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Maintaining F-1 & M-1 Legal Status
Students who come to the U.S. are granted nonimmigrant classifications known as "F-1" or "M-1." This is commonly referred to as your "status." A spouse or child under the age of 21 who comes to the United States to be with an F-1 or M-1 student is a "dependent" and is given F-2 or M-2 status. This status is valid as long as the F-1 or M-1 student maintains valid status.
In order to remain legally present in the United States, you must "maintain" your status; that is you must follow the rules that apply to your status. It is your legal responsibility to understand and follow these rules. The most important rules for F-1s and M-1s are:
Requirements for Maintaining Legal Status
The most important things to remember to keep you in status with USCIS regulations are as follows:
- Your passport must be valid at all times. Do not let your passport expire!
- You must attend the school that issued your SEVIS I-20
- You must carry and complete a full course of study (minimum of 12 credits) every Fall and Spring semester. Summer sessions are optional.
- Do not enroll for more than ONE online/internet course (or 3 credits) per semester
- SEVIS I-20 must not be expired
- Engage ONLY in authorized employment and do not work for more than 20 hours a week while school is in session
- Apply for a program extension BEFORE your I-20 expires
- Inform IEP of your current U.S. address within 10 days of any relocation move
- Notify IEP by letter if you intend to discontinue enrollment at CGCC
- Notify the IEP Office if you intend to cancel your enrollment or will graduate and return home prior to completion of your program listed on the I-20
- Depart the U.S. within the 60-day period following completion of your program, or depart the U.S. within 15 days if you terminate your program in the middle of a semester or regular session or fallout of status.
- Disclose fully and truthfully all information requested by USCIS
- Obey all federal and state laws that prohibit the commission of crimes of violence
KEEP YOUR IMMIGRATION DOCUMENTS SAFE AND DO NOT LET YOUR IMMIGRATION PAPERS EXPIRE!
It is extremely important to keep the following original documents in a safe place. You will need them in the future in order to identify yourself, apply for employment authorization, prove your status, and maintain a record of your status throughout your stay in the United States.
F-1 students are responsible for maintaining their legal status while studying in the U.S. Consequences for an F-1 student who fails to maintain legal status can be serious. Students who are out of legal status are ineligible for school transfer, travel endorsement, employment, OPT, program extension, change to another status, as well as ineligibility of other benefits. Out-of-status students must either apply for reinstatement or leave the U.S. and reenter with an initial SEVIS I-20. (see Out-of Status on page 10).
FULL COURSE OF STUDY REQUIREMENT
Immigration regulations require that all international students with F-1 and M-1 visas register for a minimum number of credits each semester to maintain their student status in the United States. They also require that CGCC verify that its international students are registered for a full course of study.
Minimum credit levels for Undergraduate students: (including transfer undergraduate students and non-degree undergraduate students) is 12 credits.
Taking Less than a Full Course of Study
In some circumstances, students may request permission to take less than a full course of study during an academic term. However, you must have prior approval from IEP before registering for less than a full course of study or dropping below a full course of study. Immigration regulations allow only a few reasons for a reduced course load. If you fall below full-time status during a term for any reason that is not recognized in the regulations, you will lose your legal status in the United States. This is the most common way students lose their legal status! Meet with a staff person at IEP to receive prior approval before you finalize your plans to register for less than a full course or to withdraw from a class.
Reduced Course Load (RCL)
If you plan to register for less than a full course of study, or cancel a course and drop below the full course load during the term, you must submit a Reduced Course Load (RCL) Form to IEP. The Reduced Course Load Form lists acceptable reasons for a reduced course load.
Reasons that are NOT Acceptable for a Reduced Course Load:
- I don't have enough money
- I'm too busy finishing incomplete classes from last semester
- I'm too busy with employment
- I'm too busy with extracurricular (or non-academic) activities
- I'm pregnant
- I'm suspended from my college, and cannot register. (Always consult your academic adviser and an IEP staff person in such cases.)
Where to Get the Reduced Course Load Form
You can pick up a RCL form from the SC building. The forms are located in the magazine/document rack to the right-hand side as you enter into SC 164. You can also email a request to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send it to you electronically.
Where to Get Forms Signed
Get a RCL form and take it with you to meet with your academic adviser before dropping below a full course of study. Your academic advisor must sign the RCL form, and may require a letter of explanation from the academic adviser. You must then submit the signed form to an international student adviser at the International Education Program (IEP) office for the final signature.
Why You Need to Save a Copy of Your Reduced Course Load Approval Form
It is important to keep copies of your signed Reduced Course Load Forms. You may be required to present them to a U.S. consular or immigration official in the future if you request a new visa stamp, file for a change of visa status, apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or request an adjustment of status to permanent residence.
F-2s are no longer allowed to study fulltime. F-2s can only enroll for recreational or vocational courses. Limited to 6 credits per semester.
ONLINE / INTERNET COURSES
F-1 Visa students can enroll in ONE online or internet course or 3 credits per semester as part of the 12 credit hour requirement.
HEALTH INSURANCE REQUIREMENT
Chandler-Gilbert Community College requires all international students enroll in the Maricopa Community College International Student Health Insurance Plan with Renaissance Agencies, Inc. The health insurance is made in 2 annual payments divided by Fall (5 months) and Spring/Summer (7 months). To be considered in legal status, you need to have your insurance cost paid or enrolled in the eCashier payment plan.
OUT-OF-STATUS - LOSING YOUR LEGAL STATUS
If you fail to follow the above guidelines you and your dependents will lose legal status and all related benefits. This is very serious and you want to avoid this situation at all possible. It means that you will not be eligible to enroll for classes for the following semester, apply for any employment, even on-campus jobs and you will not be able to receive a reentry signature on your I-20 for travel. Further, your SEVIS record (and those of your dependents) will be terminated and SEVIS will automatically notify the immigration services of your loss of legal status. You may be asked to appear at an immigration office and become subject to deportation from the U.S.
If you lose your legal status, you must meet with some in the International Education Program office immediately to discuss your options.
REGAINING YOUR LEGAL STATUS
Failure to maintain status can happen by either dropping under 12 credit hours, working off campus illegally or not beginning classes by the date indicated on the I-20. You cannot regain your legal status without new documents. There are two options to regain your legal status: filing an application for reinstatement with USCIS or (under certain circumstances) reentering the U.S. on an initial attendance document. Both methods carry risks and success cannot be guaranteed.
OPTION I - REINSTATEMENT BY RE-ENTRY INTO THE U.S.
This is done by departing the U.S. and re-entering with a new "Initial Attendance" I-20. You may also need to apply for a new entry visa before your return. You are at an increased risk for denial of your visa and re-entry if embassy or immigration officials find you have violated your legal status. In addition, your eligibility for practical training work authorization is affected when you regain your status through re-entry. You will need to complete submit a new "Evidence of Financial Support" form along with new bank letter.
OPTION II - REINSTATEMENT WITH THE U.S.C.I.S INSIDE THE UNITED STATES
This is done from within the United States by mailing an application with supporting documents to the immigration service. Remember, while your reinstatement request is being processed (in pending status), you cannot:
- Legally work on-campus or off-campus while in the U.S.
- Cannot relocate to a new residency - mail from USCIS is not forwarded
Also, any reinstatement may result in a greater risk that future visa applications may be denied. Also, if you leave the United States while your application is pending, your application will be canceled. If you have been out-of-status for longer than 5 months, you are ineligible for reinstatement. CGCC is required to report to USCIS within 21 days when a student drops below 12 credits. Make an appointment with an IEP staff to determine eligibility for reinstatement. If you qualify, please complete the Reinstatement Process for Option II.
PROCEDURES TO APPLY FOR REINSTATEMENT TO F-1 STUDENT STATUS
Submit the following documents to the International Education Program Office:
- Write a letter to USCIS explaining the reason(s) you have fallen out-of-status. Include in the letter the follow: (a) Specify the violation, (b) the reasons for the status violation; (c) the effect on failure to receive reinstatement; (d) a statement that you are currently pursuing or are intending to pursue a full course of study; and (e) specifically request that USCIS reinstate you to F-1 status
- Submit (1) a new Evidence of Financial Support form and (2) a new financial guarantee letter
- Unofficial transcripts from the college
- Original I-94 Arrival/Departure card (small white card in your passport)
- Copy of the identification page in your passport
- Copy of the most current F-1 visa in your passport
- Copies of all prior I-20s
- A copy of your SEVIS fee payment receipt
- Complete an I-539 form. Pick up it up from the SC 164 office lobby rack or print from USCIS website. Write in Part 2, item 1c "reinstatement to F-1 status"
- A check payable to "Department of Homeland Security" for $300.00
- Bring all the documents to be copied and reviewed by IEP office staff
- Send the following documents to U.S.C.I.S. for reinstatement:
- form I-539 completed
- new SEVIS I-20 ID form for reinstatement
- copy of financial documentation
- your reinstatement letter
- your original I-94
- photocopies of all previous I-20s
- photocopies of visa page and passport (picture, number, expiration date)
- cashier check or money order for $300 payable to "Department of Homeland Security"
- your SEVIS fee payment receipt
- Mail by certified mail and request a return receipt to:
USCIS California Service Center
P.O. Box 10539
Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-1053
NOTE: Write in different color pen somewhere on the front along with address:
"Attention: Student/Schools Officer"
Attach a copy of your schedule/invoice showing tuition has been paid.
Make a cover letter on bright color paper and type in big letters "I-539 Reinstatement Application"
PROGRAM EXTENSION ON SEVIS I-20
Eligibility requirements - An F-1 student, students who has maintained lawful status (including completing a minimum of 12 credits every semester and not worked off campus illegally) and who is unable to complete his/her program of study prior to the completion date listed on the I-20, must apply for an I-20 PRIOR TO THE EXPIRATION DATE listed in item #5 of the I-20. The International Education Program office can grant a program extension to a student under two conditions:
The student has continually maintained status; and
The delays are caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major, original length of time to complete the program was not reasonable for the program, beginning in remedial courses such as ESL courses, loss of credits upon transfer to another school, or documented illnesses.
Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons. An F-1 student, who is unable to complete the educational program within the time period written on theI-20 and who is ineligible for program extension or fails to apply for a program extension prior to the completion date, is considered to be out of status.
If you qualify for an I-20 program extension, you will need the following:
- A Program of Study and Degree Check sheet. Make an appointment with your academic adviser to get these forms.
- A new "Evidence of Financial Support" and bank letter (no more than 6 months old)