Maintaining F-1 Status
It is extremely important for a nonimmigrant to maintain his or her status while in the United States. Failure to maintain the terms and conditions of nonimmigrant status is a ground for removal from the United States (deportation).
To maintain F-1 status, you must:
- Report to the ISP office to have your SEVIS record Registered in SEVIS in a timely fashion: no later than 30 days after the program start date on your I-20 (new students in Initial SEVIS status); and each semester thereafter, no later than 30 days after the start date each semester (continuing students).
- For the first entry for initial school attendance, the school listed on the visa and on the I-20 must be the same, and that is the school the student must intend to attend.
- Pursue a "full course of study" at the school listed on the currently valid Form I-20 during every academic semester except during official school breaks, or unless approved under a specific exception, in advance, by the ISP office.
- Make normal progress towards completing the course of study, by completing studies before the expiration of the program completion date on Form I-20.
- Keep Form I-20 valid by following proper procedures for extension of stay.
- Keep Form I-20 valid by following proper procedures for change in majors of study.
- Keep Form I-20 valid by following proper procedures for transfer of schools.
- Abide by the F-1 grace period rules.
- Report a change of address (both in the U.S. and in home country) to the ISP office within 10 days of the change, so that SEVIS can be updated.
- Abide by rules requiring disclosure of information and prohibition on criminal activity.
- Abide by any special requirements, such as Special Registration requirements.
- Not Work, either on or off-campus, unless specifically authorized under the regulations.
Also, information on "Maintaining F-1 Status" is available in Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Chinese by clicking on the desired language in the top-right menu.
Full course of study
The undergraduate "full course of study" regulation is linked to the idea that "full-time=full course of study," and generally requires an undergraduate student to register for a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester, unless fewer credits are needed to complete the program in the final term of study.
Limits on distance education
Since January 1, 2003, no more than the equivalent of one on-line/distance education class or 3 credits per session may be counted towards the "full course of study" requirement.
Exceptions to the full-course-of-study requirement
In the situations described below, F-1 students are considered to be maintaining status even if they are not registered for a full course of study, and they continue to be eligible for F-1 benefits if they are otherwise eligible.
SEVIS limits the reasons for which a reduced course load (RCL) can be granted.
- Academic difficulty exceptions
- Illness or Medical Condition exception
- To Complete Course of Study in Current Term
Prior ISP office approval of exceptions to full course of study
The ISP office must authorize a "reduced course load" (RCL) and update SEVIS prior to the student reducing his or her course load. A student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of the ISP office will be considered "out of status."
- Academic difficulty exceptions
The ISP office may authorize a reduced course load for a student experiencing academic difficulties, but only on the basis of the following reasons specified in the regulations:
- Initial Difficulty with the English Language
- Initial Difficulty with Reading Requirements
- Unfamiliarity with American Teaching Methods
- Improper Course Level Placement
These are the only academic difficulty reasons for which a reduced course load may be approved.
RCL for academic difficulty can be approved only once per program level
A reduced course load can be approved on the academic difficulty basis only once while pursuing a course of study at a particular program level. Use of an academic difficulty RCL does not affect eligibility for other RCLs, however.
Resumption of full course of study in next available term
Students who are granted an RCL authorization on one of the academic difficulty bases must resume a full course of study in the next available semester, excluding a non-required summer session, in order to maintain status.
- Illness or Medical Condition
An illness or other medical condition may justify an interruption or reduction in a full course of study.
The medical condition must be substantiated by "medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist." RCLs for medical conditions can be granted for no more than 12 months in the aggregate during any one course of study. Like all reduced course load authorizations, RCL authorizations for medical reasons must be approved by the ISP office prior to the reduction in course load. The rule also required the ISP office to reauthorize the RCL each new semester.
- To Complete Course of Study in Current Term
The ISP office can authorize a reduced course load in the student's final semester if fewer courses are needed to complete the course of study.
A student should ask for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization to the ISP office and bring a note from an academic counselor verifying the completion of study. Otherwise, a student's RCL will be reported to SEVIS as "Failure to maintain F-1 status."
A student that requires an official RCL determination may not take "0" courses during the final term. Even if the school continues to enroll the student for administrative reasons, the student who will complete all requirements for the degree must apply for OPT, apply for a change of status to some other classification, or depart the United States.
Other exceptions and exemptions
F-1 regulations recognize that traditional school years include a session (usually summer), during which students are considered by the school to be on break, and not required to be registered for classes. The regulations see this as an annual vacation, and consider the student to be maintaining status even though he or she is not actually registered for classes.
Students engaged in practical training
Optional practical training
A student on authorized practical training following completion of studies is considered to be maintaining F-1 status, but is not required to be registered for studies.
Curricular practical training
A student engaged in full-time curricular practical training may or may not be formally enrolled for coursework. The regulations do acknowledge that curricular practical training may be done full-time if the curriculum requires it; they also indicate that curricular practical training may be done for credit or as a requirement of a program. A student engaged in part-time curricular practical training would be required to enroll concurrently in coursework (or be otherwise certifiable as exempt from the full-time course of study requirement, such as in the last term for an undergraduate degree) to maintain full-time status.
Effective January 1, 2003, regulations allow an F-1 student to be enrolled in two different SEVIS-approved F-1 schools at the same time (concurrent enrollment), as long as the enrollment in both schools amounts to a full time course of study.
A student should ask for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization to the ISP office and bring a registration record, at the beginning of the semester, and a grade report, at the end of the semester, from another school. Otherwise, a student's RCL will be reported to SEVIS as "Failure to maintain F-1 status."
The concurrent enrollment provision is applicable only to those who will be registered less than full-time at the school that issued their I-20, and who are relying on enrollment at another school in order to meet the requirement that they be enrolled for a full course of study. As long as a student is enrolled full-time at the institution that issued his or her Form I-20, he or she does not need special permission to take an additional class at another school.
Please also check the official USCIS information in various languages we added to your "Useful Links" box in the top-right of this page.