F-1 Visa vs. F-1 Status
There is often confusion over the difference between visa and status. In many countries, a visa is directly tied to the immigration status. In the U.S., the visa simply allows a foreign national to apply for admission in the U.S. at a U.S.. The U.S. Port of Entry grants the legal status through endorsing the I-94 arrival/departure document.
This endorsement and granting of status is done each time an individual enters the U.S. Thus it is essential that each time you travel and re-enter the U.S. you are prepared to document your legal F-1 status. You should also carefully review the I-94 for accuracy at the Port of Entry (be certain the Port grants the current legal status), and that you provide the ISSS office with updated copies of the I-94 each time you travel.
For F-1 students, the Port of Entry will mark F-1 as the visa status and D/S for duration of status. This D/S indication allows the educational institution to extend or transfer your legal immigration status without any additional applications toand beyond the expiration date of the F-1 visa stamp.
Changes of status (to a different immigration status, such as H or J) while remaining in the U.S., do require additional applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A change of status is not complete until USCIS issues a new I-94 card showing one's new status.
Extensions or changes of status to F-1 provide valid immigration status in the U.S., but the F-1 visa can only be obtained or renewed at a U.S. Consulate abroad (preferably in the student’s home country). A valid visa stamp must be presented upon re-entering the U.S. Note: Do not enter the U.S. using a B-1/B-2 tourist visa or using the Visa Waiver Program. Doing so will not allow for study or any other benefits related to the F-1 status.