Maintaining valid F-1 status

A full course of study in an Academic Program

An F-1 student must be enrolled in a full course of study, not part-time study. Also, to maintain a valid status, the F-1 holder must be enrolled in an academic program, as opposed to a vocational program of study. Enrollment in academic high schools, universities, colleges, conservatories, seminaries, or language training programs will qualify as enrollment in an academic program.

An "academic program" student can be pursuing a bachelor, master, doctor, or other graduate-level degree, or private high schools, or other non-degree studies, or can simply be engaged in post-doctoral studies.

An F-1 student at an academic institution is considered to be in status during the annual (or summer) vacation if the student is eligible and intends to register for the next term.

On-line and Distance Education Courses

The SEVIS rules states that an F-1 student in the United States may only take one course or three credits of distance education or on-line courses that count towards the full course of study. However, an F-1 student currently pursuing a full course of study may add as many distance education or on-line courses as he/she wishes, in addition to the courses counting toward the full course of study. As international students can enroll in the course without being admitted to the United States, the SEVIS rules do not prohibit such students from completing programs that are offered on-line.

English language students are unable to take any on-line or distance education courses toward the full course of study requirements.

Reduction in a Student's Course Load

With the implementation of SEVIS, the USCIS expects to have accurate, real time, information
on all students. A student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of the Designated School Official (DSO) will be considered out of status. It is the responsibility of the student to maintain a full course of study in order to remain in compliance with his or her non-immigrant status. Accordingly, the student should consult with, and receive the necessary permission from the DSO prior to performing an act that affects status.

During the course of study within one program level, an F-1 student can only be authorized on one occasion to reduce his or her course load due to academic difficulties, and must resume a full course at the start of the next available term or session, excluding a summer session. An F-1 student taking a reduced course load for academic reasons must still be taking at least one class or half the clock hours required for a full course of study.

Illness or Medical Condition

In the case of an illness or medical condition, an F-1 student may be authorized to reduce his/her course load for a period not to exceed 12 months. The DSO may also authorize a student to refrain from taking any courses due to a medical condition or illness if the severity of the condition warrants such authorization. Although a student may be authorized for up to 12 total months of a reduced course load in this case, a school official must re-authorize the reduction each term or session, and must update this authorization in SEVIS.

The 12-month limit on authorization to reduce course load for illness or medical condition is applied per each particular program level. If the student completes one program and advances to a different program level, the student will be allowed a second aggregate 12-month period in which he or she may be authorized to reduce their course load. An F-1 student who has already received authorization to reduce his/her course load for academic difficulties remains eligible for the aggregate 12-month period to reduce his/her course load due to illness or medical condition.

The USCIS cannot permit an unlimited reduction in course load, if the F-1 students suffer long-term medical conditions, chronic illnesses, or learning disabilities, which may require a longer-term reduction in course load.

Inability to Resume a Full Course of Study

A student who is unable to resume a full course of study within the time limits previously specified will either have to leave the U.S. and reapply when he or she is able to resume a full course of study, or change to a more appropriate non-immigrant classification to continue medical treatment
in the U.S. For more information about other non-immigrant status, please click here.

Maintaining Status while participating in Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an important opportunity for many F-1 students; however, it is equally important for the student to maintain their F-1 status during the duration of the training. Through the OPT, the student is eligible to work for a maximum of 12 months, or 17 months if the student is a part of a STEM program. In order to maintain status during the OPT, the student is required to report each of the following within 10 days to the designated school official:

  1.  Any change of name or personal address;

  2. The start or end of employment;

  3. Change of employer’s address; and

  4. Change of employer’s name.

Students with an OPT STEM extension must also report all of the above, plus the following:

  1. Employment status, 6 months after the extension start date, even if your information has not changed; and

  2. Employment status, 12 months after your extension start date, even if your information has not changed.

If the student fails to report this information, he/she will be in violation of their F-1 status and may jeopardize their legal status in the U.S. Furthermore, the student must maintain full-time employment while on OPT and cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during the 12 month OPT period and no more than 120 days for those granted the STEM OPT extension.


Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: 8 CFR § 214.2(f)(6) and (10)

(Updated 10/11/2012 by AD)

For more information about F-1 visas, please click on one of the following links: