MAINTAINING IMMIGRATION STATUS

The following section of the International Student Programs and Services (ISPS) website will help F-1 students, staff/faculty, and the community understands the basic requirements for maintaining a U.S. F-1 Student Visa. If you are an international student it is your responsibility to follow these requirements and ensure that you remain in good legal status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


 

How to Maintain Status

This is an overview and does not constitute an all-encompassing advisement of F-1 status compliance. For more detailed information visit www.uscis.gov, http://travel.state.gov, and https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov.

  1. Check in with ISPS within 30 days of program start date listed on I-20
     
  2. Report Address Changes to ISPS within 10 days
    • Note: Remember to also change your address on your ECU student record using the myECU Portal
       
  3. Valid Passport. Your passport should be valid for a minimum of six months into the future. Passports can be renewed by your consulate.
     
  4. Maintain Full-time Enrollment
    • Undergraduates - Must be registered in a minimum of 12 credit hours/Fall and Spring semester and maintain “satisfactory academic progress” (GPA).
    • Graduates - Must be registered in a minimum of 9 credit hours/Fall and Spring semester and maintain “satisfactory academic progress” (GPA).
    • Full-time enrollment is required in the Summer Semester only if you are a new student, beginning a new program of study or a transferring student beginning studies at ECU
      • Summer full-time enrollment is at least 6 credit hours
    • Note: There are some exceptions to the full-time study rule. However, you must obtain special permission from ISPS prior to reducing your course load. See Course Load Reduction section below.
  5. Apply for I-20 extension prior to end date listed on your I-20. Contact ISPS to request an extension.
     
  6. Changes to Academic Program
    • Notify ISPS when changing majors.
    • Notify ISPS when changing degree levels at ECU within 60 days of program end date. Submit letter of admission to new program and evidence of funding to support tuition and living expenses for first academic year of the new program.
       
  7. Notify ISPS when transferring to another F-1 school within 60 days of ECU program end date.
     
  8. Off-campus employment requires special permission. See under Employment webpage or contact ISPS to learn more about employment rules.
     
  9. Timely Departure or Change Status - F-1 students have a 60 day grace period for departure following the end date of their program as noted on the  I-20 or approved OPT period.  If changing to a different immigration status, such as Legal Permanent Resident, file for the change of status prior to the end of your program or OPT end date.  If you are authorized to withdraw or take a leave of absence from your program, notify ISPS prior to the effective date of the withdrawal or leave.
     
  10. Online Courses - To provide our students with a flexible schedule, some of ECU’s degree programs are offer courses online. While you may enroll in an online-only course, there are certain provisions that must be adhered to in order to maintain your status.
    Students may enroll in a maximum of one online course (weighted 3 credit hours) to satisfy their full-course load requirement. That being said, more than one online course may be taken if total enrollment exceeds the required full-course load.
    • Undergraduates: This means that an undergraduate student must be enrolled in at least 9 credits of physical courses, and the other 3 (or more) credits can be taken online if they choose.
    • Graduates: This means that a graduate student must be enrolled in at least 6 credits of physical courses, and the other 3 (or more) credits can be taken online if they choose.
    • Note: F-1 students are not required to be enrolled full-time in their final semester.
    • Scenario 1: F-1 visa holders are not permitted to pursue the Master’s in Sports Administration program as they could not satisfy the aforementioned criteria each semester. This is because the Sports Administration program is an all online program.
    • Scenario 2: F-1 students can pursue our MSHR program, but are cautioned in doing so. Many of the MSHR courses are online only. Therefore, a student and their academic advisor would need to carefully plan their degree path, so that the aforementioned online course regulation is adhered to. 
    • Scenario 3: DO NOT plan to take only online courses in your final semester! Should you end up in that situation, you will have only two options to complete your degree:
      • Option 1: You can enroll in a random physical course in addition to the online-only courses that remain in your final semester. Even if the random physical course is not required to complete your degree, it would be required to establish your physical presence in the U.S. Therefore, it is required to maintain your F-1 status. By maintaining your status, you would still be allowed to apply OPT.
        Or
      • Option 2: You can exit the U.S. to complete your online only courses. This means you are no longer in F-1 status; and therefore, not permitted to apply for/re-enter the U.S. for OPT.


Failure to comply with ECU policies and immigration regulations may result in loss of immigration status, and severe consequences, including deportation and re-entry bans of 3-10 years.

Some helpful tips for maintaining legal status:

  • Be aware of your status expiration date. This is not your visa expiration date; it is the program end date listed on your I-20.
  • Do not accept unauthorized employment.
  • If offered admission from another college or university, discuss your transfer plans with ISPS to make sure that the required transfer procedure can be accomplished.
  • Keep your passport valid. Passports can be renewed by your nearest consulate in the U.S.

 

Get to Know Your F-1 Documents

Every full-time, degree-seeking, non-immigrant international student to ECU is eligible for the F-1 visa and the vast majority of ECU’s international students hold the F-1 visa status.

U.S. Visa
What is referred to as a U.S. visa stamp is actually a sticker issued in the visitor’s passport by a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States? The visa indicates that the visitor is eligible for entry and re-entry to the United States in a specific immigration category (F-1, J-1, etc.) The validity length of the visa varies greatly based on geopolitical agreements between the U.S. and other countries. To look up how long a specific visa might be issued for please review the U.S. State Department Reciprocity by Country site. Most visas allow for multiple entries.

Form I-20 (Visa Document)
Immigration status is your legal permission to remain in the U.S. under specific conditions as defined by a visa document. For example, an F-1 student would have a Form I-20 and a J-1 scholar would have a Form DS-2019 as their visa document. In most cases, the visa document will be issued for a longer period than the visa stamp discussed above. For international travel, both the visa document and the visa stamp must be valid.

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
Whenever you enter or re-enter the U.S. there will be a slightly different procedure for the I-94 Arrival/Departure Record issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP.) Instead of being issued the traditional white card stapled into the passport, the CBP officers will enter the I-94 data into an online registration system using your passport and visa stamp. It is important to print your I-94 number as soon as possible after entering the U.S. and confirm that the data (name, visa type, etc…) is accurate.

 

Course Load Reduction

There are some exceptions to the full-time study rule. The exceptions are commonly referred to as a Reduced Course Load (RCL). You must obtain special permission from ISPS prior to reducing your course load.

RCL Academic Exception
If a student encounters academic difficulties due to initial English language difficulties or reading requirements, unfamiliarity with US teaching methods, or improper course level placement they may seek an RCL exception.

  1. To reduce your course load based on an academic exception you must have prior approval from your program advisor and from ISPS.
  2. Complete the Reduced Course Load-Academic Exception Request form with an approval signature by your Academic Advisor.
  3. Submit signed Reduced Course Load Request form back to ISPS.

Terms of RCL for Academic Exception: 

  • This benefit can only be approved for a single semester, typically in the first semester, during any one course of study.
  • The student must resume a full course of study in the next available term, excluding summer.  
  • The student must meet ECU’s registration minimum and/or stay registered at least halftime. 

RCL Final Semester
In your final semester prior to program completion, you are not required to be enrolled full-time. ISPS judges this time period based on the program end date listed on your SEVIS record. Therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure that your current visa document reflects the accurate date of program completion. NOTE: The date of your program completion correlates with the day of course completion, not the date of your commencement ceremony.

RCL for an Illness or Medical Condition
This exception applies if a student has a temporary illness or medical condition that prevents full-time enrollment and interferes with full-time study. A student is eligible for no more than an aggregate of 12 months a particular program level. Prior approval is required.

 

Program Extension

F-1 students who do not complete their program of study by the expiration date noted on the I-20 form must apply for a program extension before the I-20 expiration date. Failure to extend your stay could jeopardize your legal status and, if deemed eligible, may result in filing an application with the USCIS for reinstatement to active status. This process requires a $290 filing fee to USCIS and is not guaranteed approval.

NOTE: The extension procedure will extend your I-20 but not your visa stamp. If you have an expired visa stamp in your passport, you are permitted to remain in the US. with a valid I-20. Do not exit the US simply to renew your I-20. However, the next time you travel out of the US and intend to re-enter, you will need to apply for a new visa stamp at a US Consulate prior to your return to the US.

 

SEVIS Transfer

If you are in lawful F-1 status and are completing or leaving your current program with confirmed arrangements to continue your studies in the U.S. at a different institution, you must complete the F-1 transfer request process. The transfer procedure is initiated by you and is only complete once your new school has received your SEVIS record and issued your new I-20.

F-1 Transfer Eligibility

  • Student must be maintaining legal F-1 status.
  • Must notify ECU of intention to transfer no later than 60 days after program or OPT completion.
  • New program start date must be for the next available academic term or within 5 months of the current program or OPT end date, whichever is earlier.
  • Note: Students transferring their SEVIS record while on OPT will lose their OPT authorization upon the release of the SEVIS record. If you do not want to lose your OPT authorization, then we suggest that you request your SEVIS release date to be one day after your OPT ends so long as it does not interfere with the program start date at your new school.

F-1 Transfer students who have made a commitment to attend another institution must notify ISPS of their intention to transfer no later than 60 days after program or OPT completion.

  1. Complete ECU’s Transfer Out Request Form and make sure to accurately list your requested SEVIS record release date.
  2. Provide a copy of your acceptance letter from the new school.
  3. Obtain any transfer-in forms from your new school, fill it out your portion, and forward it to ISPS from completion. If there is no transfer-in form from your new school, the copy of the acceptance letter will suffice when you notify ISPS.
  4. Your SEVIS record will be electronically released to your new school on the mutually agreed upon date of release.

F-1 Transfer Pending Travel or Summer in the US

  • F-1 transfer students are eligible to remain in the US in the summer between two programs
  • F-1 transfer students may travel outside the US during the transfer pending period. If your current F-1 visa is valid, it can be used for new entry to the US prior to the start of your new program. If your current F-1 visa is expired, you must apply for a new F-1 visa prior to returning to the US, using the I-20 with a travel signature authorization from your new school

F-1 Transfer Completion

  • Student must check in at new institution within 15 days of the SEVIS record release date
  • Upon receiving your SEVIS record, your new school will update your SEVIS record and issue you a new I-20

 

Leave of Absence

If you are considering a leave of absence, you must consult with ISPS before making your final decision. In most instances, an F-1 student may not remain in the U.S. in F-1 during a leave of absence. You will either have to depart the U.S. or make arrangements to hold another non-immigrant status.

 

Reinstatement

A student who has failed to maintain F-1 student status and who wishes to return to or transfer to ECU, must apply for and be granted reinstatement to active F-1 status by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Maintaining F-1 student status means that you have been a full-time student and have not overstayed the authorized period of stay as identified on your I-20 form.

If you have taken less than a full course of study, failed to extend your I-20, did not complete the F-1 transfer reporting procedure, you are likely out of status and must apply for reinstatement before you can be granted any additional benefits from the USCIS (e.g. authorization to accept practical training). A student who has worked without authorization is also out of status and is NOT eligible for reinstatement. If you think that you may be out of status, please consult with ISPS immediately. The longer you wait to address the problem the more difficult it can become, and the less likely you will receive a reinstatement recommendation from ISPS and/or approval by USCIS.