Maintaining F-1 Status
As an international student in F-1 status, your primary purpose in the U.S. is to study. Failure to maintain your F-1 status could result in serious consequences, and may impact your access to future immigration benefits. Study in the States has an overview of the requirements to maintain F-1 status:
- Enroll in a full course of study each term
- Possess a valid Form I-20 from SRJC listing your current program of study
- Report or update your U.S. address within 10 days
- Receive prior authorization for any off-campus employment
- Get permission from your school before traveling
Every SEVP-certified institution in the United States is required to comply with federal regulations pertaining to F-1 students, and schools are required by law to terminate a student's SEVIS record for any F-1 status violation. At SRJC, the following policies have been adopted within the spirit of these regulations. Please read the following sections for more information:
Full-time enrollment for international students at SRJC is defined as follows:
- 12+ units in Fall/Spring semesters
- 6+ units in Summer session if it's your first term
- For continuing students, Summer is a vacation term so enrollment is optional
Enrollment in online classes is typically limited to 3 units or one class counting towards the 12-unit minimum (this requirement is temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic).
You must have permission from our office before reducing your enrollment below full-time or withdrawing from your program at SRJC.
In certain special circumstances, an F-1 student may be permitted to drop below 12 units. The Reduced Course Load (RCL) authorization is valid for one semester, and students must re-apply for each additional RCL authorization. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website illustrates the various eligibility categories for a Reduced Course Load (RCL), which are limited to:
- Medical Condition (12 months maximum):
- Medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist in the U.S. is required.
- May enroll in as few units (or 0 units) as recommended by the medical professional.
- Academic Difficulty (first semester only):
- Reason #1: Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements.
- Reason #2: Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods.
- Reason #3: Improper course level placement.
- Must enroll in at least 6 units.
- Completion of Course of Study (final semester only):
- Must be graduating from SRJC with an Associate's Degree or approved 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.
- Make an appointment your Doctor or Counselor to obtain RCL recommendation.
- 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.
If you need to withdraw from SRJC for a family emergency, financial issues, or personal reasons, you must notify ISP before you drop your classes. ISP will terminate your SEVIS record for the reason "Authorized Early Withdrawal." This termination reason is not a negative one and should not affect any future visits to the U.S. Once your SEVIS record is terminated, you will have a 15-day grace period to depart the U.S. If you withdraw from classes and fail to notify ISP, your SEVIS record will be terminated for the reason "Unauthorized Early Withdrawal," which is a negative termination reason with zero grace period that may affect future U.S. immigration benefits. More information about the Authorized Early Withdrawal can be found on the Study in the States website. To request an Authorized Early Withdrawal, please submit this Request Form to ISP.
International students at SRJC who need to return to their home country for a semester may request a Leave of Absence (LOA). If your leave will be less than 5 months, you may keep the same Form I-20 and not have to pay another SEVIS I-901 fee. Once you request a LOA, ISP will terminate your Form I-20 for the reason "Authorized Early Withdrawal" which will give you a 15-day grace period to depart the U.S. At least 60 days before you plan to return to the U.S. to resume your studies, you must notify ISP so that your Form I-20 can be returned to Active status, which will allow you to re-enter the U.S. 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 re-enter. You will have a new SEVIS ID number, and therefore will have to pay the SEVIS fee again. Whether or not your leave is more or less than 5 months, you must have a valid F-1 visa in order to return to the U.S. To request a LOA, please submit the Leave of Leave of Absence Request Form to ISP. Once approved, you may drop or withdraw from your classes. More information about the Leave of Absence process can be found on the Study in the States website.
At the beginning of your final semester of study, you should submit an Application for Certificate or Application for Degree. You should 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.
International students in the U.S. may request a transfer of their SEVIS record from one SEVP-certified school to another. To be eligible for transfer, you must maintain F-1 status at your current school until the release date and follow the correct transfer procedures. Current international students at SRJC wishing to transfer out must provide evidence of their admission to the new school. Once you have received your admission letter, submit the Transfer Out Form to ISP. Admitted international students wishing to transfer in must provide evidence that they are maintaining F-1 status at their current school. Once you have been accepted to SRJC, submit the Transfer-In Form to ISP. More information about F-1 transfer requirements and procedures can be found on the DHS website.
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, you must show that your delay in completion was caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as a change of major, or a documented illness. Financial difficulties, academic failure, probation or dismissal are not considered valid reasons for granting an extension. This process can take 1-2 weeks to complete. BEFORE your I-20 expires, you must submit the Program Extension Request Form and attach the required supporting documents to your request:
- An updated Education Plan showing the classes you will take at SRJC during the extension. You must meet with your academic Counselor to obtain this document.
- An updated bank statement showing sufficient funds for additional semesters of study. If you have a different sponsor from your original Form I-20, then they must sign a Declaration of Financial Support and attach it to their bank statement.
It will take time to gather these documents. We encourage you to begin this process at least 2 weeks before the Program End Date on your Form I-20.
Students who have valid F-1 visas are allowed to travel outside of the United States temporarily during their studies at SRJC. You must obtain permission to travel from ISP before departing the U.S. by submitting the Travel Authorization Request Form online.
You will need to bring the following valid/unexpired documents with you during your travels:
- F-1 Visa stamp (inside passport)
- Form I-20 with a travel endorsement on Page 2
- EAD card (if applicable)
Though not required, you could also bring a copy of your class schedule (or job offer for OPT) as additional evidence, in case you are asked for it at the U.S. Port of Entry.
If you have the necessary documents, you can travel internationally at any time during your studies, or during post-completion OPT, but you may not return to the U.S. during your grace period.
If you do not have an F-1 visa because you changed your nonimmigrant status with USCIS from inside the U.S., then you will need to obtain an F-1 visa in your home country before you may return to the U.S. after traveling.
International students at SRJC are required to maintain lawful F-1 status at all times. Students with a terminated SEVIS record will have limited options:
When your SEVIS record is terminated for a negative reason, such as Failure to Enroll or Unauthorized Employment, you receive zero grace period to depart the U.S. You should make plans to depart the U.S. as soon as possible or an overstay could have a negative impact on future visa applications.
If your SEVIS record has been terminated as a result of circumstances that were beyond your control, you can apply to USCIS for reinstatement of your lawful F-1 status. This must occur within 5 months of SEVIS termination. To request reinstatement, please submit the Reinstatement Request Form to ISP. More information about reinstatement can be found on the Study in the States website. We strongly recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney for assistance:
- SRJC's Dream Center Lawyer - VIDAS
- American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Lawyer Search
- DOJ Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) List
- Immigration Advocates Network
Travel & Re-Entry
If your F-1 visa is still unexpired, you may request a new Form I-20 from ISP, travel outside the U.S. (Mexico or Canada is okay), and re-enter the U.S. using the new I-20. This will wipe your record clean and give you valid F-1 status once again. Note that this method will reset the one academic year requirement for CPT/OPT eligibility. During COVID-19, this option will reset your F-1 status to initial, which will require enrollment in a course with in-person requirements.
Disclaimer: This school is authorized under Federal law to enroll nonimmigrant alien students. ISP is able to provide you with general guidance. However, any advice provided to you by our office does not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. This office will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.