How to Stay in Legal F-1 Visa Status
As an F-1 status student admitted to the United States, you are required to meet obligations set by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The general obligations are as follows:
Have a valid passport at all times.
Attend the school you are authorized to attend on your I-20.
Continue to carry a full course of study. A full course of study is to complete 12 units per semester, fall and spring.
Leave the U.S. by the anticipated completion date on your I-20, or, prior to that date, apply for a program extension.
Limit employment, both on campus and off, to a total of 20 hours per week while school is in session.
Refrain from off-campus employment without written authorization from USCIS or the school.
Report a change of residence within 10 days of the change.
An F-1 status student may not take more than one online class per semester.
Allowable Deviations from Full Course of Study Requirement
A valid medical excuse. A student who is compelled by temporary illness or other medical conditions to interrupt or reduce a full course of study is considered to be in status during the illness or other medical condition. A medical excuse must be prepared by the SMC Health Center and then presented to the International Education Center for consideration. If approved, the student will receive confirmation from the IEC. A student is allowed a maximum of two semesters below 12.0 units for a medical reason.
Vacation. An F-1 visa student is considered in status during the summer and winter sessions. Students are not required to attend the summer and winter sessions unless they have been initially admitted for a summer or winter session.
Valid academic reasons for enrolling less than full-time. A student who is having academic difficulty should meet with a counselor at the International Counseling Office to discuss permission to drop below 12.0 units. In special circumstances, students may be allowed to drop below 12.0 units for an academic reason. A student must receive prior permission from the International Counseling Office before dropping a class. A student is allowed a maximum of one semester below 12.0 units for academic difficulty.
Undergraduates completing programs during the course term. An F-1 status student who needs fewer than 12 units to complete his or her program of study is considered to be pursuing a full course of study if the student enrolls in the number of credit hours necessary to complete the program in the final term. A student must seek permission from a counselor to take less than 12 units based on the last semester.
Post-completion practical training. A student on practical training following completion of studies is considered by USCIS to be pursuing a full course of study.
Concurrent enrollment. An F-1 status student may enroll concurrently at another USCIS approved college provided that through the combined enrollment, the student is enrolled in the equivalent of a full course of study. The student must obtain permission from the SMC counselor prior to enrolling at any other institution. It will be at the discretion of Santa Monica College to determine if concurrent enrollment at another college is necessary. Generally, approval is only granted if the course needed to meet the student's academic goal is not offered at SMC during the semester in question. The student must take the majority of their classes at Santa Monica College, a minimum of 8.0 units at SMC and a maximum of 6.0 units at the other institution.
Consequences of Being Out-of-Status
No verification letter stating you are in full-time status.
No employment on-campus or off-campus.
You may become ineligible for practical training.
You may have difficulty obtaining a renewal of your F-1 visa at the American Embassy or Consulate.
You may be barred from re-entering the U.S.
You may become ineligible to transfer to another university.
You risk possible deportation from the United States.
You might be denied an extension of stay or reinstatement from the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service.
How to Regain Legal F-1 Visa Status
If you fall out-of-status while attending the college, you may reinstate your F-1 status in the following ways:
A formal reinstatement request may be submitted to the USCIS requesting that the deviation from full-time status be approved. A student who has dropped below 12.0 units without permission will be terminated in the SEVIS system. In order to reinstate the SEVIS record to "active" status, an application for reinstatement must be made. The student should meet with the Immigration Specialist to discuss the reinstatement procedures. In most cases, a student who is in good academic standing and has maintained a full-time status in previous semesters will be able to obtain the reinstatement. Once reinstated, the student will be eligible for benefits such as practical training and off-campus work permit.
Note: Students who have been reinstated may find that the USCIS may cancel their F-1 visa stamp without prejudice. If the visa has been canceled, students traveling outside of the United States will need to obtain a new F-1 visa stamp in order to re-enter the U.S.
An F-1 status student may travel outside of the United States with a new I-20 marked “initial attendance”. Upon re-entering the U.S., the student should present the I-20 to the Immigration Officer at the Port-of-Entry. The Immigration Officer will stamp the new I-20. The student is considered reinstated as of the date of the stamp. The student will need to re-establish the 9-month eligibility for an off-campus work permit or practical training benefits. A copy of the new I-20 and I-94 should be presented to the International Education Center to be placed in the student file. Please note: Students who need a new F-1 visa may have difficulty obtaining a renewal of the F-1 visa stamp. In addition, students who reinstate through travel may experience significant delays at the port of entry whenever they travel to the U.S. in the future.
If you fall out-of-status during the semester, we recommend you see a counselor immediately to discuss your status. Santa Monica College offers many short-term classes during a semester. You may be able to take a short-term class and regain your full-time status.