How to Maintain Your Status
As an international student, it is important for you to understand that it is your responsibility to keep your F-1 status legal and valid throughout the duration of your studies in the United States. This is called "maintaining status." Here is a list of some of the ways to make sure you maintain your status:
Pursue a full course of study at Saint Joseph’s University, which usually means always carrying at least 12 credits for undergraduates or at least 9 credits for graduate students in the Fall and Spring semesters. You must get Reduced Course Load permission in advance to be enrolled less than full time and can only do so under very limited circumstances. Do not take more than one online course as part of your full-time load. In your last semester, your last course cannot be online, it MUST be in person.
Limit on-campus employment to a maximum of 20 hours per week when school is in session.
Do not work off-campus without prior written authorization from ISS.
Notify ISS of a change in your local address within 10 days of moving so we can update your SEVIS record.
Apply for a new I-20 before changing your academic program from one degree level to another or from one major to another.
Maintain a passport valid at least 6 months into the future.
File U.S. tax forms for each year you are present in the U.S, even if you have had no U.S. income.
Apply for an Extension, before your I-20 expires, if the Program End Date is insufficient to complete your degree.
Possess proof of health and accident insurance which includes a medical evacuation and repatriation benefit.
Continue to make adequate academic progress each semester.
Do one of the following within 60 days of completing your academic program or your post-completion optional practical training:
Leave the United States.
Gain admission to another academic program and transfer your immigration status with the intention of enrolling in the next available term.
Apply for a change of status to another nonimmigrant status
An F-1 student is considered to be “out of status” when, intentionally or not, that student has violated the regulations governing the student's status. Once a student is out of status, he or she loses F-1 benefits, including all types of work permission.
Reduced Course Load
Since the reason you are in the U.S. is to study, there are very few exceptions to the full-time course load rule. Those exceptions include academic difficulty, medical condition and completion of study, and there are strict criteria for each. In every instance, you must obtain PRIOR authorization from ISS before withdrawing from any classes. An F-1 student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of ISS will be considered out of status and must be reported in SEVIS as having dropped below a full-time course load without authorization.
A student must first obtain permission from ISS before dropping below a full-time course load for academic reasons, which are limited to the three choices listed below. Even with an approved Reduced Course Load, a student must still be registered for at least six credits.
Federal immigration regulations define academic difficulty as:
Initial difficulty with English Language or reading requirements
Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods
Improper course placement
The student must resume a full course of study in the next available semester in order to maintain student status. A student previously authorized to drop below a full course of study due to academic difficulties will NOT be eligible for a second authorization due to academic difficulties while pursuing a course of study at that program level.
ISS may authorize a Reduced Course Load (or if necessary, no course load) due to a student’s temporary illness or medical condition for a period of time not to exceed an aggregate of 12 months while the student is pursuing a course of study at a particular program level. A student must provide current medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor or licensed clinical psychologist in the U.S. for ISS to substantiate the illness or medical condition.
Completion of Course of Study
ISS may authorize a Reduced Course Load if the student is in his or her final semester and if less than a full course load is needed to complete the degree.
Employment for International Students
The U.S. has very strict rules regarding the ability of foreign nationals to work in the country. Working without the appropriate authorization is considered illegal employment. Immigration regulations require that all unauthorized employment be reported, so it is essential for international students to understand how employment rules pertain to them.
International students in valid F-1 status may work on-campus at the school which they are authorized to attend for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and full-time (more than 20 hours per week) in the summer and winter breaks. If a student works for more than one on-campus employer, the total number of hours worked from all jobs cannot exceed 20 hours per week. For example, a Graduate Assistantship is usually a 20 hour/week position, and therefore a student with a GA would not be entitled to work another on-campus job. The on-campus job cannot be a “work-study” position because those are only available to domestic students with financial aid.
There is no waiting period before you are allowed to accept an on-campus job and for F-1 students there is no immigration paperwork required. All employed students will need to complete an I-9 form with the Human Resources Office and apply for a social security number if they don’t have one.
A student may not engage in on-campus employment past the end of one semester if he/she will not be registering at Saint Joseph’s for the next semester. This includes a student who has completed their studies as well as a student who has transferred their SEVIS record to another school. A student is also not eligible to engage in on-campus employment while on a medical or academic leave of absence or reduced course load.
Students in valid F-1 status may obtain off-campus work permission in certain circumstances. You can only be employed off-campus by meeting eligibility requirements and obtaining written authorization first. ALWAYS speak with an advisor at ISS before starting off-campus employment.
Curricular Practical Training
Curricular practical training is work permission for students with fieldwork requirements or internship electives built into the curriculum of their programs.
You must have authorization from ISS before you begin a paid or unpaid internship or any other form of curricular practical training. Therefore employment cannot begin until you receive a new I-20 with the curricular practical training endorsement.
To be eligible for CPT students must be lawfully enrolled in school on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year. There is no application fee for curricular practical training; however, students must enroll in the appropriate course and receive credit for the work experience.
The following three items are needed to process an application for curricular practical training:
A job offer letter from your employer on their official letterhead: The letter needs to include the starting and ending dates of the placement, the number of hours per week of employment, and a brief description of duties to be performed.
A letter or email from your Program Director or Academic Advisor recommending curricular practical training.
A copy of the registration for the appropriate CPT course.
Not all F-1 students are eligible for CPT because not all departments offer academic credit for internships or work experience.
CPT is job-specific. Therefore, a new application is required if there is a change of employer or if the employment is to be continued beyond the current ending date. An updated offer letter and a new course registration are required.
Optional Practical Training
Optional practical training is a benefit of F-1 status and entitles students to work permission in their field of study before or following completion of studies. OPT gives students an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work environment. Students must be lawfully enrolled in school on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year to be eligible for practical training.
F-1 students are entitled to 12 months of optional practical training work permission for each degree completed at a higher educational level. Students, with the assistance of ISS, must submit an application for OPT to the USCIS Immigration Service Center in order to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). An offer of employment is NOT required to apply for OPT; however, you may not start working until you receive the EAD.
Students will be given a checklist and complete mailing instructions during their OPT appointment at the Office of International Students and Scholars. It can take months for the EAD card to be processed by the Immigration Service Center; therefore, you should apply 90 days before your completion date.
Students pursuing degrees in certain majors (in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) may be eligible to apply for a 24-month OPT extension. You can check with ISS to see if your major qualifies as a STEM major. Students with a STEM-approved major must be working in a job related to their field of study, and their employer must be e-verified in order to be eligible to apply for the extension. Students can apply for the STEM extension starting three months before their OPT work permission expires.
Traveling as an International Student
The procedures for travel and successful re-entry into the U.S. will vary depending on your current status, visa validity, your country of citizenship and your destination.
Required Travel Documents
The following documents are required for travel and re-entry to the U.S. It is also advisable to carry these items whenever you are traveling within the U.S. outside of the immediate Philadelphia area.
An unexpired passport valid at least six months into the future.
An unexpired I-20 or DS-2019 with a travel signature from an advisor at ISS that is less than six months old.
An unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa stamp valid for further entries into the United States.
Additional Things to Keep in Mind
After each entry to the U.S., print your I-94 form. The form should indicate the date of entry and grant you F-1 or J-1 status for “duration of status” (D/S). If your I-94 indicates anything other than F-1 or J-1 D/S, contact an ISS advisor immediately.
F-1 students returning to the U.S. after an absence of more than five months must obtain a new I-20 prior to re-entry. Contact an ISS advisor if this applies to you.
Traveling outside of the U.S. after graduation is not possible. If you are an F-1 student, you are given a 60-day grace period after completing your degree. This period of time is meant for you to make plans to leave the U.S. You can travel within the U.S., but if you leave you may not return as an F-1 student.
Depending on where you are traveling you may need a visa to enter that country. You should check with the consulate for the country you plan to visit to find out what is required.
If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands of the Caribbean, you do not need a valid F-1 visa and you do not need to obtain a new visa stamp to reenter the United States. This provision is called Automatic Revalidation – you should speak with an advisor at ISS to determine if you are eligible.
Be sure to meet with an ISS advisor if:
Your I-20 or DS-2019 has or is about to expire or if any information on the form has changed (such as your name, major, or degree level).
You need to pay the SEVIS fee. A student who has previously been enrolled would only need to pay the SEVIS fee under the following conditions:
When outside the U.S. for over five months
When you have violated the terms of your F-1 status and will travel with an “initial attendance” I-20 in order to regain F-1 status