Maintaining F-1 Status
Failing to maintain your status could result in serious consequences and may affect your ability to remain in or return to the U.S., as well as access to future immigration benefits. Starting on August 9, 2019, USCIS determined that F-1 students who violate their status will begin to accrue "Unlawful Presence" in the U.S., effective the date that the status violation occured. Students who accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence may be barred from re-entering the U.S. for 3 years, and students who accrue more than one year of unlawful presence may be barred from the U.S. for 10 years. More information about Unlawful Presence can be found on the USCIS website.
In order to maintain your F-1 status, you must adhere to the requirements on this website:
- Enroll in and successfully complete 12 units each semester
- Have authorization for any off-campus employment
- Limit enrollment in online classes to 3 units or one class per semester
- Have a valid SEVIS I-20 from the school you are attending
- Report any address changes to ISP within 10 days
Please see the following sections for more information.
- Reduced Course Load (RCL)
In certain special circumstances, an F-1 student may be permitted to drop below 12 units. The Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization is good for one semester, and students must re-apply for each additional RCL authorization. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website has an excellent infographic which illustrates the various eligibility categories for a Reduced Course Load (RCL), which are limited to:
- Academic Difficulties:
- Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements (first semester only).
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods.
- Improper course level placement.
- Must enroll in at least 6 units.
- Medical Condition:
- Medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist in the U.S. is required.
- Limited to 12 months per program level.
- May enroll in as few units (or 0 units) as recommended by the medical professional.
- Completion of Course of Study:
- Must be graduating from SRJC with an Associate's Degree or Certificate (transfer students who do not complete an AA/AS are not eligible for RCL in final term).
- May enroll in as few units as necessary to complete the program of study as indicated on the Form I-20.
RCL Application Process:
- Make an appointment to meet with your DSO to see if you are eligible.
- Submit the online request form to ISP and attach any required supporting documentation.
- Pickup your new I-20 with approved RCL authorization on Page 2.
- Drop your classes.
- Authorized Early Withdraw
- Program Transfers
You can leave the U.S. and re-enter the country to resume your studies at anytime, but first you must have a valid travel authorization signature on Page 2 of your Form I-20. Your F-1 visa must also be valid in order for you to re-enter the U.S.
- Leave of Absence
If you want to take a leave of absence from school for a semester or more, you must leave the US during this time. There are several issues to consider before you take this step. You have 15 days to leave the country after notifying your International Student advisor. Your SEVIS record will be terminated at this time for the purpose of an "Authorized Early Withdrawal". If your stay outside the country is more than 5 months, the school must provide you with a new SEVIS I-20 for Initial Attendance to reenter. You will have a new SEVIS ID number, and therefore will have to pay the SEVIS fee again. You may need to apply for a new visa as well. You should check with your local consulate to confirm this information. You will be able to reenter the United States no earlier than 30 days prior to the report date on the I-20 form. OPT work permission can be affected by a break in enrollment. You will have to graduate with an Associate Degree and complete one additional year of study before being eligible.
- Program Completion
At the beginning of your final semester of study, you should submit an Application for Certificate
or Application for Degree
. You shuold also check your Form I-20 to be sure that the Program End Date is aligned with the last day of the term. Contact ISP if this date needs to be adjusted. After you complete your academic program at SRJC, you have a 60-day grace period to remain in the U.S. Your grace period begins the day after the Program End Date on your Form I-20. Staying beyond the grace period is a serious violation and can lead to deportation. During the 60-day grace period, you can travel within the U.S., transfer to another school to continue your education, or apply for OPT.
- Program Extension
SRJC issues I-20s for 3 years for associate's degrees and 1 year for certificate programs. If you require additional time to complete your program of study, or if you have changed your major, you can apply for a 12-month extension. You must apply for a program extension BEFORE your I-20 expires. You must also submit an updated Guarantee of Financial Support
form and attach evidence of funding for an additional year of study.