Maintaining Visa Status
All F-1 and J-1 international students must follow immigration regulations as outlined by the US government in order to maintain their international student status. It is your responsibility as a student to be aware of the factors that impact your legal status and make sure you remain compliant. The international office at Fresno State is here to help you understand and comply with these regulations.
Full Course of Study
As an international student, you must maintain a full-time course of study during each fall and spring semesters. Full-time enrollment is defined as:
- Undergraduate Students: 12 units
- Graduate Students: 9 units
Online Courses: Only 3 units or one online course per semester will count towards the full-time enrollment total.
*You are not required to enroll in courses during the Summer and Winter sessions.
F-1 students are eligible for simultaneous enrollment at both Fresno State and another SEVP approved institution if approved by the international office. Undergraduate students pursuing concurrent enrollment must enroll in at least 7 units at Fresno State and combined units must be equivalent to the 12 unit minimum. Please meet with you international advisor to submit the Drop Below Form as well as class schedule at the other institution.
Reduced Course Load (RCL)
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations require that international students, F-1 & J-1, enroll full-time each semester in order to maintain active immigration status. There are very limited exceptions that an F-1/J-1 student may be approved to enroll for less than 12 units as an undergraduate or less than 9 units as a graduate student:
Students may be eligible for a reduced course load if they will be completing their degree program of study in the current academic term. This can only be used during the final term.
If a student has a temporary illness or medical condition (physical or mental) that will affect their studies, they may qualify for a reduced course load. The student will need a professional recommendation from a licensed medical doctor, a doctor of osteopathy, or a licensed clinical psychologist specifically detailing that: “the student is currently under medical condition, it is recommended that the student takes X # of units this semester.”
A medical RCL cannot exceed more than 12 months (approximately 3 semesters) per degree level.
A medical RCL needs to be applied and authorized each semester prior to dropping the classes.
A full course of study must be resumed following the RCL term.
Please note, unfortunately, USCIS does not consider a healthy pregnancy, childbirth, or newborn care to be considered for a Medical RCL, though a pregnancy or birth with complications or postpartum depression may be considered.
Students in their first year may be eligible for a reduced course load if recommended by an academic or international advisor before dropping the classes.
The approved difficulties include:
- Initial difficulties with the English language
- Initial difficulties with reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
- Improper course placement
The student must enroll in at least 6 units to be eligible for an academic RCL. An F-1 or J-1 student can only be authorized for an academic difficulty reduce course load once during each academic program level (Bachelor’s, Master’s)
Graduate students who have completed all required coursework and are left with just thesis or project work may be eligible for a reduced course load.
*Please note that a lack of financial support does not constitute a valid reason to reduce your course load. Also, be aware that lack of course availability or inability to obtain a required course is not a valid reason for a reduced course load.
F-1 I-20 and DS-2019 End Dates, Grace Periods, & Extensions
It is the responsibility of the student to keep track of the end date on their I-20. The program end date is an estimate and can be modified accordingly. If a student needs more time to finish their academic program, they must visit the international office and submit a Program Extension form. Please note that if the end date on the I-20 has already passed, the student is not eligible for an extension and will need to file an I-20 reinstatement with USCIS to continue degree program of study.
F-1 students who complete an academic program or OPT have a 60-day grace period and J-1 students who complete an academic program or AT have a 30-day grace period. During this time students must either depart the U.S., transfer to another institution or change visa status.
F-1/J-1 students who have received prior authorization to withdraw from classes have 15 days to depart the US after the withdrawal date. Students who withdraw from classes without prior authorization are not eligible for a grace period.
Update Address Changes
Immigration regulations require all international students to report any change in their local address in their MyFresnoState account within 10 days of moving.
The U.S. government regulations require F-1 students to be in the U.S. for the primary purpose of attending school. Therefore employment options for international students are limited to:
- On-Campus employment: May not exceed 20 hours per week during the academic term. During the summer and winter breaks, more than 20 hours per week may be permitted.
- Off-Campus employment: Some students may be eligible for off-campus employment related to curricular practical training. Do not start any type of off-campus employment without the approval of the international office.
For more information regarding types of employment for international students, please visit Employment Options.
Traveling out of the U.S.
When traveling outside the United States during your academic program please make sure you have with you:
- Passport with at least 6 months of validity
- Most recent I-20/DS-2019 with valid travel signature
- Valid F-1/J-1 visa upon re-entry to the U.S.
To request a travel signature, please visit the international office front desk or contact an international advisor. Please be mindful of this when planning your travel as signatures may not be available at last minute notice
To ensure your safety while traveling, please fill out the Travel Signature Request Form when traveling domestically and internationally. Information will be used only by the International Office in cases of natural disasters occurring or other related events that may put students in danger, allowing the International Office staff to contact students directly to confirm their safety. Please note that filling out the form is optional and not required.
Leave of Absence
Your F-1/J-1 status is based on your full-time enrollment. If you wish to take a semester off during the academic year, you must submit a Leave Of Absence Request to the international office. Please note that during this leave of absence you must be outside of the United States. For leave of absences longer than 5 months, students will need a new I-20/DS-2019 for re-entry to the country. Consult your international advisor if you think you may need a leave of absence.
Students who fail to maintain their F-1/J-1 status are considered out of status. If they wish to continue their studies at Fresno State as an F-1/J-1 student, they must regain valid status. Some reasons why a student may fall out of active status are:
- Failure to extend I-20 before the end date
- Failure to enroll in full-time coursework without an approved RCL from the international office
- Engaging in unauthorized employment (Please note: students terminated for unauthorized employment are not eligible for reinstatement.
If you think you may be out of status, please contact the international office immediately. Your international advisor will be able to discuss the following up steps in detail with you.
Students who are out of status and still in the U.S. will begin to accrue unlawful presence. According to recent USCIS policy, students who accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence could be subject to a 3-year or 10-year bar from reentering the United States.
F-2 and J-2 Dependents
Only the spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years of age) are eligible for an F-2/J-2 dependent visa. Please consult your international advisor for more information about bringing F-2 & J-2 dependents to the United States.
It is your responsibility as a student to keep and maintain your immigration documents. We advise you to keep physical copies or scans of all your documents. Although the international office will keep some copies of your documents, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to provide you with a copy of a previously issued document.
Study in the States
Study in the States is the official website and guide for International student published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Please visit Study in the States for additional information on maintaining your immigration status.