Visa Rules & Regulations
As an international student on an F-1 visa, your primary purpose in the U.S. is to study. Failure to maintain your F-1 visa status could result in serious consequences and may affect your ability to remain in or return to the U.S., as well as have access to future immigration benefits. In order to maintain your F-1 status, you must adhere to the requirements on the Study in the States website:
- Enroll in and successfully complete 12 units each semester
- Students must receive prior authorization to drop below 12 units (see below under RCL)
- Summer term is considered a vacation term and enrollment is optional
- Students who are admitted for Summer must enroll in 6 units to be full-time
- Enrollment in online classes is limited to 3 units or one class counting towards the 12-unit minimum
- Have a valid Form I-20 from the school you are attending with your current Education Level and Major
- Have a valid passport from your home country
- Report any address changes to ISP within 10 days
- Have prior authorization for any off-campus employment
Maintaining F-1 Status
Please see the following sections for more information:
- Reduced Course Load
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 illustrates the various eligibility categories for a Reduced Course Load (RCL), which are limited to:
- Academic Difficulty (one semester maximum for one of the following reasons):
- 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 (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.
- Completion of Course of Study (final semester only):
- 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.
- Academic Difficulty (one semester maximum for one of the following reasons):
- Authorized Early Withdrawal
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.
- Program Transfers
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.
- Travel Authorization
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 passport and F-1 visa must also be valid in order for you to re-enter the U.S. To request a Travel Authorization signature, please submit the Travel Authorization Request Form to ISP at least 5 business days before you plan to depart the U.S.
- Leave of Absence
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.
- Program Completion
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.
- Program Extensions
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.
- Change of Status
If you are currently in the U.S. on a visa type other than F-1, but you wish to change your status to F-1 to study full-time, there are two ways to go about doing this. The easiest way is to travel to your home country and apply for an F-1 visa at the U.S. Embassy. The other way is to apply to USCIS for a Change of Status (COS). This is not recommended because it can take a year or more for the COS to be approved. While you await the COS to be approved, you must file bridge applications (if necessary) to extend your current visa status. You are also not able to work or study with a pending COS under most visa categories. More information about COS can be found on the Study in the States website.
International students at SRJC are required to maintain lawful F-1 status at all times. Students who have fallen out of F-1 status may request reinstatement to regain their legal status in the U.S. If your SEVIS record has been terminated as a result of circumstances that were beyond your control, you may apply to USCIS for reinstatement. To request reinstatement, please submit the Reinstatement Request Form to ISP. It may be advisable for you to consult an immigration attorney about your plans to regain F-1 status. More information about reinstatement can be found on the Study in the States website.
Disclaimer: 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.