F-1 Regulations and Requirements
All F-1 and J-1 international students must follow the below set of immigration regulations as outlined by the U.S. government in order to maintain their international student status:
Full Course of Study
International students must be registered for a full course of study during fall and spring semesters:
- Undergraduate students - 12 credits
- Master's graduate students - 9 credits
Online Courses: Only 3 credits or one online course per semester is applicable to full-time enrollment total.
Audit Courses: Audit course credits are not applicable to the full-time enrollment total.
On-campus employment is limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session during fall and spring semesters and 40 hours a week during University vacations and summer vacation. On-campus employment information for F-1 and J-1 students is available.
In order for international students to work off-campus, they must obtain the proper work authorization through the GEO and/or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For F-1 students, off-campus work authorization options are:
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Off-Campus Employment based on Economic Hardship
For J-1 students, off-campus work authorization options are:
- Academic Training (AT)
- Off-Campus Employment based on Economic Hardship
Maintaining Valid Immigration Documents
I-20/DS-2019: International students must be aware of the expiration date on their I-20/DS-2019. If students cannot complete their degree by the expiration date on their I-20/DS-2019, students must request a program extension before the expiration date on the I-20/DS-2019. Students who do not file a program extension in a timely manner will be considered out of status.
Passport: Students should keep their passport valid at all times. If the passport will expire soon, student must renew it through the embassy or consulate of their home country.
Change of Local Address
Students who change their local address must report the change to the GEO within 10 days of moving.
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.
F-1/J-1 students who have received prior authorization to withdraw from classes have 15 days to depart the U.S. after the withdrawal date. Students who withdraw from classes without prior authorization are not eligible for a grace period.
Reduced Course Load (RCL)
International students who plan to be enrolled for part time studies must submit the Reduced Course Load (RCL) form to the GEO in a timely manner. There are only a few exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement for the fall and spring semesters.
The deadline for submitting the RCL form is the add/drop date of the fall and spring semesters. The form must be approved by the student's academic advisor prior to submission to the GEO:
Online Courses: Only 3 credits or one online course per semester is applicable to the full-time enrollment total.
Audit Courses: Audit course units are not applicable to the full-time enrollment total.
F-1/J-1 students should not drop below full-time enrollment until they have received authorization from the GEO. Students who drop below full-time enrollment without the proper authorization from the GEO will be considered out of status.
Academic Difficulty RCL
Students may request an RCL due to academic difficulty only once per degree level. Academic difficulty could be due to the following reasons:
- Difficulty with English language or reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods or
- Improper course placement
Students who receive an academic difficulty RCL must resume a full course of study in the next available semester in order to maintain status.
The GEO may authorize a medical RCL due to a temporary medical condition with an appropriate doctor's letter recommending the RCL for medical reasons. Students must receive prior approval from the GEO for the medical RCL. To submit a medical RCL, F-1 and J-1 students must meet with the DSO/RO from the GEO.
Requirements of Medical RCL:
- Letter from licensed physician, medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist that recommends student to take less than the minimum units required for full time enrollment
- Receive prior approval from the GEO and academic department before dropping classes
- No more than 12 months (3 semesters) total of Medical RCL is permitted per degree level. The 12 month aggregate total includes semesters in which a student has taken a Leave of Absence (LOA) for medical reasons and remained in the U.S. to receive treatment
- Must take a minimum of:
- 6 credits for undergraduate students
- 3 credits for Master's students
If a doctor believes that a student is unable to meet this minimum unit enrollment, then the student should consider a Medical Leave of Absence.
Final Semester RCL
The GEO may authorize a final semester RCL for students who are in their final semester of study and only have a few units remaining to meet academic program requirements. Students may request an RCL due to final semester only once per degree program.
Permission to Attend another Institution
Students who intend to transfer to another college or university must receive permission from the GEO prior to doing so by completing the TRANSFER OUT form. The SEVIS record must be transferred to the new institution that you designate so they will be able to issue a new Form I-20. Please provide a copy of the admissions letter with the TRANSFER OUT form.
F-1/J-1 students are given a specific period to complete the academic program requirements. For F-1 students, this period is shown on #5 of the I-20 and for J-1 students; this period of time is shown on #3 of the DS-2019.
Please note the expiration date on the I-20/DS-2019. Students who are unable to meet the academic program requirements by that date, a program extension form must be submitted to GEO before the expiration date. If the expiration date on the I-20/DS-2019 has passed, students must contact the GEO immediately, as the student is considered to be out of status.
Program Extension Requirements:
- The expiration date of the I-20/DS-2019 has not yet passed
- Continuously maintained the F-1/J-1 student status
- The delay in completion of program must be due to one of the following reasons:
- Compelling academic reason (change of major, change in research topic, unexpected research problems, etc.)
- Compelling medical reason (documentation is required from Student Health Center or U.S. licensed medical physician)
NOTE: Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for a program extension.
I-20 Extension Process for F-1 students
- Obtain the Program Extension form for F-1 students
- Receive approval and signature from academic advisor
- Obtain proof of funding: Tuition plus $1000 per month for living expenses through a funding letter or bank statement
- Submit the Program Extension form along with the proof of funding to the CIP at least three weeks before the expiration date of the I-20
DS-2019 Extension Process for J-1 students
- Obtain the Program Extension form
- Receive approval and signature from department advisor. >Obtain proof of funding: Tuition plus $1000 per month for living expenses through a funding letter or bank statement
- Submit the Program Extension form along with the proof of funding to CIP at least three weeks before the expiration date of the DS-2019
Completion of Academic Program
After successfully completing an academic program, F-1/J-1 students are given a grace period allowing them to remain in the U.S. for a specified time after program of study, OPT or Academic Training. Travel and re-entry to the U.S. as an F-1/J-1 student during the grace period is not possible.
Review the following guidelines regarding the grace period pertinent to F-1/J-1 student status:
F-1 students have a 60-day grace period in which they are permitted to do one of the following:
- Begin a new program of study at WCU: Students must apply to the new program, be admitted and be issued a new I-20 from the either the undergraduate or graduate office before the end of the grace period. Proof of funding is required to issue the new I-20.
- Transfer to another institution: Student must apply to another institution, be admitted, have the WCU I-20 records transferred out to that institution before the end of the 60 days. The start date at the transfer-in school must be within five months following the date on which I-20 is transferred out or within the five months of the 60th day of grace period. To request a transfer of WCU I-20 record, student will need to meet with the DSO at the GEO and submit the transfer out form.
- Depart the U.S. before the end of the grace period.
Optional Practical Training and 60-Day Grace Period
F-1 students who plan to work in the U.S. after graduation but have not yet applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must do so immediately. The OPT application must be received by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before the end of the grace period. However, GEO recommends that students apply for OPT as soon as possible.
Please keep in mind that it takes about three months to process the OPT application and students cannot begin working until they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. Please complete the OPT online workshop and submit the application to the GEO immediately to the GEO front desk.
The immigration status of an F-2 is dependent upon the F-1 student and they cannot remain in the U.S. under the F-2 status after the F-1 student has departed the U.S. during the grace period.
J-1 students have a 30-day grace period in which they are permitted to do one of the following:
- Begin a new program of study at WCU: Students must apply to the new program, be admitted, and be issued a new DS-2019 before the end of the grace period. Proof of funding is required to issue the new DS-2019. Please come to the GEO with questions on DS-2019 issuance.
- Transfer to another institution: Student must apply to another institution, be admitted, have the WCU SEVIS records transferred out to that institution and be issued their new DS-2019 before the end of the grace period. In order to transfer out the WCU SEVIS record, student will need to meet with the Exchange Visitor Program Coordinator and submit the SEVIS transfer out request form.
- Depart the U.S. before the end of the grace period