As an F-1 student, you were admitted to the U.S. for a “duration of status” (D/S) (D/S is found on the I-94 that can be printed at www.cbp.gov/i94). This means you are permitted to stay in the U.S. until you complete your program or until the completion date on your SEVIS Form I-20. You must have maintained your status by fulfilling the requirements of being an F-1 student.
Keep in mind that there are important differences between an F-1 visa and F-1 status. The visa is a stamp or sticker placed on your passport by a U.S. embassy or consulate and is granted for entry purposes only. F-1 status is granted when you enter the U.S. and is regulated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Even if your visa is valid, you can lose your legal F-1 status if you do not comply with the immigration laws regulating your stay in the U.S. If you fail to maintain your legal status, you will need to file for F-1 Reinstatement with DHS, or in some cases, be forced to leave the country (e.g., you must leave the country and make a new entry with a valid visa if you work illegally).
How to Stay in Legal F-1 Visa Status
As an F-1 status student admitted to the United States, you are required to meet obligations set by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The general obligations are as follows:
- Have a valid passport at all times.
- Attend the school you are authorized to attend on your I-20.
- Carry a full course of study each semester. A full course of study is to complete 12 units per semester, fall and spring. Summer enrollment is not required.
- Leave the U.S. by the anticipated completion date on your I-20, or, prior to that date, apply for a program extension.
- Limit employment, both on and off campus, to a total of 20 hours per week while school is in session.
- Refrain from off-campus employment without written authorization from USCIS or the school.
- Report a change of residence within 10 days of the change.
- An F-1 status student may not take more than one online class per semester.
Authorized Exceptions from Full Course of Study Requirement
- A valid medical excuse. A student who has a temporary illness or other medical condition, may be authorized to a reduce course of study and is considered to be in status during the illness or other medical condition. Must be documented by a licensed physician. A student is allowed a maximum of two semesters below 12.0 units for a medical reason.
- Vacation. An F-1 visa student is considered in status during the summer sessions. Students are not required to attend the summer sessions unless they have been initially admitted for a summer session.
- Valid academic reasons for enrolling less than full-time. A student who is having academic difficulties the first semester should meet with a counselor or the International Student Advisor to discuss permission to drop below 12 units. A student is allowed a maximum of one semester below 12.0 units for an academic difficulty.
- Undergraduates completing programs during the course term. An F-1 status student who is in the last semester and needs less than 12 units to complete his or her program of study is considered to be pursuing a full course of study.
- Post-completion practical training. A student on practical training following completion of studies is considered by USCIS to be pursuing a full course of study.