Maintain Visa Status
After International Students obtain a visa and enter the U.S. in F-1 status, they must continue to maintain that status and follow F-1 regulations upon entry until final departure.
The 12 key requirements for maintaining F-1 status are listed below:
- Report to FIDM’s Designated School Official (DSO) for SEVIS registration upon arriving at FIDM to have your SEVIS record activated. This is normally done within 30 days of your first day of school.
- Attend the school authorized on your I-20, registering as a full-time student every quarter.
- Maintain a full course of study every quarter. F-1 visa status is only available to students pursuing a "full course of study." Students must maintain 12 units every quarter and at least 9 units of study in the classroom (they can take online courses but must maintain a minimum of 9 classes in the classroom, so if they are only enrolled in four classes only one can be online.)
- Make normal progress towards completing the course of study, by completing studies before the expiration of the program completion date on Form I-20.
- Transfer or extend your program in a timely manner or file timely requests for extension of stay, change of status, transfer, Optional Practical Training, and other benefits.
- Keep Form I-20 valid by following the proper procedure for change in educational levels or program of study. If you change your major or pursue a second program after completing your first (for example, earning an AA then applying to AAPD, AA Advanced Study, BA or BS program) you must request a change in educational level on your SEVIS I-20.
- Abide by F-1 grace period rules.
- Obey state, federal, and local laws.
- Refrain from unauthorized work (reinstatement will generally not be granted for a violation of this type).
- When traveling abroad, always return to the U.S. in proper F-1 status.
- Keep the passport valid for six months into the future.
- Report any changes of address to FIDM’s DSO within 10 days of the change.
Authorization to Drop Below 12 Units
An F-1 student may be authorized to drop below 12 units but only once in their academic program for reasons not associated with a medical condition. It is imperative that F-1 students maintain a minimum of 12 units each quarter they attend FIDM; however circumstances may exist where a student needs to drop below that minimum (Note: failing the course or finishing the first-year contract does not warrant such an exception).
SEVIS has already determined what reasons can and should be present in making such a determination and the reason for such must be selected from the choices offered:
- Initial difficulty with English language (first two quarters only)
- Initial difficulty with reading requirements (first two quarters only)
- Medical condition (no more than four times)
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods (first two quarters only, with a few exceptions)
- Completing program (must be in their last quarter)
- Improper course level placement (as defined by an advisor recommending a student drop a course, due to no prerequisite.) This exception will only be granted if a message appears in the student's records, from a Student or Academic Advisor indicating such a situation exists.
F-1 Special Circumstance
Use concurrent enrollment to avoid losing your F-1 status due to an unauthorized drop in full-time unit requirements.
An F-1 student can be enrolled in two different SEVIS-approved F-1 schools at the same time (concurrent enrollment), as long as the enrollment in both schools amounts to a full time course of study, and both schools are SEVIS-certified. The concurrent enrollment provision requires the school from which the student will earn his or her degree or certificate to issue and maintain Form I-20, to handle all SEVIS and other reporting requirements, and to ensure that the student is pursuing a full course of study.
The concurrent enrollment provision is applicable only to those who will be registered less than full-time at the school that issued their I-20, and who are relying on enrollment at another school in order to meet the requirement that they be enrolled for a full course of study. As long as a student is enrolled full-time at the institution that issued his or her Form I-20, he or she does not need special permission to take an additional class at another school.
The second school (institution that did not issue your SEVIS I-20) will require a concurrent enrollment authorization form issued by FIDM's International Students Office. The course to which you will be enrolled in must coincide with FIDM's quarter schedule, meaning both classes must be conducted at the same time. This doesn't have to be exact but they must coincide at some point during the quarter you wish to receive the authorization.
Granting a Temporary Leave of Absence
An F-1 student may be granted a temporary leave of absence at any time in their program but a distinction has to be made as to whether it is an emergency break or a vacation break. A vacation break can only be taken after completing one full year of studies at FIDM (which can constitute 3 consecutive quarters). The Leave of Absence will be classified as a quarter break, and the student,s I-20 registration dates should adequately reflect the time off. A notation is also made in the remarks section of the student’s I-20 to indicate the quarter break and list the date the student will resume his or her studies. Students can remain in the U.S. while on a vacation break. However, they cannot work (no CPT) since the only work available would be an internship, which must coincide with the students curriculum (if they are not in class there is no class to assign the internship to). For any other type of break from studies (not classified as annual vacation break) the student's I-20 will be terminated for an authorized early withdrawal and then re-activated prior to the student's re-entry. The student must be outside of the U.S. during the absence from studies and may not exceed one quarter off. Any absence from studies and the U.S. for five months or more will automatically terminate a student’s I-20 and F-1 student status.
The annual vacation provision references both the classic "summer break" situation for schools that are on a traditional semester-based academic year, as well as the situation of programs that do not follow the traditional semester system. DSOs of short-term programs (e.g., 4- or 6-week ESL courses) and those that do not follow the traditional semester system (e.g., trimester or quarter-based programs) must pay particular attention to the second sentence of 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(5)(iii), which requires students in such programs to have spent the equivalent of an "academic" year before being eligible to take a break from studies that would be covered under this regulation. DSOs working with such programs should develop clear and justifiable policies to define the equivalent of an "academic year" for F-1 vacation purposes.
Students who do not maintain their F-1 and wish to continue to pursue their program of study at FIDM will only be permitted to register for courses if they file for a reinstatement with the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) or leave and reenter the U.S. with a new initial I-20 and valid F-1 visa to regain their F-1 status.
The reinstatement application includes the following documents:
- A completed I-539 form with the $290 filing fee (the check should be made payable to USCIS).
- A newly obtained I-20 form issued by a DSO at FIDM recommending reinstatement.
- Your original I-94 form
- A copy of your previous I-20 form
- Evidence of continued funding (documentation demonstrating the students ability to pay the remainder of his or her tuition plus living expenses).
- A written statement requesting reinstatement which explains that the violation of the student's status resulted from circumstances beyond their control and/or that the failure to be reinstated would result in extreme hardship. Any documentation that supports the student's claim should be attached. An additional letter from a DSO at FIDM is optional.
- Any other documentation that might help establish the nature of the violation, document that the violation occurred less than five months ago, and that the student is pursuing or intending to pursue a full course of study.
- FIDM college transcripts.
Conditions for Approval of Reinstatement
The USCIS District Director may consider approving a student’s reinstatement if the student can show the following information:
- The student has not been out of status for more than 5 months prior to filing for reinstatement.
- The student does not have a record of repeated violations.
- The student is pursuing a full course of study.
- The student has not engaged in unauthorized employment.
- The student is not deportable on any grounds other than the status violations for which reinstatement is being requested.
- The status violation resulted from circumstances beyond student’s control.
- If the violation relates to a reduced course load (RCL), the student must show that it would have been within the DSO’s authority to authorize the RCL, had it been done in a timely manner.