If you are an F-1 student, it is essential that you maintain valid F-1 status while you are inside the US. Without valid F-1 status, you are not eligible to stay in the US and cannot take advantage of F-1 benefits such as on-campus employment or practical training. Violations of F-1 rules can occur whether intentional or not. Common violations include:
Not enrolling full-time or obtaining International Center approval before dropping to part-time enrollment
Not requesting an I-20 extension before your I-20 expires, if you need more time to complete degree requirements
Taking too many on-line classes (in normal circumstances, only one on-line class can be counted toward full-time status)
Working without permission (unauthorized employment)
Regaining Valid F-1 Status: Travel or Reinstatement
If you lose valid F-1 status for any reason, but still need additional time to complete your program, you can regain F-1 status through two different ways.
Option #1: In most cases, the fastest way to return to valid F-1 status is by travel. Following this option, you would apply for a new initial attendance I-20 from the International Center. Once you have the new I-20, you would leave the US and then re-enter at a later date using the new I-20. You may need to apply for a new F-1 visa if your current visa is expired or will expired by the time you return to the US. Once you return to the US, you will be back in valid F-1 status.
Option #2: However, in certain situations it may not be possible or ideal for you to travel outside of the US. In this case, you might be able to apply to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service for reinstatement to F-1 status. See the tab below for a comparison of reinstatement versus travel as different options for regaining F-1 status.
For both options, you are eligible to regain F-1 status ONLY if you are permitted to continue studying and still have additional degree requirements to finish. Neither option is possible if you have finished your program requirements or you are no longer permitted to continue in your program.
Regaining F-1 Status by Travel versus Reinstatement - Comparison Chart
Reinstatement Process (Application to USCIS)
Departure and Re-entry to US (Travel)
You must obtain a reinstatement I-20 from the International Center and then submit an application to US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for reinstatement
You must apply for an initial attendance I-20 from the International Center and then depart and re-enter the US; you may need a new F-1 visa if your current F-1 visa is expired or will expire before returning to the US
Remaining in US
You are allowed (and recommended) to remain in US while your application is in process with USCIS
You have to depart the US and then return using a new initial attendance I-20
USCIS processing times can take 6-8 months or longer
Valid F-1 status would commence upon your return to US
I-901 SEVIS Fee
New SEVIS fee payment not required if the status violation took place within five months of the time of application to USCIS; otherwise, a new SEVIS fee payment is required
New SEVIS fee payment required prior to re-entering the US (or applying for a new F-1 visa, if required)
Effect on Study
You are required to continue full-time study while the reinstatement application is being processed
You are required to resume full-time study once you return to the US using your new I-20
Effect on Employment
No on-campus or off-campus employment is permitted until the reinstatement application has been approved; once approved, on-campus employment may resume and eligibility for practical training (CPT/OPT) is restored (no waiting period required)
On-campus employment is permitted upon return to the US; one academic year waiting period is required to re-establish eligibility for practical training (CPT / OPT)
This option is not available if you lost valid F-1 status due to unauthorized employment and/or you are finished with your degree requirements or are no longer able to continue studying in your program
This option is not available if you are finished with your degree requirements or are no longer able to continue studying in your program
F-1 Reinstatement Process
Reinstatement Eligibility Requirements
If you decide to apply for reinstatement to F-1 status, you must first meet with an International Center advisor. You should do so as soon as possible once a violation has been determined, since delaying action may reduce the chances of success.
Your International Center advisor will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the reinstatement process. The advisor will also explain the requirements for getting a reinstatement I-20 from the International Center. To qualify for a reinstatement I-20,
You must be eligible to continue full-time studies in your program and have additional degree requirements remaining to complete
You must be able to document that you have enough financial resources to meet up to one academic year of tuition, fees, and living expenses
The violation that led to your losing F-1 status was not due to unauthorized employment (working without permission)
In addition to these requirements, federal regulations at v8 CFR 214.2(f)(16) establish the following guidelines and requirements:
You must apply to USCIS for reinstatement within five months of losing valid status; otherwise, you must show that any delay in applying after five months was due to exceptional circumstances and that you applied as soon as possible despite these circumstances
You must show that you do not have a record of repeated or willful violations of F-1 regulations
You must demonstrate that the violation of status was due to circumstances beyond your control or that the violation relates to a reduction of course load that would have been approved by the International Center if a request had been made before dropping below full-time; and that a denial of reinstatement would lead to exceptional hardship to you
Examples of situations that are outside of the student's control include serious injury or illness, natural disaster, closure of the institution or program, or inadvertent oversight on the part of a school advisor; however, it does not include situations that the student could have foreseen or otherwise resulting from the student's willful failure to follow regulations
If you lost valid F-1 status you are also encouraged to speak to a qualified immigration attorney to review your legal options, especially if your case does not meet the above criteria.
Preparing and Submitting Your Reinstatement Application
Once you receive your reinstatement I-20 from the International Center, you must prepare a reinstatement application packet and submit it to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS will determine whether or not to approve the application. The main components of the application will include:
Form I-539 filing fee (consult the USCIS I-539 web page for the most recent filing fee amount) in the form of a check or money order made payable to the "Department of Homeland Security"
Form I-539 biometrics fee (consult USCIS I-539 web page for the most recent filing fee amount)
A copy of the signed reinstatement I-20 from the International Center
Copy of your I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt
If your status violation was more than five months into the past, you must pay a new I-901 SEVIS fee; if it has been less than five months, no new SEVIS fee payment is required
Copies of your financial documents used to obtain the reinstatement I-20
Copies of your current immigration documents, including your passport identification page, F-1 visa (if applicable), and I-94 record
Signed letter of explanation from you that explains why you lost valid F-1 status and which shows that the loss of status was due to circumstances beyond your control, and that the failure to obtain reinstatement will lead to extreme hardship
In the letter you should also explain that you still need additional time to complete your program requirements
If your status violation was more than five months into the past, your letter should also address the exceptional circumstances which prevented you from applying for reinstatement sooner
(Optional) Any other supporting documents, such as support letters from academic advisors or deans, transcripts, enrollment records, etc.
If you have F-2 dependents, complete and attach Form I-539A to your Form I-539, and attach separate biometrics fee payments for each F-2 dependent
Make a complete copy for yourself and send the packet to USCIS using express mail service so that you can request delivery confirmation. Mail your application to the delivery address indicated on the USCIS's I-539 web site. It is important that you keep copies and be able to track the status of any materials you send to USCIS.
Once USCIS receives the application, an adjudicator will review it. It may take six months and in many cases even longer before you receive a response. While you are allowed (and expected) to remain in the US and continue studying during this time, you cannot engage in on- or off-campus work or apply for practical training until your application is approved. If you finish your program before they issue a decision, talk to the International Center regarding your options.
At the end of the process, USCIS will issue either an approval or denial notice. Please consult with the International Center once you receive any communication regarding your case for follow-up, and once a final decision has been issued, so that we can update your F-1 records and advise you of your options.
If the application for reinstatement is denied, you will likely be considered as unlawfully present in the US. Once you are unlawfully present for a specific number of days, you may be barred from returning to the US in the future for specific amounts of time. We would recommend consulting with an immigration attorney and/or taking steps for immediate departure from the US in the event of a denial.