Maintaining or Reinstating F-1 Student Status
If you are an international student enrolled in a full-time degree or academic program at a U.S. educational institution, then you are an F-1 student. As an F-1 student, you are admitted to the U.S. for “duration of status.” This means you are allowed to stay in the U.S. as long as you maintain your status by satisfying the requirements and regulations instituted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). The following is a guide to maintaining your F-1 student status or applying for reinstatement if you have fallen out of status:
Maintaining F-1 Status
You can maintain your F-1 student status by following these rules:
- Maintain a full-time course load. What constitutes a full-time course load might differ depending on the type of program in which you have enrolled. You should check your program to ensure that you are meeting this requirement for your F-1 status. If you reduce your course load for any reason you will be in violation of your status. If you need to reduce your course load you will need approval by your school’s International Student Adviser (often referred to as a designated student adviser or DSO).
- Extend your I-20 as needed. When you are first accepted into a U.S. educational institution approved by ICE you are issued a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” Form I-20 is a multi-purpose document providing various information about your F-1 status, including the estimated length of time needed to complete your degree or academic program. If your program will require more time than originally granted, you will need to notify your DSO at least 30 days prior to your original completion date. Your DSO can then update the date in the system and you will be issued a new I-20.
- Request a new I-20 as needed. If you are beginning a new program or make a change in major or degree, you must request a new I-20.
- Go to the school that is listed on your current I-20. If you choose to attend another U.S. educational institution other than one listed on your current I-20, the your new institution must issue you a new I-20 before you can attend.
- Obtain special authorization to work. As an F-1 student you cannot work off-campus during your first academic year. After the first academic year, you will need special authorization from your DSO to work. Additionally, any off-campus employment must be related to your area of study. Working off-campus without authorization is a serious violation. However, an F-1 student can accept part-time work on-campus subject to certain conditions and restrictions.
- Obtain a travel endorsement on your I-20 from your DSO before leaving the U.S. If you travel out of the United States as an F-1 student you will need to prove your legal status upon re-entry. To avoid issues, be sure to have your DSO endorse your I-20 for travel before you leave. In addition, you must maintain a valid passport at all times.
- Depart the U.S. in a timely manner or change status. As an F-1 student you have 60 days to depart the U.S. after the completion of your program. However, as long as you have maintained your F-1 student status, you may be eligible apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to your area of study. As an F-1 student you are eligible for 12 months of OPT upon completion of your program. You will need to receive authorization from your DSO. If you do not receive OPT or change to another immigration status you will need to leave the U.S. in a timely manner.
By abiding by these rules, you will be able to maintain your F-1 status and be prepared for any changes that occur with your degree or academic program.
Reinstatement of F-1 Status
If you fall out of status by violating any one of the rules above, you can apply to USCIS for reinstatement of your F-1 status. In order to be eligible for reinstatement, you will have to show that you (a) do not have a record of repeated or willful violations of the rules above, (b) are maintaining a full-time course load, (c) have not been out of status for more than 5 months, (d) are not deportable on any immigration laws other than the status violation, and (e) have not worked without authorization. In addition, you will need to prove either that (1) the violation resulted from circumstances beyond your control (such as serious injury or illness, closure of the educational institution you attended, or a natural disaster) or from neglect on the part of your DSO or (2) the violation related to a reduction in your course load that would have been within a DSO’s power to approve, and that refusing your reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to you.
To apply for reinstatement, you must file Form I-539 along with supporting documentation. Be sure to carefully assess the validity of your case before filing for reinstatement. The process is not easy, and the decision to reinstate your F-1 student status is at the discretion of USCIS.
It can take anywhere between 3-6 months for USCIS to adjudicate your application for reinstatement. While the application is pending, you are not eligible for any F-1 student benefits, such as OPT or on-campus employment. If you travel outside the U.S. while your reinstatement application is pending, without prior authorization, you may be deemed to have abandoned your application.
If your reinstatement is approved, USCIS will mail your new I-20 to the address listed on the application and you will be able to continue your studies. If your application is denied, you will begin to accrue unlawful presence in the United States. If you accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence you could be subject to a 3-year or 10-year bar from reentering the country.
If you require assistance with maintaining or reinstating your F-1 student status in the United States, the immigration lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. are here to help. From our offices in Northern Virginia, we represent clients in Virginia, D.C. and across the United States. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.