer CPT possible end date: the day before the first day of classes of the first summer session determined by the official academic calendar*.
  • *CPT cannot be authorized past your I-20 end date.

What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an extension of F-1 status and provides temporary employment directly related to your academic major. Though OPT can be done during your time at Luther (pre-completion OPT), most Luther students opt for post-completion OPT after they graduate.

Am I Eligible for OPT?
You are eligible to apply if:

  • You have been a full time student in good standing for one full academic year and are currently in F-1 status
  • You are seeking employment in the major field of study listed on your current Luther I-20
  • You are completing your program of study at Luther College (for post-completion OPT)
  • You are physically present in the U.S. at the time of your application for OPT
  • You have not¬†exceeded 365 days of full time CPT

You do not need a job offer in order to apply for OPT.

You are not eligible to apply for OPT if you leave the U.S. after graduation and before applying for OPT.

When Should I Apply?
The earliest you can apply for post-completion OPT is 90 days before completing your degree. You can apply up to 60 days after your program completion date.

You must be in the United States in order to apply for OPT.

How to Apply
Effective April 12, 2021, F-1 students seeking OPT approval can file the Form I-765 online via myUSCIS. Instructions will be available soon. Please Note: Students most NOT file an online I-765 without first meeting with the DSO and receiving their OPT I-20.

How to Choose your OPT Start Date
As part of the OPT I-20 request process, you must request a particular OPT start date. This is the day on which you would like to start your OPT work authorization. When choosing your start date, you should consider the following:

  • The requested start date must be within 60 days of your program completion date. It can be as early as the day after your completion date and up to 60 days after that.
  • It is not guaranteed that you will be approved for the start date you request. Your approved start date will appear on your EAD card and may be later than your requested start date, depending on when you apply for OPT and how long it takes to process.¬†Please note that you may not begin working until your approved EAD start date, regardless of the requested date on your I-20.
  • If you have a job offer, you will want to discuss with your employer an appropriate start date based on when you applied for OPT (consider the 3 to 5 month processing time).
  • If you don’t have a job offer, consider how long you think it might take to find a job and make an estimate of when you can begin working.
  • If you choose an earlier start date, you may be able to begin your employment earlier, BUT if you don’t find a job, you will begin accruing unemployment days sooner. If you choose a later start date, your unemployment days will begin accruing later, BUT you’ll have to wait longer to begin employment.

While You Wait for Your EAD Card
Your OPT application will be processed in approximately 3 – 5 months. You may NOT work on or off campus until you receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) AND until the employment start date on the card.

Traveling, especially internationally, while your application is pending is allowed but not recommended. If you leave the country while your OPT application is being processed, you may be unable to re-enter. If you do plan to travel while the application is pending, please consult your DSO before doing so to check what documents you should carry with you.

Working and Reporting While on OPT
You may start working on the start date listed on your EAD card (you must have the actual EAD card in hand before starting work).

You have 90 total days of unemployment allowed on OPT. Unemployment begins accruing on the start date listed on your EAD card. Once you have reached 90 days of unemployment, you are considered out of status. In some cases, your SEVIS record may be auto-terminated and you will have to depart the U.S. immediately (no grace period).¬†Approved vacation from a job does not count as “unemployment” if you are still considered an employee there.

You are required to update your DSO with any changes of name, address, or email. Additionally, you MUST report your employment within 10 days of starting work by completing this form with the name and address of their employer, start dates, number of hours worked, title upon starting work, and other information included on the form. Any changes in employment or additional employers also need to be reported.

Other Resources

F-1 Students with majors in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) may be eligible for an extension of their post-completion OPT. Currently, an extension of 17 months may be applied for by the student. On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will be increasing the extension available to students to 24 months. This ruling will go into effect May 10, 2016 and may be applied for at that time. Students may be approved for the 24 month STEM extension only twice in a lifetime, once at the undergraduate level and once at the graduate level. If the student is already in a 17 month STEM extension OPT period, they may apply for an additional seven months to be added (thus increasing their OPT to the new 24 month extension period).


In order to be eligible for the STEM extension, you must:

  • Currently be on a valid period of post-completion OPT for a¬†STEM designated degree
  • ¬†Have had fewer than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT
  • Work for or have a job offer from an employer that is enrolled in E-Verify an has met all of the¬†STEM OPT Reporting Requirements
  • Be able to submit the I-765 Form up to 90 days before your current OPT authorization expires, and within 60 days of being recommended by your DSO in SEVIS
  • Check in with your DSO every six months and inform the DSO within ten days of any of the following changes:
    • Change in address or contact information
    • Change in employer’s address or contact information by the submission of a new I-983 form
    • Any change in employment status

Application Process

In order to apply, you will need to contact your DSO and prepare the following:

  • A¬†Training Plan Form I-983¬†completed by both you and your employer
  • A completed¬†I-765 Form
  • A check or money order for $410, payable to the Department of Homeland Security
  • Two passport photographs that meet¬†the requirements stipulated by the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
  • A copy of the front and back of your current OPT card
  • Copies of all your previous I-20s
    • After contacting your DSO, you will also need to receive a copy of your new I-20 showing the recommendation for OPT extension.
  • Evidence that your degree meets the STEM degree/major requirements
  • Either your official transcript or a copy of your diploma
  • A copy of your current I-94
  • A copy of your passport identity page and any renewal pages

While the application is pending, you may continue to work for up to 180 days. If you have any questions about the STEM extension for OPT or need any help during the application process, please contact the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success.

The regulations for F-1 non-immigrant students require that you notify either USCIS or your DSO of any physical change of address within 10 days of the change. Please fill out this form to notify us so we can change your address in your SEVIS record.

Please also use this form to update the DSO about any change of major.

The Diversity Visa Program (sometimes called the Diversity Visa Lottery) is a U.S. Department of State program that makes 50,000 legal permanent resident (green card) visas available each year to nationals from countries which the U.S. considers to be under-represented in U.S. immigration. Anyone who is not from an excluded country can apply. Some restrictions may apply, so please read the information carefully.

NOTE: Having your application chosen from the yearly lottery does not mean you’ll be automatically granted residency. It only means you are now eligible to¬†apply¬†for residency which takes many months, has fees attached, and is best handled for you by an immigration attorney.

The first step is free and the official application is found on the U.S. Department of State website. Start by determining your eligibility by country.

A State ID card will serve as a means of identification however it will not allow you to operate a car.

To get a State ID You will need to call the Winneshiek County Courthouse at 563-382-3753.

You will need following documents:

  • Your I-20 form
  • Letter from Res Life that stating that you live on campus
  • Your Luther ID

Center for Intercultural Engagement and Support

Dahl Centennial Union
700 College Drive
Decorah, Iowa 52101

Phone: 563-387-1014