It is essential to remember that you must take full responsibility for maintaining your status with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). That is, you are responsible for finding out, knowing, and following pertinent regulations.
If you take time early on to familiarize yourself with your obligations to USCIS, you should find it easy to maintain your legal status. If, however, you allow yourself to fall "out of status", it may be extraordinarily difficult to reinstate your F-1 status with USCIS.
Full Course of Study
International students must be registered for a full course of study during fall and spring semesters:
- Undergraduate students – 12 units
Note: Registration is not required in summer or winter semesters.
Online Courses: Only 3 units or one online course per semester is applicable to the full-time enrollment total.
Audit Courses: Audit course units are not applicable to the full-time enrollment total.
Abide by U.S. Federal Employment Regulations.
F-1 students may work no more than 20 hours per week on campus when classes are in session and 40 hours per week during official college breaks [8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)]. You cannot work off-campus (including credit-bearing internships off-campus) without PRIOR authorization from OISS and U.S. Immigration. Freshmen students should note that they are not authorized to begin on-campus employment until their second semester at the College.
In order for international students to work off-campus, they must obtain the proper work authorization from the Office of International Education and/or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).
For F-1 students, off-campus work authorization options are:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Off-Campus Employment based on Economic Hardship
Maintaining Valid Immigration Documents
I-20: International students must be aware of the expiration date on their I-20. If it is not possible to complete their academic program by that date, students must request a program extension before the expiration date on the I-20. Students who do not file a program extension in a timely manner will be considered out of status.
Passport: Students should keep their passport valid at all times. If the passport will expire soon, student must renew it through the embassy or consulate of their home country.
Change of Local Address
Students who change their local address must report the change to Office of International Student Services within 10 days of moving by submitting a change of local address form.
International students have a set of grace period regulations that are appropriate to their visa status.
- F-1 students who complete an academic program or OPT have a 60-day grace period.
F-1 students who have received prior authorization to withdraw from classes have 15 days to depart the U.S. after the withdrawal date. Students who withdraw from classes without prior authorization are not eligible for a grace period.
Reduced Course Load (RCL)
International students who plan to be enrolled for part time studies must submit the Reduced Course Load request to the Office of International Student Services in a timely manner. There are only a few exceptions to the full time enrollment requirement for the Fall and Spring semesters. Each exception has its own criteria, which are outlined below.
The deadline for submitting the Reduced Course Load request is the last day to add/drop for that semester and must be approved by the student’s academic advisor prior to submission to the Office of International Student Services.
F-1 students should not drop below full time enrollment until they have received authorization from OISS. Students who drop below full time enrollment without the proper authorization from OISS will be considered out of status.
Academic Difficulty RCL
Students may request an RCL due to academic difficulty only once per degree level. Academic difficulty could be due to the following reasons:
- Difficulty with English language or reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods or
- Improper course placement
Students who receive an academic difficulty RCL must resume a full course of study in the next available semester in order to maintain status.
The Office of International Student Services may authorize a medical RCL due to a temporary medical condition with an appropriate doctor’s letter recommending the RCL for medical reasons. Students must receive prior approval from the Office of International Student Services for the medical RCL. To submit a medical RCL, F-1 students must meet with an International Advisor.
Requirements of Medical RCL:
- Letter from licensed physician, medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist that recommends student to take less than the minimum units required for full time enrollment
- Receive prior approval from the Office of International Student Services.
- No more than 12 months (3 semesters) total of Medical RCL is permitted per degree level
- Must take a minimum of:
- 6 credit hours for undergraduate students
If a doctor believes that a student is unable to meet this minimum unit enrollment, then the student should consider a Medical Leave of Absence.
Final Semester RCL
The Office of International Student Services may authorize a final semester RCL for students who are in their final semester of study and only have a few units remaining to meet academic program requirements. Students may request an RCL due to final semester only once per degree program.
Leave of Absence
F-1 international students who wish to take a semester off during the academic year (fall and spring semesters) and not enroll in courses must receive authorization for a Leave of Absence (LOA) from the Office of International Student Services.
Students considering an LOA must review these requirements:
- Student must be in good academic standing when requesting an LOA
- Student must be outside the U.S. during the LOA
It is the responsibility of the students to meet with their international advisor and complete the LOA process. Students also need to confirm with the Office of International Student Services their eligibility to return to their academic program after the LOA.
- All students should receive written approval from their international advisor
Medical Leave of Absence
F-1 students are eligible to take an LOA due to medical reasons. Students have the option to return to their home country or remain in the U.S. to receive medical treatment.
Students who wish to remain in the U.S. must obtain a doctor’s letter recommending the LOA for medical reasons. Students who remain in the U.S. without obtaining advance approval for medical LOA from the Office of International Student Services will be considered out of status.
Requirements and Limitations of Medical LOA:
- Must have a letter from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist recommending leave for a specific semester
- Must have PRIOR approval from the Office of International Student Services and academic department before withdrawing from courses
- No more than 12 months total leave are allowed per degree level
Students considering a LOA due to medical reasons must meet with an advisor in the Office of International Student Services.
Leave of Absence Exceeding 5 Months
Students who will be outside the U.S. for longer than 5 months for an LOA must obtain a new I-20 with a new SEVIS ID number in order to re-enter the U.S. and return. The current I-20 will be invalid after being outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months.
It is the student’s responsibility to the Office of International Student Services at least two months prior to returning to request the new I-20.
Students will need to use the new I-20 to pay the SEVIS fee and apply for a new F-1 visa, even though they may possess an unexpired visa associated with their previous I-20 SEVIS ID number.
Leave of Absence and Employment Benefits Eligibility
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations state that an F-1 international student must be in status for a full academic year (9 months) in order to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training. This regulation is especially important to note for students who are considering a LOA of over 5 months in the final year of studies.
Returning to Full-Time Enrollment after a Leave of Absence
All students returning from a LOA must validate their return to the Office of International Student Services by reporting within 21 days of the start of the new semester. Students must meet with their international advisor.
Students must bring the following documents to the appointment:
- Stamped I-20
- I-94 card
- Passport and Visa
F-1 students are given a specific period of time to complete the academic program requirements. For F-1 students, this period of time is shown on #5 of the I-20.
Please note the expiration date on the I-20. Students who are unable to meet the academic program requirements by that date must request a program extension from the Office of International Student Services before the expiration date.
If the expiration date on the I-20 has passed, students must meet with an international advisor immediately, as the student is considered to be out of status.
To qualify for a program extension, F-1 students must meet the following requirements:
- The expiration date of the I-20 has not yet passed
- Continuously maintained the F-1 student status
- The delay in completion of program must be due to one of the following reasons:
- Compelling academic reason (change of major, unexpected academic problems, etc.)
- Compelling medical reason (documentation is required from a U.S. licensed medical physician)
- Must have sufficient funds to cover the additional time needed to complete program requirements, which includes tuition and living expenses of $1,000 per month
NOTE: Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for a program extension.
Completion of Academic Program
After successfully completing an academic program, F-1 students are given a grace period allowing them to remain in the U.S. for a specified time after program of study, OPT or Academic Training.
Travel and re-entry to the U.S. as an F-1 student during the grace period is not possible.
Please review the following guidelines regarding the grace period pertinent to F-1 student status:
F-1 students have a 60-day grace period in which they are permitted to do one of the following:
- Begin a new program of study: Students must apply to the new program, be admitted and be issued a new I-20 from the Office of International Student Services (OIE) before the end of the grace period. Proof of funding is required to issue the new I-20. Please email OISS with questions on I-20 issuance.
- Transfer to another institution: Student must apply to another institution, be admitted, have the SEVIS records transferred out to that institution and be issued their new I-20 before the end of the grace period. In order to transfer out the SEVIS record, student will need to meet with an OISS immigration advisor and submit the SEVIS Form.
- Apply for a change of status: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive the application to change the immigration status before the end of the grace period.
- Depart the U.S. before the end of the grace period
The immigration status of an F-2 is dependent upon the F-1 student and they cannot remain in the U.S. under the F-2 status after the F-1 student has departed the U.S. during the grace period.
Optional Practical Training and 60-Day Grace Period
F-1 students who plan to work in the U.S. after graduation but have not yet applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must do so immediately. The OPT application must be received by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) before the end of the grace period. However, OIE recommends that students apply for OPT as soon as possible.
Please keep in mind that it takes 3-4 months to process the OPT application and students cannot begin working until they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.