Maintaining F-1 Student Visa Status

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Overview of Requirements for Maintaining F-1 Status

Maintaining F-1 Student Visa StatusWhile on F-1 status, students are required to follow certain rules and regulations in order to maintain their F-1 status. Failure to properly maintain F-1 status can result in the student's removal from the United States, inability to later seek an adjustment from F-1 status, and inadmissibility to the United States.1, 2 Students have sixty days to leave the country after their F-1 status lapses.3

Enrollment Requirements for Maintaining F-1 Status

F-1 students are generally required to meet the requirements for being full time students as required by their specific program. Undergraduate F-1 students are typically required to take at least twelve semester hours each term or semester unless fewer hours are required to complete their course of studies.4

There are a few select exceptions to these rules. F-1 students may be permitted to take fewer than the generally required number of hours if:

  • Certified by their school as having English language difficulties;
  • Certified by their school as having trouble adjusting to American education;
  • Were initially placed in courses not commensurate with their academic level;
  • Have a documented illness or injury.5

A student experiencing any of these difficulties must be proactive about discussing them with the Designated School Official (DSO)6 who administrates the F-1 program at his school in order to establish eligibility to take fewer than the required number of hours.

The I-20 form submitted by the school specifies when a student is expected to complete the course of study.7 If the student is slightly behind the estimated time of completion, the school has discretion to give an extra year to finish.8 If the F-1 student needs more time, he or she must then apply to the school for an extension of the F-1 visa.9, 10 However, schools do not have unlimited discretion to grant an extra extension.11 F-1 students may be eligible for an extension of stay if they had changed their major or had experienced unforeseen issues with their research.12 F-1 students who experience problems keeping up with their studies due to documented injuries or illness are also eligible for an extension of stay. Academic difficulties alone are not grounds for an extension of stay.13 In the interim between the expiration of the original F-1 status and the extension of stay, students are considered out of status and must apply for reinstatement to F-1 status.14, 15 Upon approving a student for an extension of stay, the school must submit Form I-538 to immigration authorities and issue the student a new Form I-20 with a new completion date, thereby reinstating the student's F-1 status.

Rules for Maintaining F-1 Status When Transferring Schools or Seeking Further Study

If an F-1 student seeks to transfer from one school to another, the student must notify the current school about the prospective transfer and must complete a new Form I-20 on their SEVIS account. If the F-1 student then continues working toward his or her stated academic objectives, his or her F-1 status will not lapse during this process.16 The same process applies for students who want to continue their course of education at a higher level at the same or different institution.17

Rules for Maintaining F-1 Status During Vacations

F-1 students may take summer vacation (or a one-term break if on a trimester system) while maintaining F-1 status. The student is still considered on status during the vacation.18

Rules for Maintaining Status while Taking On-Campus Employment

F-1 students have limited avenues to undertake employment. F-1 students are allowed to work on-campus for 20 hours per week while they are in session as full-time students.19, 20 F-1 Students are presumptively allowed to take on-campus employment that is included in the terms of their scholarships, as well as fellowships or assistantships, though the 20 hour weekly limit still applies.21 Students may work full time on-campus during their vacation.

On-campus employment is generally limited to working for the school in which the student is enrolled or for commercial firms that provide on-campus services to students enrolled in that school.22 Qualifying employers also include off-campus organizations that are affiliated with the school through the school's curriculum or contractually funded research programs. However, F-1 students must demonstrate that their employment is both a part of and at the same academic level as their course of studies.23, 24

Rules for Obtaining Economic Hardship Exemption to Work Off-Campus

Nine months after the start of their course of studies, F-1 students may petition the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) to work off campus due to economic hardship. Students must be in good academic standing with a full course of study for approval.25 Approval is contingent upon either a demonstration of unexpected economic hardship.26 To qualify for an economic hardship exception, F-1 students must demonstrate that the hardship was caused by no fault of their own. Some grounds that may make an F-1 student eligible would be:

  • Unexpected loss of financial aid or on-campus employment
  • Fluctuations in value of their foreign currency
  • Sudden drastic increase in tuition and/or living expenses
  • Unexpected change of status of financial support
  • Costs associated with documented injury or illness 27, 28

Rules for Working Off-Campus at Recognized International Organizations29

F-1 students are allowed to work off-campus for certain recognized international organizations, though they must apply to CIS and present their current I-20 form along with proof of approval from the organization.30

Rules for Practical Training for F-1 Students and Working at International Organizations

F-1 students may apply for either curricular practical training, which refers to employment required by their course of study, or optional practical training, which refers to non-required employment that is related to their course of study.

A DSO has the authority to authorize curricular practical training if the training is part of the student's course of studies.31 F-1 students may apply to take up to twelve months for off-campus curricular or practical training so long as they are in good academic status and have completed at least one term.32 The one-term requirement is waived for graduate F-1 students who are required to start curricular practical training immediately.33, 34 If an F-1 student completes one year of full-time curricular practical training, he or she is then ineligible for optional practical training.

Optional practical training can only be approved by CIS based upon the recommendation of an F-1 student's school. It is limited to twenty hours per week during the school year. F-1 students who have completed a degree in qualifying science, technology, engineering, or math programs (STEM programs) are eligible for a STEM extension, which grants an additional 17 months of optional practical training (for a total of 29 months) so long as the students and employers go through the proper procedures.35, 36

F-1 students may also apply to take optional practical training that takes place after their course of studies is completed and maintain F-1 status until it is completed. In order to do so, F-1 students must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) between 60 and 120 days before their optional practical training would begin and include a recommendation from their DSO. The optional practical training under the EAD may not extend more than 14 months after the student's course of studies completed.37, 38

Upkeep of F-1 Status on SEVIS

F-1 students are responsible for keeping their biographical information on SEVIS current as well as making any changes to their course of studies entries.39

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[1] Numbers below refer to page numbers in Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser.,

[2] § 7-8, infra.

[3] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.233

[4] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.234

[5] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.234

[6] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.230

[7] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.234

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(7)

[11] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(7)(iii)

[12] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.234

[13] Id.

[14] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.234-35

[15] § 7-9, infra

[16] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.235

[17] Id.

[18] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.236

[19] § 7-5

[20] 237

[21] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.238

[22] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.238

[23] Id.

[24] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(9)

[25] Id.

[26] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.238

[27] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.239

[28] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(9)

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.241

[32] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.240

[33] Id.

[34] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)

[35] Id.

[36] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)

[37] Id.

[38] C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)

[39] Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell. 6th ed. N.p.: West, 2011. Print. West Nutshell Ser., p.237