Maintaining legal status
Maintain your legal status by complying with the following rules.
Register for a Full Course of Study.
As an F-1student, you must be registered every semester with a full course of study.
Maintain Full-Time Status. *
Immigration regulations require that F-1 and J-1 students be enrolled as full-time students. This is defined as a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester for undergraduate students and at least nine credit hours semester for graduate students in the fall and spring semesters. You are not required by I.C.E. to enroll in classes during the summer session unless summer is your first semester in the USA; however, check with your department to see if they have any requirements for the summer. If you need to drop a course, make an appointment to see an international student advisor before you drop. If you go below the full-time status requirements without the advisor’s approval, you will be considered "out of status".
*For exceptions to the full-time requirement, please contact your international student advisor.
Attend the Correct School.
You must attend the university that I.C.E. has authorized you to attend on your I-20. When you are entering the USA for the first time as an F-1 student, you must attend the school for which the I-20 form was issued for your initial entry into the USA. The school listed on the I-20 form should also match the school noted on your visa. If you fail to report to this school and decide to attend another school, you will probably have to apply for reinstatement with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Once you have contacted the initial school, you may request a transfer to a different school. Specific immigration transfer procedures must be followed. Visas do not need to be changed to match the name of future schools as long as you complete proper transfer procedures, change schools by using the new school’s I-20 form, or leave the USA and re-enter on a new I-20.
Follow Correct Procedures When Changing Schools.
You must complete an official immigration transfer whenever you change educational institutions within 45 days from the beginning of classes of your first semester at the new school. Please note: An immigration transfer is a totally separate process from transferring academic credit from another school. An immigration transfer is not complete until a UTB international student advisor has released your SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) file to the new school or vice versa.
Get Advised Before Changing Major or Program.
If you decide to change your major or program of study, please contact your international student advisor before so he or she can make the appropriate change on your I-20. This would include changing from language studies to a bachelor’s program, from a bachelor’s program to master’s or doctoral program, from an Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to a new degree program, and from one level of degree program to one of the same level (e.g., master’s to a second master’s).
Maintain a Valid Passport at All Times.
You must keep your passport valid all the times. Your passport must be valid for six months into the future at all times during your stay in the USA. No visitor benefits may be granted with an expired passport.
Report All Changes in Address and Phone Numbers.
You must report all changes in your address and phone number to your international student advisor within 10 days. In addition, under new federal regulations (section 265 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act 8 U.S.C. 1305) all nonimmigrant students must notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services every time they change residence using form AR-11. This notification must take place within 10 days of change of address and must be mailed to the address noted on the form. Your international student advisor must have a copy to file with your records.
Report Changes of Status.
If you change your name or you change your visa status, you must contact your international student advisor so the appropriate change is made in SEVIS. You must also present documentation to update your records accordingly.
Observe On-Campus Employment Regulations.
On-campus employment requires authorization from the international student advisor. You must be in good academic and immigration standing to qualify for this benefit. You are only allowed to work on campus, and if you work illegally off campus, you will fall out of status must leave the country or face deportation procedures – and you cannot be reinstated. On-campus employment is limited to part time (20 hours or less per week) during the fall and spring semesters. It may be full time (more than 20 hours per week) during the summer and official school breaks as long as you are enrolled in classes.
Obtain a Travel Endorsement Before Traveling Outside the USA.
All international students must obtain a travel endorsement on the back of the I-20 from the international student advisor before leaving the USA. Please request a travel endorsement at least seven days before your departure date.
NOTE: Students from Mexico must have the I-20 form signed at the end of every year.
Do Not Overstay Visa.
One of the most serious violations that can be committed is called a "visa overstay." A visa overstay does not refer to staying in the USA beyond the expiration date on your U.S. visa stamp or sticker in your passport. Expired visas do not result in visa overstays! As an F-1 student, you commit a visa overstay by staying beyond the grace period at the end of your studies (e.g., 60 days for an F-1 student) without obtaining a new I-20, applying for a change in status, or applying for OPT.
For example, when an F-1 student completes his or her degree requirements, he or she is given 60 days to leave the country, change status, apply for OPT, or obtain a new I-20 form for a new degree program. If the F-1 student does not do one of these within 60 days of graduating, he or she is guilty of a visa overstay. F-1 students may also commit a visa overstay by dropping out of school for a semester without permission. Your potential penalties for a visa overstay are as follows:
• Your visa is automatically canceled on the first day of your violation. This means it may not be used for re-entry to the USA, even if there is still time remaining before the expiration date takes effect.
• For the rest of your life you may only apply for a new visa (of any kind) in your home country. "Visa shopping" in third countries like Mexico and Canada will no longer be allowed.
• Reinstatement to student status is very unlikely, if not impossible! This means you may have to leave the USA in order to gain new legal status. If you do not receive a new visa in your home country, you will not be returning to the USA.
• If you remain in the USA with a visa overstay for 180 days or for up to one year, a three-year bar from re-entering the USA will go into effect when you depart the USA. This may happen even if you are married to a U.S. citizen. This means you will be denied a visa or entry into the USA for three years after voluntary departure or forced removal from the USA.
• If you remain in a visa overstay for more than one year, a 10-year bar from re-entering the USA will go into effect when you depart from the USA. This may happen even if you are married to U.S. citizen. You will be denied from entering the USA with a visa or other means for 10 years.
• You might be removed from the USA voluntarily or involuntarily (by force).
Observe Special Rules for Online and Distance-Education Courses.
As an F-1 student, if you enroll in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester or quarter may be counted toward your full course-of-study requirements if the class is taken online or through distance education and does not require your physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An online or distance-education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio or computer transmission, including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, satellite, audio conferencing or computer conferencing.
Stay In Touch With an International Student Advisor to Learn About Changes in U.S. Law.
Federal regulations that govern your stay in the USA can change very rapidly. To stay up-to-date regularly, visit this website often or make an appointment at your convenience to see an international student advisor.