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Staying in Status

Click on the topics below to learn more details about each aspect of maintaining F-1 status.

Immigration Documents

  • Passport–The legal document of identification required by law to be carried by persons residing or traveling within a country
    • This must not expire. If your passport is expiring, you will need to travel home or check with your U.S. consulate for renewing options at least 6 months in advance.
  • I-20–The legal document that allows someone to apply for a student visa for an academic purpose for an approved amount of time.
    • This must be accurate.  Ensure that any updates to your major, program end dates, or other academic information are accurate and have been approved by your International Student Adviser.
    • If you have misplaced your I-20, or have made a change that requires a new form, you can submit a request for a new one in the ISAP Portal.
  • Visa–The document issued by the U.S. embassy as a seal in a passport, which indicates that student/scholar is eligible to apply for entry to the U.S. in a specific immigration category
    • This may expire.  If you plan to depart the U.S. you will need to obtain a new visa. Your visa must be valid for re-entry to the U.S.
      • Exception: visiting Canada, Mexico, or adjacent Caribbean Island (except Cuba) for less than 30 days will allow you to re-enter the U.S. (unless it is your home country).  See the travel and visa section for more information.
  • SEVIS record–The record which maintains information about F-1 students studying in the U.S. The status in your SEVIS record reflects your visa/immigration status, i.e the legal permission to remain in the U.S. under specific conditions as defined by the F-1 document.
    • Learn about the different SEVIS statuses here.
  • I-94–The Arrival/Departure Record that shows the terms of your admission, including your legal status, length of time you may stay and expected departure date, which is issued upon your admission to the United States at a port of entry.
    • This is a record of your entry.  Ensure you have been admitted as an F-1 student for the Duration of Status (D/S).  You may print it here.
    • If you notice an error on your I-94, contact your international adviser immediately.

Update U.S. Address & Phone Number

  • Instructions for How to Update Your SEVIS-Reportable Addresses
  • Ensure that your local U.S. address is updated every semester. Visa law requires you to report your current U.S. phone number and U.S. address.
  • Provide a U.S. cell phone number, or a number where a message can be left for you in WINGS. When editing WINGS, select the “local phone” label.
  • Update your current U.S. address in your ISAP Profile and in WINGS. When editing WINGS, select the “local address” label.

Enrollment Requirements

  • Undergraduate full-time = 12 credit hours
  • Graduate full-time = 9 credit hours
  • Only ONE online course (3 credits) may count toward full-time enrollment each semester.
  • Any credits beyond the minimum full-time requirement may be online or in person (in-person is strongly encouraged).
  • Students must actively attend all scheduled classes.
  • Withdrawing from one or more courses may cause a student to drop below the minimum full-time enrollment requirements. Always speak to an international adviser before making the decision to withdrawal.
  • Summer is considered an official break. Students are not required to take any classes during the summer. (The only exception is if the Summer semester is the student’s first semester in F status.)
  • Students may count classes that take place during a minimester/term B toward their full-time enrollment. The student must have been enrolled full-time for the entire semester by the end of the semester in order to maintain status. Example: An undergraduate student may enroll in 3 courses (9 credit hours) that take place during the whole semester, and 3 courses (3 credit hours) that take place during the minimester/term B, for a total of 12 credit hours overall in that semester.
  • Regarding concurrent enrollment, in some situations students may be able to have courses taken at other SEVIS-approved institutions count toward their full-time enrollment at Georgia Southern on a limited basis. Contact an international advisor for more information.

Reduced Course Load Requests

If you need to take fewer credit hours than the minimum required because of valid reasons (listed below) and are currently holding an F-1 visa, you may request a Reduced Course Load (RCL). There are four valid reasons for an RCL:

  1. If a student is in their final semester and less than a full course load is needed to complete student’s program of study
  2. Academic Difficulty due to a) initial difficulty with English language or reading requirements, and/or b) unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods (first semester students only)
  3. Improper Course Level Placement
  4. Documented Medical Condition

Reduced Course Load information and the request form can be found in the ISAP Portal.

  • During authorized RCL, you must be enrolled in at least one course which requires physical presence in order to remain in F-1 visa status.
  • A reduced course load must consist of at least six semester or quarter hours (or half the clock hours for ELP students) required for a full course of study (unless otherwise recommended by a licensed medical doctor).
  • If you wish to drop any classes, you are responsible for completing this step yourself. If the Add/Drop deadline has passed, you must arrange this with the Office of the Registrar. Here are the withdrawal pages for the Registrar and Dean of Students.
  • If a student fears the possibility of doing poorly in a course but their situation is not reflected by the valid reasons listed, they are not eligible for a RCL based on academic difficulty. 
  • Instructor/Academic Advisor/Department Head recommendation or medical documentation is REQUIRED in order to authorize reduced course load requests.
  • Students should only be authorized for one RCL for the reason of final semester; however, in a situation where they genuinely have to complete additional credit hours, or they happen to fail a class during a final semester RCL for which they must delay graduation and retake the class, they can be approved for a second RCL. No more than two RCLs for final semester will be approved.

Program Extensions

F-1 (student) visa law limits the amount of time for completing degree requirements. The program end date for F-1 students is based on the average time it takes all students to complete a particular program of study. F-1 (student) visa law limits the amount of time for completing degree requirements. 

  • ISAP issues I-20s for 5 years for undergraduate degrees to be completed which should be able to be completed with only 12 credits most fall and spring semesters even without summer enrollment. 
  • ISAP issues I-20s for 3 years to complete a master’s degree.
  • ISAP issues I-20s for 5 years to complete a doctoral degree.

F-1 visa law permits program extensions for most any academically justifiable reason except for poor academic performance. Three examples of valid reasons for a program end date to be extended:

  1. Change of major or research topic
  2. Unexpected research problems
  3. Documented medical condition

Program extension information and the request form can be found in the ISAP Portal.

  • For program extension requests due to academic reasons, a recommendation from you academic advisor/department chair is REQUIRED.
  • For program extension requests due to a medical condition, REQUIRED documentation must be provided from a Medical Doctor, Doctor of Osteopathy or Licensed Clinical Psychologist.
  • A program of study can only be extended up to one year at a time.
  • Program extensions require you to show additional funding for the length of the extension, i.e. an extension for one semester would require showing financial documents that you/your sponsor can afford one semester of estimated expenses. To locate the amount of funding you need to show, please see the Required Documents for I-20 section of the “How to apply for an I-20” website.
  • Extensions must be requested before the program ending date on the I-20.
  • If the program end date has passed, the program end date can only be changed within 15 days of the current program end date.
  • Extensions will not be granted for the sole purpose of applying for CPT employment.
  • USCIS regulations state “delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extension.”
  • Time to complete writing a thesis/dissertation is not a valid reason. Students in this situation will be advised to apply for OPT. Visa regulations allow students to continue work on their thesis/dissertation during OPT.

Grace Periods

Depending on your situation, you may have a certain number of days to leave the U.S.

  • Completion of F-1 Program/OPT = 60 days to depart U.S., apply for change of status, apply for OPT, or transfer to another school
  • Withdrawing from classes with prior approval = 15 days after notifying our office
  • Violation of Status = immediately

Travel Signature Requirement

A travel signature is required for returning to the U.S. Get your travel signature from the ISAP prior to international travel! Do not wait until the day before or day of your planned departure! You can request a travel signature either by scheduling an appointment to meet with an international advisor or by submitting the Travel Form in the ISAP Portal.

  • Each signature is valid for one year. (F-1 students on OPT: travel signature is valid for six months.)
  • The travel signature is issued by a DSO in ISAP to confirm you are maintaining your F-1 student status.
  • The travel signature is located on page 2 of your I-20.
  • If your current travel signature will expire before you return to the U.S., you must request an updated travel signature. Requests can be made in the ISAP Portal.

When traveling, make sure your other immigration documents such as your passport and F-1 visa are valid. ISAP recommends that you also take a printed class schedule or employer letter if on OPT.

Starting a New Program of Study

If you have completed a program of study and will start a new program of study at Georgia Southern, you will need to submit a Change of Level Request (instead of an I-20 Request). To locate the amount of funding you need to show, please see the Required Documents for I-20 section of the “How to apply for an I-20” website. Examples of reasons to submit a change of level:

  • Starting a new education level: You have completed a bachelor’s degree program and are moving to a master’s degree program
  • Staying at the same education level: You have completed a master’s degree program and will start a NEW master’s degree program
  • Staying at the same level or starting a new level after OPT: You have completed OPT/STEM and will start a new program of study at any level
  • Taking pre-requisite courses in order to become eligible for admission to a program of study: You will need to select ‘post-baccalaureate’ when completing the Change of Level request. Contact an international advisor for more information about the post-bacc level requirements.

Change of Level information and the request form can be found in the ISAP Portal.

Change of Visa Status

If your visa status changes, please notify ISAP immediately so the appropriate updates can be made. You can update us using the Change of Status request in the ISAP Portal.

Employment and Volunteering

See our Employment page for detailed information about employment regulations.

According to the Department of Labor, a volunteer is: an “individual who performs hours of service… for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered.” To be considered a volunteer, the work performed by the individual must meet the following criteria:

  • No expectation of compensation
  • The volunteer cannot displace a genuine employee
  • The services provided by the volunteer should not be the same services for which he or she was previously paid and/or expects to be hired and paid for in the future.
  • Services are performed for a non-profit organization for public service, religious or humanitarian objective.
  • As explained above, volunteering refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. Unpaid internships, on the other hand, do not usually qualify as “volunteer” activity. Internships, both paid and unpaid, are primarily offered by the private sector and related to the intern’s major field of study.

Volunteer opportunities arranged by Georgia Southern’s Leadership & Community Engagement are generally acceptable opportunities for F-1 students. For questions about whether an opportunity can be considered “volunteer work” or “employment” please contact a DSO.

Last updated: 4/7/2021