As an international student, it is your responsibility to maintain your immigration status. Our International Affairs team will help guide you through the immigration process. As your International Student Advisors, we are here to assist, advise, and answer any questions regarding your immigration status during your time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).
Additionally, you are required to update any changes to your address in SAIC Self-Service or by visiting the Registrar within 10 days of the change. Below you’ll find details on enrollment, visa application and travel support, leaving and returning to SAIC, driver’s license and state IDs, and social security and taxes.
All international students are expected to make normal progress toward their degree. This includes always being enrolled full-time to maintain your F-1 or J-1 status. Full-time enrollment means 12 credits for all undergraduate programs and some graduate programs. Below is a list of graduate programs and their full-time enrollment requirements.
Master of Architecture
Master of Architecture with a Track in Interior Architecture
Master of Arts in Arts Administration and Policy
Master of Arts in Art Education
Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling
Master of Arts in Modern and Contemporary Art History
Master of Arts in New Arts Journalism
Master of Arts in Teaching*
Master of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies
Master of Design in Designed Objects
Master of Design in Fashion, Body and Garment
Master of Fine Arts in Writing
Master of Science in Historic Preservation
Dual Degree: MA in Arts Administration & Policy & MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History
Master of Fine Arts in Studio
*Semester specific, refer to the SAIC bulletin for additional details.
Less Than Full-Time Enrollment
Special circumstances, such as an unexpected serious medical diagnosis, may allow you to be authorized to drop below full-time (specific documentation from a medical doctor or licensed psychologist is required). Contact International Affairs if you have questions about qualifying for a Reduced Course Load Request.
Visa Application and Travel Support
If you depart the US during your degree program, and your F-1 Visa has expired, you will be required to apply for a new one before returning to the United States. We recommend that you contact the nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy in the country that you plan to travel to obtain the required documents to apply for a new visa. If you will not be applying in your home country, it is HIGHLY recommended that you determine if the country that you are traveling to will accept a third-party national visa application. Some consulates or embassies will not accept third-party national applications, and you must come up with an alternate plan.
Scams are when strangers target people and lie to them in order to illegally receive money or personal information to use for identity theft or for other illegal purposes. Scammers contact people in many ways, but a common way is to call people and demand money under false claims.
Usually, the scammer will pretend to represent a government office - like USCIS, the IRS, the Social Security Administration,, or even a member of your own country’s government or police, and will threaten legal action against a student or their family unless they immediately make a payment over the phone or wire transfer the money to scammers bank account.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will NEVER call you to ask for any form of payment over the phone; therefore, you should not make any payment over the phone or otherwise to anyone who claims to be representing these organizations or any governmental agencies. USCIS offers immigration fraud-specific information to help you avoid scams, including explanations about some of the most common scams used against international students. The FTC also has information about scams here.
If you receive a call from someone who claims to be from your government or police agency, we highly recommend you ask the caller for their callback number and name. You should then call your local embassy or consulate to alert them you received the call and in most cases, they will identify this as a scam and advise that you should not respond. The caller may tell you that you must respond immediately and cannot end the call which is typically a clear sign it is a scam.
If you receive a call and suspect it is a scam, ask for a phone number to call back and contact International Affairs or Campus Security (312-899-1230) for guidance. If you think you may have experienced a scam call and are concerned, please visit International Affairs or email us so we can better advise you. You are also welcome to file reports with Campus Security.
Are you an international student planning to register for an SAIC study trip? If so, be sure that you are eligible. Carefully review the visa requirements of the country/ies you plan to visit on the study trip. Many countries require a valid, unexpired U.S. F-1 visa to apply for their visitor visa. Check your passport to see if your F-1 visa has expired; if it has, you can either:
- Travel outside the US to renew your F-1 before you register for your SAIC study trip, or
- Book your study trip flight with a stopover in your home country and plan to renew your F-1 visa either on the way or on your return
Most foreign consulates will grant you a visitor visa if you have evidence (flight ticket) that indicates you will stop over in your home country to renew your F-1 either before or after your study trip. Meet with an international student advisor for questions or to discuss your plans in more detail.
The International Affairs office encourages you to write letters of invitation for use in the visa interview of a friend or parent. Use our sample invitation letter to structure a letter inviting your guests to the United States. International Affairs does not issue these standard letters.
The Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) is a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs.
If you have had repeated difficulties at US ports of entry or have been repeatedly referred to secondary inspection despite having all immigration documents, you can file an inquiry with DHS.
If you depart the United States during the course of your studies with a single entry visa or an expired visa, you will need to apply for, and be interviewed for, a new student visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Generally, continuing students who can show they are in good standing in their academic programs should qualify for new student visas to return and resume their studies. Continuing students should provide evidence of progress in their program, along with evidence of continuing ability to cover tuition and living expenses. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for a visa.
Some visa applications (typically from Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria) require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer. Applicants are advised of this requirement when they apply.
You should schedule an appointment for your interview as early as possible, so any additional administrative processing, if required, can be completed before your next academic term begins.
Third country nationals (TCN) present in the United States and visitors present in Canada or Mexico who wish to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulates in Canada or Mexico, must make an appointment for an interview.
For more information about applying for a visa as a TCN in Canada or Mexico, please click here.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the authority and the responsibility over the admission of travelers to the United States. Under the automatic revalidation provision of immigration law, certain temporary visitors holding expired nonimmigrant visas who seek to return to the U.S. may be admitted at a U.S. port-of-entry by CBP, if they meet certain requirements, including, but not limited to the following:
- Nonimmigrants who departed the United States for brief travel to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island (for F and J nonimmigrants) for 30 days or less;
- Nonimmigrants with a valid (unexpired) admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, endorsed by DHS.
If you are traveling to the United States with a nonimmigrant visa, and are taking a short trip(s) to Canada and Mexico, review the Automatic Revalidation webpage.
Leaving and Returning to SAIC
If you plan to travel outside of the United States, you must obtain a travel authorization signature on page two of your I-20 in order to re-enter. Travel authorization signatures are valid for twelve months (six months if you are on OPT).
Visit International Affairs 2-3 weeks before you travel and bring a copy of your class schedule showing full-time enrollment and your most recent I-20. If you drop off your I-20 at International Affairs by 4:30 p.m., your I-20 will be ready by 12:00 p.m. the next business day unless it needs to be reprinted. I-20s must be reprinted for travel if there are no available travel signature lines on page 2.
Please allow at least 5 business days for it to be reprinted, signed and ready for pick-up. You will receive an email when it is ready. If you come by the office after hours, you can place your I-20 and schedule in the secure After Hours Drop Box located in the reception area of suite 1203 in the Sullivan Center. You will receive an email when your I-20 is ready for pickup.
If you voluntarily leave SAIC, either during the semester or between semesters, and do not return for the following fall or spring semester, you may request to be placed on a Leave of Absence. This will allow you to return to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) without appealing to the Academic Review Board or reapplying for admission.
To take a Leave of Absence, you need to meet with an academic advisor for an exit interview and complete the Leave of Absence process. If you are a new student and plan to leave before the end of the add/drop period in your first semester, contact the Admissions office.
International students should contact an International Student Advisor to discuss the impact of taking a Leave of Absence (LOA) on your immigration status and related benefits. Please note, if you are physically absent from the United States for more than five months during your LOA, you will need a new I-20 and be required to enroll for two consecutive semesters before you are eligible for CPT or OPT authorization, including for fieldwork and apprentice/student teaching. Once your LOA is processed, your I-20 will be terminated and you will have 15 days to depart the United States.
If you are planning to transfer and enroll at another U.S. institution immediately, a request to transfer your record must be submitted to International Affairs along with an admission letter from the new institution. Please review the information below and contact International Affairs with any questions.
If you are returning from a voluntary Leave of Absence you will need to contact Academic Advising to schedule an appointment to be reinstated as a student. Once you are reinstated, contact the International Affairs office for advisement on obtaining updated immigration documents. You should start this process at least two to three months before you plan to return to SAIC.
If you leave SAIC to enroll in another full-time educational program, your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record (I-20) will need to be transferred to the new school. Transferring your SEVIS record has a number of advantages:
- You do not have to pay the SEVIS fee again
- You will be allowed to remain in the United States or travel in and out of the United States before your program starts
- You can continue use your current F-1 visa for travel as long as it has not expired
In order to transfer your SEVIS record, submit a completed transfer form (if required), provided by your new school, and a copy of your admission letter from the new school to International Affairs. For F-1 students, we are required to transfer your record within 60 days of your I-20 end date or within 60 days of your OPT completion. The new school will then be able to create your updated I-20. Note that as soon as we transfer your record, your OPT employment authorization ends, so you should plan the transfer date carefully if you are still working under OPT.
Always keep your passport and all other important travel documents in your carry-on luggage when traveling. If you hold a paper I-94 Departure Record, you must surrender this to the airline or border agents upon departure. Paper I-94s are only issued to students who enter at land borders or who do not hold proper documentation when initially entering the United States. Most students have electronic I-94 records and do not need to submit any documents when departing.
Driver’s License and State Identification Cards
International students without a Social Security number (SSN) are ineligible for an Illinois State ID card. However, you may apply for a temporary visitor driver's license by showing an SSN letter of ineligibility (or denial letter) issued by the Social Security Administration, along with your passport, and copies of your apartment rental/lease agreement or an official document from SAIC such as a piece of mail or Enrollment Verification form.
For more information check the Secretary of State’s website.
You may drive in Illinois with your valid license from your home country while attending SAIC. You should have a copy of your driver’s license from your home country with you when you drive. If you are pulled over, the police officer may also request a translation in English from you. Illinois does not recognize the International Driving Permit (IDP) as a valid license. If you plan to drive, you may want to read Illinois's Rules of the Road.
Social Security and Taxes
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine-digit number printed on a small card that is issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary (working) residents. It is meant to track income for tax purposes, but it has become commonly used as a national identification number used to check credit histories and identities. Because of its original intention, an SSN can legally only be issued to you if you have a valid job offer and not simply for identification purposes. The Social Security Administration (SSA) only issues SSNs to F-1 students who have an employment offer; F-2 dependents are not eligible for SSNs since they are not permitted to work.
As soon as you have an on-campus job, visit International Affairs for a Social Security Letter and instructions on how to apply. The process is free, and you will need to present evidence of applying for your SSN (receipt letter) to SAIC Student Employment by the end of the third business day after your first day of work. Plan on bringing the letter from International Affairs (completed by your supervisor and signed by an International Student Advisor), your current I-20, your passport, and your I-94 card to the SSA office. The SSA office closest to SAIC is on West Washington Boulevard.
It is very important to keep your SSN confidential and safe at all times. Avoid carrying the card in your wallet to help avoid identity theft.
If you are offered an on-campus job and need instructions on how to apply for a Social Security Number, please refer to this document for instructions.
Students with Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training authorization should not use the on-campus Social Security form. Instead, students must obtain the Social Security recommendation letter directly from their employer.
If needed, employers may use this sample social security letter for off-campus employment as reference.
All F and J students who were present in the United States during 2022 are required to submit a tax return to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and potentially Illinois State. Even if you did not earn money in the U.S. during 2021 you are still required to submit a minimum of one tax form.
The IRS and Illinois deadline to submit 2022 tax forms is April 18, 2023.
International Affairs has created a presentation which outlines your basic tax filing responsibilities and provides you with valuable resources to meet them. International Affairs will send you an email in February 2023 with instructions. A link to the presentation for the 2022 tax year can be found here:
To make fulfilling your tax obligations easier, International Affairs offers SAIC students free access to Sprintax Non-Resident Tax Preparation, an online tool that provides federal tax preparation software along with an extensive and easily searchable online tax library. Current SAIC international students and OPT students are eligible to create a Sprintax account using an active @saic.edu email address.
Please note that International Affairs provides these tax resources as a service to you. However, International Affairs staff are not tax experts and therefore cannot, by law, answer specific tax questions or help you prepare your tax forms. It is your responsibility to meet your US tax obligations and to do so accurately. Additionally, Sprintax maintains a blog, which addresses many common tax questions.