International Students at Sonoran University

We are pleased to serve and support our international students throughout their studies at Sonoran University. We want your academic experience at Sonoran University to be a successful one! We are always here to help. These pages are designed to answer commonly asked questions about studying in the US and provide resources and links to support your studies at Sonoran University and beyond.  Sonoran University is an approved Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)- certified school. Students enrolled in a full time ground (in-person) degree program at Sonoran University are eligible to apply for F1 Status. 


Questions? Contact us:

Sonoran University International Office (within the Executive Student Affairs Office)

Medical Center/Administration Building, 3rd floor



Sonoran University Designated Student Officials (DSO)

Your designated school officials (DSOs) are people dedicated to help you, as an F1 student, to maintain your non-immigrant status while you attend a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school. your DSO's are able to sign your I20 travel endorsement section of the I20. 


Dean Ken Donnelly, Dean of Students

Melissa Winquist, VP of Student Affairs, PDSO

Erin DeSoto, Student Retention Manager 


Students to Sonoran University

I-20 Application for the F1 Visa

Upon being offered admission to Sonoran University, you can begin gathering your information and documentation needed for your I20 application.  The International Student Service Office typically begins processing I20 paperwork 4-6 months prior to your anticipated entry term.

If you are a non-immigrant student, your spouse and children may be admitted into the United States in the F-1 classification during your course of full-time study. This does not apply if you hold dual citizenship, are lawful permanent residents, or have a valid business visa.

If you are applying for an F-1 Student Visa, you must satisfy/submit the following SEVIS requirements:

Starting the I20 process

If you are applying for an F-1 Student Visa, you must satisfy/submit the following SEVIS requirements:

    1. Complete all outstanding admission requirements
    2. Submit a non-refundable admission deposit
    3. Upload to your Admissions Portal a completed Sonoran University Financial Guarantee form.  
    4. Upload to your Admissions Portal original documentation of sufficient funds. Sufficient funds must cover the cost of the first year (12 months)  of school, books, student fees, and all living expenses as identified in the Financial Guarantee Form. Examples of sufficient funds include:
      • Official bank statements,
      • a signed letter of support or an affidavit of support (available from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services),
      • sponsor income verification (if you have a sponsor)
      • Other proof of liquid assets
    5. If applicable, upload a completed and signed Sponsor Declaration of Support (required only if a sponsor is supporting your educational expenses).

Documentation of sufficient funds is required because the U.S. federal government prohibits off-campus employment during the first year (12 months)) of international study. International students are limited to no more than 20 hours a week of on-campus employment while school is in session and may work full-time during vacation periods, as long as they have maintained status and intend to register for the following quarter. International students are not eligible for federal or state funded student aid programs but may obtain private loans with a U.S. citizen or resident co-borrower. Canadian students also have access to the Canadian federal student loan program.


I-20 Approval and I-901 Fee

Once you are issued an I20 from Sonoran University you will receive a hard copy of the I20 in the mail.  You will also receive a PDF of the I20 through email.  You must immediately pay the I-901 fee. Please do not wait to pay this fee as it can delay your visa process. 

The I-901 SEVIS Fee is mandated by US Congress to support the program office and the automated system that keeps track of students and exchange visitors. This fee is separate from the visa fees.  Before paying the I-901 fee, you must have a complete and accurate Form I-20 or DS-2019.  Do not pay for a dependent child or spouse who is on an F-2, M-2, or J-2 visa. There is no I-901 SEVIS fee due for a dependent child or spouse for these visa types.  

Please go here to pay the I-901 fee.

Additional Instructions for Visa Applications (International Students outside Canada only)

  1. Schedule the visa appointment with the Embassy/Consulate closest to your location.
  2. Read important visa application tips from this NAFSA website.
  3. Go to the visa appointment with:
    • Your DS-160 bar code receipt
    • the MRV receipt
    • the SEVIS fee receipt (I-901)
    • original I20
    • passport
    • financial guarantee
    • photos, and any other information the U.S. consulate website indicates

You will find more information regarding locations and visa wait times on the individual Embassy websites.

Enrollment and Continuing Student Status

Travel Signature Requirement

F1 students are required to have a valid travel endorsement signature on their I20 whenever they travel outside the U.S.  This signature can be found on page 2 of your I20. If you are planning travel be sure to verify this signature and date prior to your departure.

  • You must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 to return to the U.S. after travel abroad.
  • Each signature is valid for 12 months. (F1 students on OPT: the travel signature is valid for six months).
  • A travel signature is issued by your Sonoran University DSO to confirm you are maintaining your F1 student status.
  • The travel signature is required for returning to the U.S. It is not required for leaving the U.S.
  • If your current travel signature will expire before you will return to the U.S., you must request an updated travel signature.
  • The travel signature is on page 2 of your I-20.
  • Need a signature? Contact the International Office at or call 480-999-9203.



Inviting Family & Friends to the US

If your family/friends wish to visit you in the U.S. during your enrollment at Sonoran University, they may need to apply for a visitor visa, unless their country of citizenship is listed as a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participant.  In preparation for their visa application and interview, your family/friends will need to prove WHY they are coming to the U.S., WHAT they will be doing here, WHERE they are going in the U.S., WHEN they will be in the U.S. and WHEN they will return to their home country and, lastly, HOW they will support themselves while they are in the U.S.

If your family/friends need a visitor visa, they must thoroughly review the instructions for visitor visa applications. These instructions can be found on the website of the U.S. embassy/consulate where they will apply for the visa.  The consulate website should list what documents the applicants must prepare and present in their application.  This is a personal application in which applicants must demonstrate their eligibility through a visa interview.

The following information provides additional tips for visitor visa applications.  If your family/friends are from a VWP participating country, this information is still applicable to them as they may be questioned at the port of entry.


Invitation Letter

Your family/friends may bring a letter from you explaining who you are and what you are doing in the U.S. and that you want to invite them to visit for your graduation (and/or white coat ceremony, vacation, tour, etc.).  Your letter should list the dates and locations that your family/friends will visit in the U.S. You should be as specific as possible. Include your name, date of birth, SEVIS ID# (if applicable) and address in the U.S.   If your family will stay with you, mention this in your letter or include the name and address of the hotel where they will stay.

      Sample Invitation Letter.pdf


Additional Documentation

WHY are your family/friends coming to the U.S. and WHAT will they be doing?
If coming to your graduation or white coat ceremony they should show proof of this. For example: A copy of your I-20, your full-time enrollment verification and/or a letter from the academic advisor confirming that you are completing your degree or participating in white coat ceremony this spring/fall, copies of graduation ceremony tickets or invitations, etc.  If they are coming for a conference or special event, they should bring proof of this instead (or as well).

WHERE are they visiting in the U.S.?
This could be hotel reservations in Arizona, printed out information from places they plan to visit, and/or reservation confirmations from any special tours or events they will visit.

WHEN will they arrive in the U.S. and WHEN will they return to their home country?
The best way to prove this is with plane tickets that they have or are planning to purchase or a flight itinerary to prove they will not stay in the U.S. forever.  Remember that plane tickets should not be purchased until the visa is granted.  If your family/friends have a job, they should bring a letter from their employer verifying employment and that they will take a vacation and will return to work on XXXXX date.  If your family/friends are in school, they could bring documents from the school to show they will return to their home country to resume enrollment and continue their classes.

HOW will they support themselves while they are in the U.S.?
A bank statement from your family/friends should be available to show that they have the funds to travel in the U.S., or letters from their employers to show that they are working and earning a salary.


F1 Eligibility Requirements to Work On Campus:

On-Campus Employment

On-campus employment is the category most freely permitted by the USCIS regulations, and it does not require USCIS approval. However, although F1 status includes an on-campus employment privilege, on-campus employment opportunities  are limited. Even if you can obtain a job on campus, you may not rely on it to prove financial resources for the year, and often these jobs are not related to your studies. You must obtain permission from International Student Services prior to accepting any on-campus employment, Sonoran University does not permit such employment in a student's first academic year.

For on-campus work, an F1 student is subject to the following rules:

  1. You must maintain valid F1 status
  2. You can work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session
  3. You can work full-time on campus during holidays and vacation periods if you intend to register for the next academic quarter
  4. The employment may not displace (take a job away from) a U.S. resident

 The definition of on-campus employment includes:

  • Work performed on the school's premises directly for Sonoran University (including work affiliated with a grant or assistantship).
  • Work performed for on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school  cafeteria (Employment with on-site commercial firms which do not provide direct student services, such as a construction company building a school building, is not deemed on-campus employment for the purposes of the rule).
  • Work performed at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school. The educational affiliation must be associated with the school's established curriculum or related to contractually funded research projects at the post-graduate level. In any event, the employment must be an integral part of the student's educational program.

Since your status is always contingent on your school's support, you must seek guidance and clearance from your International Student Services prior to applying for or accepting any employment. You will also need your school's guidance to ensure that you file all appropriate forms with USCIS and receive any necessary USCIS approval.

Required Steps for F1 student prior to on campus employment:

1. Obtain a job offer from an Sonoran University department or on campus partner

2. Obtain a letter from your hiring supervisor that contains the date and their signature and identifies

  • Your job
  • Your employment start date
  • The number of hours you are or will be working
  • Your supervisor's name and telephone number

2. Report the offer to Sonoran University International Student Services to obtain a confirmation letter from a Designated Student Official (DSO) identifying 

  • Your name
  • Confirmation of your F1 status
  • Your employer and the type of work you will be doing 

3. Apply to Social Security Administration to receive a Social Security number.

You can file your application for an SSN card in person at any Social Security Office as well. Be prepared to provide your original documents to prove your age, identity and work-authorized immigration status. All evidence of immigration status and work authorization must be unexpired.


F1 Eligibility Requirements to Work Off Campus:

F1 visa holders cannot accept off-campus employment at any time during the first year of their studies. Under certain circumstances, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant permission to accept off-campus employment after one year of study. For Sonoran University ND students, this is limited to OPT (Optional Practical Training) or Severe Economic Hardship (see below).  For more information, please go to the USCIS website here.

Off Campus Employment Based on Severe Economic Hardship Eligibility:

  • You must have F-1 status for a minimum of one academic year
  • You must be in good academic standing
  • You must document that on-campus employment opportunities are unavailable or insufficient to meet your financial needs.

How to apply:

Contact the VP of Student Affairs Office to discuss your situation before you complete the required documentation. The VPSA will determine your eligibility and assist you in completing the application and submitting it to USCIS. Required documentation includes:

  • Form I-765 (write (c)(3)(iii) in item 16)
  • $380 fee (make your check or money order payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security) 
  • Photocopy of Form I-20, with an Sonoran University DSO's recommendation for economic hardship employment
  • Two passport style photos
  • Photocopy of I-94 card (front and back)
  • A letter describing your financial difficulties and why on-campus employment opportunities are unavailable or insufficient; include supporting evidence
  • Photocopy of passport identification page
  • Photocopy of visa page
  • Photocopies of any previously-issued EAD cards

Application processing times vary between two to four months. Do not begin working until you receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).


International Students and the U.S. Law

While at Sonoran University you are expected to follow laws and policies that govern a variety of daily life and academic activities. There are different levels of law in the U.S including federal, state, and local community laws which will differ depending on the particular jurisdiction.  Violating a U.S. law can have different consequences for an international student or scholar than for your American friends and can negatively impact your U.S. immigration status.   Similarly a violation of Sonoran University policies outlined in the Sonoran University catalog and student handbook can also impact your immigration status.


For example an arrest for “driving under the influence” of alcohol (known as DUI) could lead to the State Department revoking the U.S. visa in your passport. International students may not utilize medical marijuana in the state of Arizona as medical marijuana cards are only issued to U.S. citizens. Drug use or a history of drug use will impact your student visa status and enrollment at Sonoran University. Finally, international students are not permitted to own/carry a firearm or ammunition (even if you hold a temporary hunting license/permit).  


All Sonoran University students must immediately notify the Dean of Students of any law enforcement encounter. While it is unlikely that you will encounter any legal difficulties, there are times in life when the unexpected happens.   Knowing the law can make all the difference!

International Student Benefits After Graduation


Post Completion Practical Training: F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available for F-1 students in Sonoran University's ND program who are about to graduate/graduated and have secured or are in the process of securing a full-time work opportunity and wish to remain in the U.S. In order to secure optional practical training (OPT) a student must find and secure an employment opportunity, complete a required form and follow an application process. An initial period of 12 months may be awarded by Immigration (USCIS) per degree level. The 12 month OPT post date must start within 60 days of your initial Program Completion date.  OPT requires that you pursue employment in your area of study, but does not require a specific employer at the time of filing.

  • Optional practical training is one type of work permission available for eligible F-1 students. It allows graduates to get real-world work experience related to their field of study.
  • While a Designated School Official (DSO) recommends OPT in SEVIS, it is the student who must apply for the work permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If the OPT is approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The student must not begin working before the start date on the EAD.
  • No more than 90 days of unemployment is permitted during the initial 12 months of post-completion OPT. Exceeding the limit of unemployment constitutes a loss of your legal status. Be sure to report your changes in employment and address to your Designated Student Officer (DSO) promptly.


OPT Eligibility

To apply for OPT you must first adjust your I-20 with an Sonoran University DSO documenting your eligibility for OPT. You will subsequently submit a paper-based application for employment authorization to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS). You must be in lawful F-1 status at the time of filing, and your period of OPT may commence only immediately following at least two full and continuous quarters of enrollment.


Application Essentials

Applications for post-completion OPT must be filed and reach USCIS:

  • No earlier than 90 days prior to the completion of study which corresponds to the end date of your I-20.
  • No later than during the 60 day grace period after completion of study, presuming you have not departed the U.S. once studies are completed.
  • Within 30 days of the issuance, date on the original OPT-endorsed Form I-20 given to you by the Sonoran University DSO.

NOTE: If you have not completed all coursework for your degree and are unsure that you will complete your degree on time, you should consult your Sonoran University DSO before submitting the application for OPT.


Click here for a guide to applying for a STEM OPT


Requesting Start & End Dates of Employment

Students may request OPT to begin on any date from the day after the date of completion of studies up to, but not after, 60 days after the date of completion of study. The Start Date of Employment must fall within that 60 day period. OPT End Date will be 12 months from the OPT Start Date of Employment.  Applications for OPT can take three months or more for the USCIS to adjudicate so it is very important to plan accordingly.


Authorized Period of Employment

Students may not begin working until they have received a valid OPT employment authorization card (EAD) issued by the USCIS and the start date has been reached.


How to Apply for F-1 OPT

Step One: Complete the Sonoran University Online I-20 OPT Request and Form I-765. Visit the USCIS website for more information. Please complete Form I-765 electronically, save it and print it.

Step Two: Bring printed Form 1-765 along with supporting materials (if available) to an Sonoran University DSO. Do not submit to our office earlier than the 90 days prior to the end of your I-20.

Step Three: : DSO will review all materials and endorse. Pick up the endorsed Forms I-20 and Form I-765 from the Sonoran University DSO, and follow the OPT USCIS Filing Instructions. The OPT I-20 and full application must be in the hands of Immigration no later than 30 days after the OPT I-20's issue date. Do not E-File your application.

Step Four (highly recommended): Complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, if you wish to receive email and/or text messages when your application has been received. NOTE: USCIS will continue to mail the receipt notices to you.  You should receive notification of receipt of OPT application within two or three weeks. If you do not receive notification of receipt - we recommend you contact USCIS.


Processing Time

The average USCIS processing time is at least 90 days from the receipt of your application. We advise you to apply as early as possible to allow about 90 days of processing time, but please note that your actual processing time could be longer or shorter.    

Checking the Progress of Your OPT Applications


If you file your OPT online, you will immediately get your receipt number (starting with IOE). Whether you file online or by mail, within 2 - 3 weeks of filing your OPT application, USCIS will send you a paper receipt notice (Form I-797) to mailing address you provided on the I-765. This is proof that USCIS has received your application. Make sure to check the spelling of your name when you receive your paper receipt notice. If you notice an error, contact OISS. The receipt will also have your receipt number printed on it beginning with IOE for online applications and YSC for mail applications, with which you can track the progress of your application on the USCIS website.


Reporting Requirements while on OPT

While on OPT, students will must report address, phone number and employment information to their DSO. Coming soon: Students will be able to report address, phone number and employment information themselves directly through the SEVP Portal.


  • Residential Address
  • Phone & Email Address
  • Employer Information including full address
  • Start Date of Employment and End Date (if known)
  • Job Title
  • Supervisor's Name, Email Address and Phone Number
  • Any period of unemployment. You must inform your employer that they are also required to inform the Sonoran University DSO of a loss of employment.
  • Date of departure from the U.S.


What employment is permitted under Post-Completion OPT?

Post-completion OPT (OPT that is done after completion of your degree requirements), authorizes you for full-time OPT participation (20 hours or more per week).  Post-completion OPT can be paid or unpaid training related to your major field of study.  You may work for multiple employers (including short-term gigs, self-employment, contract work, or work for hire). In order for your OPT employment to be considered active, you must be working 20 hours per week or more between all OPT jobs combined. If your combined OPT employment is under 20 hours per week in total, this time may count against your unemployment time.

Under post-completion OPT, you may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during the entire 12-month OPT period. You must be engaged in at least 20 hours of OPT activity per week to count as active employment; periods with activity of less than 20 hours per week will be counted toward unemployment accrual.

We strongly recommend that you keep thorough and accurate records of your OPT experience/employment in case you are ever required to show proof of your OPT activities.


Post-Completion OPT qualifying work may include:

Paid or unpaid training

You may engage in paid employment that is directly related to your major field of study.

You may also serve as a volunteer, unpaid intern, researcher, community service worker, etc., where this does not violate any labor laws. We would advise that you obtain evidence from your volunteer organization that you performed services at least 20 hours per week.

Multiple employers

You may work for more than one employer. For active OPT, all jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more. 


Work for hire

You may be engaged in work for hire (commonly referred to as working as a 1099 independent contractor), performing a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

Self-employed business owner

You may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that you are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.

Employment through an agency

If you are employed through an agency, you must be able to provide evidence showing that you are working an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.


Evaluation on Student Progress (Page 5 of Form I-983 – Completed by both Student and Employer)

During the course of the STEM OPT employment, the student is required to submit self-reported evaluations and assessments. Student evaluations are a shared responsibility of both the student and the employer to ensure that the student’s practical training goals are being satisfactorily met. The student is responsible for conducting a self-evaluation based on his or her own training progress. The employer must review and sign the self-evaluation to attest to its accuracy.

These evaluations are required at the following times:

  • First evaluation (top of page 5 of Form I-983) required after completion of 12 months of STEM OPT period
  • Final evaluation (bottom of page 5 of Form I-983) due at conclusion of 24-month STEM OPT period
  • Enter the range of the student evaluation dates: Enter start and end dates for first 12 months of STEM OPT training period.
  • Student Signature: Student must sign, print name, and enter date of signature.
  • Employer Signature: Signature by Principal Investigator (P.I.) or Supervisor upon agreement with the assessment information that the student has entered for the evaluation portion of Form I-983.
  • Upon Completion of the Evaluation: Student will provide page 5 of Form I-983 to their DSO for record purposes. This can be submitted electronically.

Do I have to pay taxes while working on OPT?

Yes, you must pay federal and state income taxes. Taxes are typically due on April 15 (though sometimes they are due a day or two later). Most large cities will have VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) services. Make sure the tax consultant knows if you are a resident or non­resident for tax purposes (this is different from immigration status). NOTE: If you have been in the US for less than 5 years, you may be exempt from Social Security taxes. See the IRS website for more information.

For more information, please contact the PDSO, Melissa Winquist - V.P. of Student Affairs.