Maintaining F-1 Status
Important Notice Amidst COVID-19
The F regulations are immediately effective upon your entry to the US until your final departure. To maintain lawful status, an F-1 student must comply with the following requirements:
- Be “in status” by being registered full time in your program. Undergraduates must be registered in a minimum of 12 units and graduate students in a minimum of 9 units.
- Report to Student Immigration Services (SIS) with your passport, I-94 print out and I-20 for SEVIS registration either before or soon after registering at the school. Keep all the I-20s issued to you in a separate file very safely as each I-20 issued is considered very important by the United States Department of Homeland Security as well as Biola University. Nothing is to be discarded as old or not important during your entire stay in the United States as an F-1 student.
- Make normal progress towards completing a program of study. Any undergraduate student who receives less than a 1.0 current GPA or any graduate student who receives less than a 2.0 current GPA will be academically disqualified. Students may appeal their academic disqualification by writing to the Dean of Academic Records, who will review the appeal with the appropriate faculty committee to make the final decision on the matter.
- Apply for a timely extension of stay if applicable. Program extensions can be given to students who have continually maintained status and whose completion dates have been delayed due to academic or medical reasons.
- Obtain a new Form I-20 for a change in academic level or program of study.
- Follow transfer procedures, if applicable, in a timely manner.
- Abide by the F-1 grace period regulations.
- Report change of address within 10 days to Student Immigration Services (SIS), who then reports the change in SEVIS.
- Keep your passport always valid for six months into the future.
- Do not engage in unlawful employment, which is a very serious violation of student status. Unauthorized work makes a student ineligible for reinstatement back to F-1 status.
- When traveling abroad, always return with proper F-1 documents in hand.
- File timely requests for Optional Practical Training (OPT); while on standard post-completion OPT as well as for STEM OPT extension if applicable; do not accrue more than 90 days of “unemployment” in total for Standard OPT.
- After program completion, depart the United States in a timely manner. Abide by the grace period rule.
Four Important Immigration Documents
Biola University has issued you a Form I-20. Keep this copy of the I-20 with you at all times during foreign travel. You must have your copy signed on page 2 by SIS each time before departing from the United States. Students will be given a new I-20 on different occasions depending on the need, and each I-20 is considered as an important document and nothing should be thrown away as “old” or “not needed.”
Upon your entry to the United States, the Immigration officer at the airport will scan your passport, generating an electronic arrival record with data elements found on the current paper Form I-94. Thus you are assigned an Electronic Admission (I-94) number, which you can retrieve at www.cbp.gov/i94 by providing the required personal and entry information as it appears on your travel document. Students are required to print their electronic I-94 to give a copy to SIS while giving their immigration documents during the initial visit. You may also need it to obtain a driver’s license or a Social Security number for employment purposes.
You must maintain a valid passport at all times. Your passport must always be valid for at least six months after the date you enter or re-enter. If your passport is about to expire, contact the consulate or embassy of your country in the United States immediately and inquire about application procedures for extension or to obtain a new passport. The alternative is to renew your passport during your visit to your home country. If your country’s consulate requires proof that you are a registered student at Biola, the Registrar’s Office can provide documentation of your status at the university.
The visa is a multi-colored stamp on a page inside your passport issued by the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country allowing entry to the United States. It is a permit for single or multiple entries into the United States according to the terms and expiration date indicated on the individual visa.
An F-1 student is permitted to stay within the United States with an expired visa stamp in his/her passport, as long as the passport, I-94, and I-20 are still valid and he/she is maintaining legal status. If the visa stamp is expired, a student must apply for a new visa stamp while outside the United States if he/she leaves and wishes to re-enter the country. There is no problem staying in the United States with an expired visa as long as you are maintaining your F-1 status.
If a valid visa is in your old expired passport, you can use it if you have kept the old passport. Present the old passport along with the new passport when you reenter the country.
Replacing Lost Documents
Lost Form I-20
You are expected to carefully retain all your original I-20s. All I-20s are needed for any inspection or adjudication purposes of USCIS. If you have lost your I-20, contact SIS to have a replacement Form I-20 issued.
Expired or Lost Passport
Contact your home country’s embassy immediately to apply for a new passport. Details about your embassy and application procedures for a new passport may be available on the Internet.
Lost or Stolen Social Security Card
Meet with Student Immigration Services if your Social Security Card gets lost or stolen. You may have to go to the Social Security Administration Office in Whittier to get a replacement card.
Deviations from the Full Course-of-Study Requirement
During the following situations, F-1 students are considered to be maintaining status even if they are not registered for a full course of study.
- Vacation. According to 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iii), an F-1 student is considered to be “in status” during annual vacations (i.e., summer, break, etc.) if the student is eligible and intends to register for the next term.
- Medical problem. A student who is compelled by illness or medical conditions to interrupt or reduce a full course of study is considered to be in status pursuant to 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv) if he/she can establish that a full course of study will be resumed after treatment. SIS will secure from the student a statement from the Healthcare Practitioner (M.D.) requiring or recommending the interruption or reduction of credits in studies.
- Graduate students. Graduate students who have completed formal coursework but are preparing for comprehensive examinations, preparing a thesis or on dissertation phases, or are engaged in research may be registered to maintain matriculation and thus fulfill requirements to remain in status.
- Valid academic reasons. These are initially determined by the department and then authorized by the Registrar, who in turn informs SIS of the reason. Reasons may include one of the following: initial difficulties with the English language or reading requirements, unfamiliarity with American teaching methods, or improper course level placement. Students are required to turn in a form to Student Immigration Services before dropping their full-time credits. SIS will then update their status in SEVIS about dropping below full course of studies.
- Graduates and undergraduates completing programs during the current term: An undergraduate student who needs fewer than 12 units to complete his/her program of study is considered to be pursuing a full course of study, and likewise, graduate students with less than 9 units to complete their program. Students are advised to meet with SIS to turn in a form to establish that they are graduating in the semester.
- Practical Training. A student on authorized practical training following completion of studies is considered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be pursuing a full course of study. Students doing post completion practical training are not allowed to study but to engage in the employment for the practical training.
Failing to Maintain Status & Reinstatement
A student may fail to maintain status for reasons such as dropping below full-time enrollment without prior approval from SIS, failure to make normal progress in the program, failure to apply for a timely transfer, not extending the I-20 before expiration, engaging in unauthorized employment and so on.
Consequences of Failing to Maintain Status
Students who fail to maintain status lose the privileges of their student visa. Their SEVIS record will be terminated, causing extreme hardship to them. They cannot continue their study in the US unless they apply for reinstatement with the USCIS for approval to regain status.
Can a student who is “out of status” regain status?
A student who has failed to maintain status may be reinstated to lawful F-1 status at the discretion of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but only under the limited conditions specified in 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(16).
Conditions of Approval for Reinstatement
The student has not been out of status for more than 5 months prior to filing for reinstatement (unless he/she can show that there were exceptional circumstances that prevented the student from filing during the 5-month period).
- The student does not have a record of repeated violations.
- The student is pursuing, or will in the next available term be 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 violation for which reinstatement is being requested.
- The status violation resulted from either:
- circumstances beyond the student’s control
- failure to apply for an extension of program before the expiration date on the current I-20
- engaging in unauthorized employment and so on
Procedures for Reinstatement
F-1 students who have lost their legal status can apply for reinstatement at the USCIS by mailing the applications for reinstatement. Contact SIS for details.
The student should establish convincingly to the USCIS that the violation of status has resulted from circumstances beyond the student’s control.
If the reinstatement application is approved, the adjudicating officer updates the student’s SEVIS record to indicate that reinstatement is approved. The student should then meet with SIS to have his/her registration dates updated in SEVIS.
If the reinstatement application is denied, the denial cannot be appealed and the student must leave the US at once with no grace period.
Consequences of Being Denied
- The visa which the student used to enter the US is automatically voided.
- The student is permanently limited to applying for non-immigrant visas in the future only in his/her country of citizenship.
- The student will begin accumulating days of “unlawful presence.” If the student remains in the United States after the denial for over 180 days, he/she will be barred from returning to the United States for three years. If the student remains for one year or more, he/she will be barred from returning the United States for ten years.
- Status violations can have an adverse impact on future eligibility for immigration benefits such as adjustment of status.
Concurrent enrollment refers to attendance at another institution other than Biola University. You may enroll in courses at other schools during the academic year, but you must be enrolled in a full-time course load at Biola concurrently, unless Biola is not in session at that time, i.e., during summer. The student needs a letter of approval from SIS stating that the student holds full-time status with Biola and is only interested in enrolling at the other institution for a particular course or summer school, and intends to continue his/her full-time studies at Biola. The student must also receive approval to enroll in a class at the other institution and verify that the intended course(s) is considered as a transferable course to Biola and will be applied towards the student’s program.
A student is required to apply for an extension of program of study if he/she does not complete an educational program within the time specified on his/her initial Form I-20. Acceptable academic delays include:
- Change in major field of study
- Change in research topic
- Unexpected research problems
- Lost credits upon transfer to school
- Insufficient time for average student to complete studies in the particular program.
For academic delays, it is advisable to have documentation from the academic adviser confirming the reason and the expected date of completion. Delays caused by medical reasons require documentation from a physician. Delays caused by academic probation or suspensions are not acceptable reasons for program extensions. If the student changes degree levels within Biola University, a new I-20 is issued by the Admissions and a length of period needed to complete the new program are given. Students must apply for a program extension well before the completion date on the I-20. Otherwise, the student will be considered out of status and will need to apply for reinstatement. For further details regarding program extension, contact SIS.
Reporting All Changes
Any change in major must be reported to within the first two weeks of the semester to the Registrar’s Office, as well as SIS. This is a requirement of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
F-2 spouses may not engage in full-time study, but only in part time study that is any number of
credits less than full-time study. The department of Homeland Security had amended its regulations in May 2015 to include this part time provision of study to F-2 dependents. If they want to study full-time, then they need to apply and get approval for change of status to F-1. They may also choose to do avocational or recreational, which means a study undertaken for a hobby or if the study is that of an occasional, casual or recreational nature.
- F-2 children may only engage in full-time study in grades K-12. If an F-2 wishes to engage in full-time study in higher education in a college or university, he/she must change his/her status to F-1. Otherwise they can engage in part time until they reach the age of 21.
- F-2 dependents are not permitted to work or engage in business in the United States under any circumstances.
- Dependents in F-2 status are permitted to stay in the United States only to the extent that the F-1student is authorized to stay. F-2 dependents maintain their status through the F-1 principal maintaining his/her status.
- Like F-1 students, F-2 dependents must have their own endorsed and valid Forms I-20, passport and visa for travel and re-entry to the United States.
Different School Name on Visa
If you have lawfully transferred schools while in the US, your visa will still specify the school for which it was initially issued. In this instance, you may travel and re-enter with an unexpired F-1 visa and Form I-20 from the new school without having the new school’s name annotated on the visa. For re-entry, a student must have a Form I-20 endorsed for travel by SIS within the preceding 5 months.
F-1 Grace Periods
- An F-1 student with an initial I-20 may be admitted up to 30 days before the program start date listed on the Form I-20. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(i).
- An F-1 student who has been granted an authorized withdrawal by the Registrar may remain in the US for up to 15 days following the withdrawal to prepare for departure from the US. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv).
- F-1 students may remain in the US for up to 60 days beyond the completion of the program of study, or the completion date of any authorized optional practical training following the completion of the studies, to prepare to depart the United States or to transfer to schools. 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv).
- If a student is moving to a new academic level at Biola after completing his/her current program, the Change of Level procedure must be initiated by the Admission DSO in SEVIS within the 60-day period following the completion of the program.
- The 60-day grace period cannot be used to reenter the United States after travel abroad.
- No employment is permitted during the 60-day grace period.
Unapproved Withdrawal or Termination
If a student fails to maintain status, withdraws from school, or otherwise terminates or interrupts his/her course of studies without first obtaining approval from the Registrar, the student is not eligible for any grace period, and will be considered under the regulations to be out of status.