Challenges for Foreign Students: Losing and Reinstating F-1 StatusPosted on Thursday, February 7, 2013
It is every foreign student's responsibility to ensure that he or she is maintaining F-1 status. To do so, the student must carefully follow all applicable rules and restrictions. Any violation may result in the termination of their status and the need to file an immediate application for re-instatement. This article highlights some of the common reasons why a student can lose F-1 status, and outlines the criteria and process for filing an F-1 reinstatement.
Rule: F-1 students are required to enroll for the minimum number of courses that their school has determined to be a full course load for their educational program.
Rajiv was enrolled in an undergraduate program. His school requires undergrads to register for at least four courses each semester to be considered full-time. One semester, Rajiv only registered for three courses, figuring that he could take five courses next term to make up the missing class.
When Rajiv’s Designated School Official (DSO ) contacted him about the under-enrollment, he tried to register for a fourth course, but it was too late. Because he did not get permission to take a reduced course load, his DSO informed him that his SEVIS record would be terminated. To continue his studies, he will have to apply for reinstatement of his F-1 status with USCIS.
Rule: F-1 students must apply for an extension of status before their current I-20 expires.
Katja was enrolled in a graduate program. Her I-20 had an end date of June 12, 2012, 36 months after beginning her studies. As June approached, Katja realized that she still needed at least two more semesters to complete her degree.
On July 1, Katja talked to her DSO and explained that she needed to extend her I-20. Her DSO told her that because she did not request the extension before June 12, her SEVIS record was automatically marked "completed." Katja must also file an application for reinstatement with USCIS.
Rule: Students planning to transfer to another school must complete the transfer within 60 days after the end of their current program or Optional Practical Training (OPT) period.
In-Kwon finished his bachelor’s degree program on November 23, 2012. He was accepted into a master’s program at a different school, but failed to complete the transfer process prior to the end of his 60 day grace period on January 22, 2013. When he spoke with his DSO on January 30, he was told that his SEVIS record was now in "completed" status and a transfer was no longer possible.
In-Kwon should have known that a transfer to a new school involves more than just gaining admission to the new program. Unfortunately, he failed to have his SEVIS record transferred to the new school so that they could issue him a new I-20. He must now must speak to his new DSO about the school’s reinstatement policy, and if allowed, file for F-1 reinstatement with USCIS.
Rule: Students who fall out of status are not automatically entitled to F-1 reinstatement.
Because her daughter was seriously ill, Daniela allowed her F-1 student status to expire by remaining in the U.S. for several months beyond the end of her 60-day grace period without being enrolled as a full-time student. Her husband and child also lost their F-2 status.
A few weeks later, Daniela went to her DSO to enquire about reinstating her status. Daniela’s DSO told her that she could only be granted a reinstatement if she could prove to USCIS that her violation of status was due to circumstances beyond her control.
Daniela was advised to write a personal statement for USCIS explaining what had happened, and to gather medical records relating to her daughter’s illness. She also had to provide her DSO with updated financial information.
After reviewing this material, the DSO issued Daniela a new I-20 and agreed to prepare a letter of support for her reinstatement application. Daniela was fortunate; many schools will not issue a new I-20 for reinstatement purposes if it has been longer than five months since the student’s prior I-20 expired.
Applicants for an F-1 reinstatement must pay a filing fee of $290 and include all F-2 dependants on their I-539 form. Applicants should be enrolled full-time at their schools while awaiting reinstatement, even if their SEVIS records have been terminated or marked completed.
It is always best for F-1 students to maintain their status and avoid the reinstatement issue entirely. When a reinstatement is necessary, it can often be challenging to present a compelling case to USCIS. In this situation, the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney is highly recommended.