Maintenance of Status
F-1 and J-1 students will find information pertaining to maintaining their immigration status in this section. The international student advisers in DISSA assist students in maintaining their status, but ultimately maintenance of status is the individual student's responsibility. Students should read the information in this section carefully.
Activities That May Affect F-1 and J-1 Status Negatively
As an international student you are required to abide by the laws of the United States, and you may find that some of those laws may be inconsistent or contrary to the laws in your own country. For example, the legal age to drink alcohol in all states in the U.S. is 21, while there may be no minimum age to drink in your country. It is your responsibility to abide by the laws of the U.S. and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as local laws.
Examples of Unlawful Activities
The following activities may affect your standing and stay in the U.S. and should therefore be avoided. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.
- Drinking under the age of 21
- Purchasing alcohol for those under the age of 21
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Using illegal drugs
- Selling illegal drugs
- Providing false statements on government forms
- Stalking or harassing others. Acceptable behavior may differ in your culture, but it is important to understand how it is viewed in the United States.
- Threatening others which may be seen as terrorist threats
- Harming others
These may seem minor to U.S. citizens, but they may not be minor for internationals. Even being arrested and not convicted for alcohol activities can prevent you from receiving a U.S. visa.
If you are arrested, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney as well as an immigration attorney. Sometimes a defense attorney will resolve a criminal case in a way that would be the right course of action for a U.S. citizen but is not the best solution for an international student who must also be concerned with immigration laws. In these cases, an immigration lawyer can advise your criminal defense attorney. You have a right to see a lawyer and other important rights (including the right to remain silent and not answer questions) if you are arrested; read the ACLU "Know Your Rights" Card. DISSA can provide you or your attorney with a list of immigration attorneys.
In addition, activities that violate Penn State's code of conduct standards may affect your immigration status in the U.S. If the punishment for a violation of Penn State's rules results in your inability to enroll, DISSA will be required to terminate your SEVIS record. If your SEVIS status terminated, you have no grace period and are required to leave the U.S. immediately.
Failure to Abide by F-1 or J-1 Regulations
In addition to activities involving law enforcement or Penn State's Office of Conduct Standards, DISSA must abide by SEVIS reporting requirements in regards to your status in the United States.
It is important to read the emails from DISSA and follow any instructions. Emails are sent to warn you about a particular situation that will affect your status in the U.S.
The following actions will require DISSA to terminate your SEVIS record. There is no grace period for terminated students, and you will be required to leave the U.S. immediately:
Failure to enroll while you have an Active SEVIS record. If your I-20 has a future end date, you must inform DISSA of your intention not to enroll because you have graduated, taken a leave of absence, returning home for military service, etc.;
Failure to update your contact information in LionPATH including addresses, telephone numbers, and emails. The contact information is used for reporting to SEVIS. The permanent address must be an address outside the United States and the local address must be where you sleep while attending Penn State;
Failure to have a full course load or have approval for a reduced course load;
Enrollment in more than 3 credits of web-based courses, distance education, or World Campus;
Failure to have work authorization from DISSA if working;
Failure to apply for an extension of your I-20 or DS-2019; and
Failure to meet mandatory health insurance requirements.
Change in I-20/DS-2019 Data
Your I-20 or DS-2019 must reflect accurate information. You should request a new I-20 or DS-2019 in iStart if you notice a mistake on your I-20/DS-2019 or if there is a change in any of the following information:
- Academic major
- Date of birth
- Passport country
- Primary source of funding
For changes in major, F-1 students should request a new document by completing the Change of Major form in iStart. This form is only for F-1 students because typically J-1 students cannot change their major since this is considered a change in program objective.
For all other changes (or corrections), request a new document by submitting the Replace Document form in iStart. If you are requesting a new I-20 or DS-2019 based on a change in funding, you must upload new financial documents when you make your request in iStart. DISSA will not issue a new I-20 based on a one-semester assistantship.
Addresses and Other Contact Information
Immigration regulations require all individuals in F and J visa status (including any dependents) to report address information and any changes to address information. You are responsible to report both your home country address and your local U.S. address.
Required Information Reporting
- Permanent or Home Address (outside of the U.S.)
- You are required to have an address outside of the United States if you are in a non-immigrant status.
- You must update any address changes in LionPATH.
- Local U.S. Address
- Work Address
- If you are a graduate student and have a departmental mailbox or office, use this address as your work address
- Emergency Contact
- This will be the person who the University will contact if you are seriously ill or injured
- Home country phone number
- Local phone number
- Mobile phone number – add this even if you are repeating a local number
- Be sure to set up a voice mail – DISSA will only call you for important issues
If you change your address and are working on campus, you must fill out a new W-4 form with your Penn State Employer. All off-campus employment requires authorization through DISSA.
Once You Leave Penn State
If you remain active in SEVIS on a Penn State document, while working through Optional Practical Training for example, you must continue to report any address changes. Once you no longer have access to Lionpath, please complete the OPT EMPLOYER AND LO CAL ADDRESS UPDATE eFORM through iStart.
Both F-1 and J-1 students must maintain full-time academic status.
Undergraduate students in F-1 or J-1 status should enroll for a minimum of twelve (12) credits to fulfill Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requirements. Generally students will enroll for fourteen (14) to nineteen (19) credits per semester to complete an undergraduate degree in four years. Students beginning in Summer I must be registered for 12 credits; students beginning in Summer II must be registered for 6 credits.
Graduate students will enroll for variable credits up to fifteen (15), with nine (9) credits being the minimum required to fulfill DHS visa requirements for full-time enrollment. Students beginning in summer must be registered for 5 credits in summer unless they have a 1/2-time assistantship which requires only 4 credits.
Exceptions to full-time study must be cleared through the International Student Adviser in advance by completing the Reduced Course Load eForm in iStart. All exceptions granted by the International Student Adviser must be reported to DHS within 21 days as well as the return to full-time status. Note: Exceptions to full-time study due to academic difficulties are limited to one semester during the entire program of study; documented medical illnesses are limited to one year during the program of study. Failure to enroll for full-time study or to obtain approval from the International Student Adviser in advance is automatically out-of-status.
Distance Education or Web-based Courses
- F-1 students may count only one 3-credit course in distance education (Independent Learning, World Campus, web) or on-line course towards full-time enrollment each semester.
- J-1 students must enroll full-time in resident instruction classes.
F-1 and J-1 students cannot change their campus designation to World Campus. Full-time enrollment in World Campus is a violation of F-1 and J-1 status. In addition, if you have been approved for a reduced course load or your last enrollment is in summer session, you cannot be enrolled for only distance education (web-based) courses. Both full-time or part-time students must have resident instruction classes or you do not need to be in F-1 or J-1 status. You can take web-based course from outside the United States.
If a student does not intend to enroll in fall then summer is not a vacation period.
Students who intend to graduate or complete their program in summer, must enroll in the summer. Enrollment must be for a resident credit (not web-based), although 3 credits of online course (Penn State World Campus) is allowed, a resident class must also be taken. Full-time enrollment must be maintained at Penn State.
Students who are not completing their program of study in summer and who plan to return in the subsequent fall semester are not required to enroll in summer because it is considered a vacation period.
Withdrawals occur once the semester has begun. There are three possible consequences of withdrawing from all classes:
- Termination of the SEVIS record based on “authorized early withdrawal” if the student seeks advice from an international student adviser in DISSA in advance of the withdrawal and completes the Exit Form in iStart. The grace period to remain in the U.S. is 15 days from the date of termination.
- Termination of the SEVIS record based on “unauthorized early withdrawal” if the student does not seek advice from an international student adviser in DISSA in advance of the withdrawal nor completes the Exit Form in iStart in advance. There is no grace period and the student is required to leave the U.S. immediately. All retroactive withdrawals will cause a student’s SEVIS record to be terminated.
- Authorized medical leave if the student remains in the U.S. for medical treatments. Otherwise, the termination will be #1 or #2 above. The limit of this is 12 months.
It is important to note that DISSA does not withdraw students from their classes. Withdrawing from classes is an academic function, not an immigration function which DISSA does process. To withdraw from classes, students must go to LionPath and process the withdrawal on-line although we suggest the student seek the advice of an academic adviser beforehand. Again, students must initiate the withdrawal: see http://www.registrar.psu.edu/leaving_university/withdrawal.cfm for instructions.
Note: It is possible to withdraw from summer only, (except for first year students), without affecting fall enrollment. See Summer-Only Withdrawal at http://www.registrar.psu.edu/leaving_university/withdrawal.cfm.
Students are not allowed to enroll at Penn State and another institution at the same time without prior permission. Courses taken concurrently at another institution typically do not count toward the full-time requirement for international students.
Medical Insurance is required for all international students and accompanying dependents.
Change of Academic Level
If you change your degree level (example: complete a Bachelor’s degree and begin a Master’s degree) while at Penn State, you must be issued a new I-20 or DS-2019 to reflect the correct degree level.
Steps to take:
- Accept an offer of admission at the new program degree level
- Be prepared to submit new financial documentation
- Complete the Change of Level eForm
- Wait for approval and receive the new I-20/DS-2019
When you begin the new level as indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019 (semester and program), you must enroll full time.
F-1 Program Extension
An F-1 student who is unable to complete a full-course of study in a timely manner must apply for a program extension before the completion date listed under Program of Study on page one of form I-20.
A program extension may be granted if the student has maintained status and the delay is caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major or research topics, unexpected research problems, or documented illnesses. Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extension.
Students who need to apply for extension may begin the application process at the beginning of the semester in which the I-20 expires and no later than 30 days before the completion date on the I-20. Students should request a program extension by completing the Extension eForm in iStart under the I-20 request. A new financial guarantee is required and should be uploaded into the eForm.
NOTE 1: If a student’s final term is summer, the student must be enrolled in summer because a summer vacation is allowed by regulations only if the student plans to enroll in fall. If the final term is summer and the student does not want to enroll in summer, the end date will be the end of Summer I (one).
NOTE 2: For graduate students with a paper, thesis, or dissertation requirement, the end of the program of study is one of the following:
- Defense date or
- The end of the semester in which the student is last enrolled, including summer. If the last term is summer and the student chooses not to register, the end of SUMMER I (one) will be used as the program end date. Please note: You may NOT work during summer if you are not registered. [NOTE: For immigration purposes, students cannot continue enrollment to maintain status after the thesis/dissertation defense. See #3 below.] or
- 4 weeks after the defense date if the student defends between semesters or within a semester but after the thesis deadline for that semester or
- After completion of all degree requirements except thesis (PhD students must continue to enroll per Graduate School requirements for students applying for OPT).
IMPORTANT: Program Extensions not requested by the student in a timely manner (before the expiration of the I-20) will require a reinstatement.
Correcting a Terminated F-1 Record
F-1 students are required to maintain status by honoring the rules of their non-immigrant status. This includes maintaining full-time enrollment, working only under the limitations of the employment benefit (i.e. 20 hours per week when school is in session), keeping their passports valid, etc.
There are two methods for correcting a terminated F-1 record:
- Travel with an initial I-20
- Reinstatement within the United States through the USCIS.
Both methods have benefits and risks, so it's important to seek advice from an international student adviser. You can send them an email at DISSA-Adviser@psu.edu.
An application for reinstatement is NOT permitted for those who have engaged in unauthorized employment, who have had a record of repeated violations, or who have been out-of-status for more than five (5) months.
It is only possible to reinstate your F-1 if failure to maintain status resulted from circumstances beyond the student's control (i.e. serious illness) or from less than full-time enrollment that was mistakenly not approved. Students who have filed for reinstatement should:
- follow the rules for maintaining status, such as continued enrollment
- not travel outside the U.S.
- not be employed on or off campus while the reinstatement application is being processed.
Application Process for F-1 Reinstatement (Within the U.S.)
Step 2: Submit application to USCIS with the following paper documents through the mail:
- G-1145 - E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
- Form I-539
- Check made payable to the Department of Homeland Security. The current fee is $370.
- Copy of Reinstatement I-20 or DS-2019 signed by you per USCIS Policy Memorandum of June 1, 2012.
- Copies of financial support documents used to obtain the I-20 or DS-2019
- Letter explaining the reason for the reinstatement request and the circumstances of the violation. It should also state that the student will not violate status again
- Any other letter(s) explaining the circumstances (e.g. from the international student adviser, academic adviser or medical professional)
- Copies of all current immigration documents (e.g. previous DS-2019s, I-20s, paper or print-out of electronic Form I-94, valid passport, visa stamp, if applicable)
- Official Transcript (visit Penn State's online transcript request form)
- Copy of current and/or future class schedule
These documents should be submitted to the Service Center with jurisdiction over the address on the I-539. In Pennsylvania, the package should be mailed to:
If Using U.S. Postal Service:
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266
If Using Express Mail/Courier:
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
J-1 Program Extension
The request should be made no more than 4 months before and no later than 2 months before the expiration date on the DS-2019. The extension is a notification made by the Responsible Officer (Penn State international student advisers) to the United States Department of State Exchange Visitor Program. To request an extension, follow these steps:
- Obtain new financial documentation showing that you have adequate funding for the period of the extension. Information regarding estimated expenses can be found on the Financial Guarantee Requirements page.
- Submit the "Extension" form in iStart and upload the necessary financial documents.
- Your request will be forwarded to your academic/faculty adviser for confirmation that there is a valid academic reason for the extension.
If your adviser supports your request and completes the form, an international student adviser will review the request to see if the extension can be approved. A new DS-2019 will be issued if the request is approved.
Expiration Date on DS-2019
To check the expiration date, see the first page of the DS-2019, item 3.
Form Covers Period:
To (mm-dd-yyyy): (This is the Expiration Date)
Students who have failed to maintain status are not eligible for extension. Maintaining status includes:
- Full-time attendance except under circumstances approved by the Responsible Officer, (See iStart for the Exceptions to Full-time Enrollment form);
- Adherence to the health insurance mandate for the student and any dependents; and
- Employment only with approval from DISSA.
[Note: Health insurance coverage is a U.S. State Department regulation requirement.]
Application for J-1 Reinstatement
A J-1 student who falls out of status may be eligible for a technical correction or reinstatement. If the J-1 student is on a Penn State DS-2019, DISSA may correct a record if all of the following are true:
- the student is pursuing the original program objective;
- the student has not willfully failed to maintain health insurance;
- the student has not substantively violated status (such as not maintaining full-time enrollment or working without authorization); and
- no more than 120 days have passed since the violation.
You will be unable to apply for a technical correction if more than 120 days have passed since the violation. You will be unable to apply for reinstatement if more than 270 days has passed since the violation.
It is important for the J-1 student to contact DISSA as soon as possible to determine the extent of the violation and the appropriate course of action. If the international student advisers determine that a reinstatement is warranted, the J-1 student must pay the required fee of $367, payable to The Pennsylvania State University, through the Director of DISSA.
Leave of Absence Procedures
A student is allowed to take a Leave of Absence for a period of time and return to continue with their program. Undergraduate students should apply with the Registrar's Office; the deadline for applying is the last working day prior to the first day of classes for the semester that the leave will begin.
Graduate students must contact The Graduate School to Withdraw from their program. Before you leave the U.S. you must complete an Exit Form. Your I-20/DS-2019 record will be terminated once you leave. If you will be out of the country for less than 5 months, you should speak to an International Student Adviser to learn how your SEVIS record might be reactivated.
Returning to Penn State
Undergraduate students returning to the university earlier or later than the approved leave, must re-enroll with the Registrar's Office. Graduate students must seek readmission to their program by completing a Resume Study appliation with the Graduate School. If your I-20 or DS-2019 was terminated, you must apply for a new document from DISSA. You will receive your I-20/DS-2019 only after the re-enrollment or resume study form has been processed.
To request a new I-20 from DISSA, login to iStart and complete the Returning Students eForm. If your access account has been deactivated, you can login to iStart thorugh the Limited Services for Students & Scholars. You will need your PSU 9-digit ID, date of birth, and limited access PIN.
Transferring to a New Institution (F-1 and J-1 Students)
F-1 and J-1 students must notify DISSA of their plan to transfer to another school. Immigration considers any move from one institution to another as a “transfer,” even if the student has graduated from the first institution.
How to transfer to another School
- Submit the eForm on iStart.
- Upload the admission/acceptance letter from the school to which you are planning to transfer
- No transfer request will be processed without a completed eForm and an admission letter.
- J-1 students must be sure they are eligible for the transfer before making this request. Consult with an international student adviser in DISSA if you are unsure of your ability to transfer.
- Only after Penn State transfers your immigration record can the new school issue an I-20.
- Once your record is transferred, Penn State will no longer have access to your record on the request effective date, so be certain of your choice before you request a transfer.
- You must begin at your new school within 5 months of your last date of attendance or on the next available session start date, whichever is earlier.
- Consult with your new school to determine when they need to have your SEVIS record.
Choosing your transfer release date:
- Students who are graduating/have graduated: You should notrequest a date before you have completed classes at Penn State, but you must request a date within your 60 day grace period. DISSA suggests using the day after graduation as the transfer release date.
- Students on OPT: You may choose any date; however, your OPT will end automatically on the date you choose, regardless of the dates on your OPT card. DISSA recommends that you choose a date close to the end of OPT, if possible.
- Students who have NOT graduated and are transferring between semesters: You should choose a date before the beginning of the next semester at Penn State and before classes begin at your new school.Students transferring in the middle of a semester: This is not advisable as you may not receive a refund of your tuition money and may receive all “W” grades on your transcript for the semester. However, if you decide to transfer within a semester, you must maintain status at Penn State until your transfer release date.
End of Program
The end date on your I-20 or DS-2019 is an estimate of the time it will take you to complete your degree. Because it is an estimate, it may take you longer, or you may finish sooner.
- If you need more time, refer to the information on Program Extensions for J-1 Students, J-1 Scholars, or F-1 Students.
- If you finish earlier than your document indicates, you cannot remain in the U.S. until your document expires. You must take action within the grace period.
Defining Program Completion
For UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS and THOSE WITHOUT A THESIS REQUIREMENT, program completion is based on graduation.
For GRADUATE STUDENTS with a thesis requirement, there is some flexibility in determining your completion of program date. It can be one of the following:
- The end of the semester in which you were last enrolled in a resident instruction course, including summer
- Students are required to be enrolled in courses during their last semester -- this includes SUMMER semester. If there is no enrollment, students cannot be employed on-campus.
- Your defense date
- Four (4) weeks after your defense date - if you defend between semesters or within a semester, but after the thesis deadline for that semester
- For the purposes of OPT only - after completion of all degree requirements except thesis (PhD students must continue to enroll while writing thesis per Graduate School requirements). Students who complete their programs of study in summer without enrollment will not be eligible for optional practical training (OPT).
- F-1 students have a 60 day grace period upon completion of studies in which to take action to continue their stay in the U.S.
- J-1 students have a 30 day period to do the same.
If a student does not take any action, he/she must depart by the end of the grace period. Complete the Exit eForm in iStart to inform us of your plan to return home.
Within the grace period a student can decide to do one of the following:
- Begin Optional Practical Training (F-1) or Academic Training (J-1)
- Transfer to another institution--Refer to information on Transferring to a New Institution
- Begin a new degree at PSU--Refer to Change of Academic Level information
- Submit an application for a change to another visa status--Please complete the Exit eForm to inform us of your plans
It is important that you permanently keep all the I-20s/DS-2019s, I-797s, EADs and any other immigration documents you receive during your time as an international student. You will need these documents to apply for future benefits (e.g. application for U.S. permanent residency) and to demonstrate a record of your legal status in the US. DISSA will not retain these records beyond the legal requirements.
You should check your Penn State email regularly and respond promptly to any requests made by DISSA. We may contact you individually to request information or we may contact all graduating students or other groups of students who need to take a particular action. Immigration information is usually time sensitive and a late response may cost you a benefit or even possibly your immigration status.
Academic Holds on Registration
International students with SEVIS records may have a HOLD placed on their ability to register if they do not respond to requests to abide by regulations and policies. These may include
- failure to complete document check-in with DISSA,
- failure to update local address, permanent address, telephone number and email address in LionPath since the information from LionPath is reported to SEVIS,
- failure to provide financial guarantee as requested by DISSA for a new immigration document,
- failure to request a new immigration document for a change of Penn State campus, and
- other requirements to maintain SEVIS status.
An academic HOLD will be removed when the student complies with the requested information and then contacts DISSA or comes to the office in 410 Boucke. It generally takes 24 hours to remove the HOLD.