Understanding Your Legal Requirements

This section contains information about maintaining your F-1 and J-1 immigration status. While Penn State’s international student advisers can assist you in understanding the benefits, requirements, and limitations of your status, it is ultimately your responsibility to maintain your immigration status. Please 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. Some of those laws may be inconsistent with or contrary to the laws in your home country. It is your responsibility to know and abide by the laws of the U.S., the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as well as local municipalities. Please review the examples of unlawful activities and additional resources below:

Examples of Unlawful Activities

In Case of an Arrest: Know Your Rights in the U.S.

Resources

Violation of Penn State's Code of Conduct and Your Immigration Status
 

Examples of Unlawful Activities

Please avoid the following activities! These unlawful activities, as well as others not listed, may affect your status and stay in the U.S. You may also want to review Penn State Legal Information for International Students.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Drinking alcoholic beverages under the age of 21
  • Purchasing alcohol for anyone under the age of 21
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including certain medications)
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Selling illegal drugs
  • Providing false statements on government forms
  • Stalking or harassing others. 
    Note: 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 viewed as a terrorist threat
  • Harming others

In Case of an Arrest: Know Your Rights in the U.S.

  • You have the right to remain silent and not answer questions.
  • You have the right to see a lawyer.
  • You should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney and 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 not the best solution for an international student. In these cases, an immigration lawyer can advise your criminal defense attorney. ISSA can provide you or your criminal attorney with a list of immigration attorneys.

Resources

The resources below provide information you should know about your rights.

Note: There is the possibility that students may be visited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents or FBI agents seeking information. If you are contacted, please alert an international student adviser, so ISSA can follow up if necessary.

Violation of Penn State's Code of Conduct and Your Immigration Status

In addition, activities that violate Penn State's code of conduct standards may affect your immigration status in the U.S. If a violation of Penn State's code of conduct results in your inability to enroll, ISSA will be required to terminate your SEVIS record. If your SEVIS record is terminated for this reason, you will not have a grace period and will be required to leave the U.S. immediately.

Mandatory F-1 or J-1 Regulations

Penn State University’s International Students and Scholars Advising (ISSA) is required to follow federal reporting regulations related to your F-1 or J-1 status in the U.S. For this reason, it is important to read all communications you receive from ISSA. ISSA provides you helpful information and notifies you about situations that may affect your immigration status in the U.S. 

While Penn State’s international student advisers can assist you in understanding the benefits, requirements, and limitations of your status, it is ultimately your responsibility to maintain your immigration status. Therefore, it is important to know and follow these regulations.  

As an F-1 or J-1 international student, you have the following responsibilities to maintain your immigration status:  

  • Enroll in a full-time course load or have approval for a reduced course load. 

  • Enroll in the correct number of in-person credits. Please review Enrollment Requirements for more information. 

  • Enroll in courses while you have an active SEVIS record.  
    Please note: If your I-20 has a future end date, you must inform ISSA via the Exit form in iStart that you are not enrolling for one of the following reasons: 

    • You have graduated 
    • Taken a leave of absence 
    • Returning home for military service 
    • Withdrawal 
  • Update your contact information in Account Management, including addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses.  
    Please note: Your permanent address must be an address outside the United States, and your local address must be where you sleep while attending Penn State. 

  • Obtain work authorization from your international student adviser. 

  • Apply for an extension of your I-20 or DS-2019 before the program end date listed on your document, if necessary. 

  • Meet mandatory health insurance requirements

The above regulations are mandatory. It is considered a violation of immigration status when a student does not follow these regulations even if it is unintentional. A violation will result in a student’s SEVIS record being terminated. When this occurs, there is no grace period, and the student is required to leave the U.S. immediately. 

Lost or Stolen Passports

Passports, Visas, and Arrival/Departure Records (I-94) are official travel documents that international students in F-1 or J-1 status must have in their possession. These documents show your country of citizenship and legal status in the U.S. 

ISSA recommends that you make a copy of each document for your records. These documents are important for students and scholars if they intend to work on-campus. 

ISSA recommends that you get a Pennsylvania driver’s license or a Pennsylvania State ID for identification while studying in the U.S. Using your passport as proof of age is not recommended. 

What Should You Do if Your Passport is Lost or Stolen?

Replacing a passport is a process that Penn State cannot help you with. Since your passport is a personal document, you will need to request a replacement. Below are recommended steps to follow if your passport is lost or stolen: 

  • Request a police report at the local police station. Go to the local police station and report that your passport was lost or stolen. If available, you can provide a copy of your passport. You will be issued a police report detailing the incident. Be sure to make an extra copy of the report for your own records. 
  • Print off an I-94 replacement, which is available online. 
  • Request a replacement passport through your home country’s embassy or consulate. In most cases, your embassy or consulate will ask for a copy of the police report about your lost or stolen passport.  The time to receive a new passport will vary by country.   
  • Apply for a new U.S. visa the next time you travel outside of the U.S. In most cases, this will be the same process you completed when requesting your original U.S. visa. You will also need to include a copy of the police report about your lost or stolen passport.  

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 or if there is a change in any of the following information:

  • Academic major
  • Name
  • 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.  We will not issue a new I-20 based on a one-semester assistantship.

Addresses and Other Contact Information

All students in F-1 and J-1 status, and their dependents, are required to report address information. ISSA is required by law to report this information to SEVIS. You are responsible to report and update both your home country address and your local U.S. address.  

REQUIRED INFORMATION TO REPORT 

  • Home Address (outside of the U.S.) -- required 

    • An international home address, outside of the United States 
    • Update any address change in Account Management within 10 days 
  • Local U.S. Address -- required 

    • A local address, where you live and sleep in the U.S. 
    • Update any address change in Account Management within 10 days 
    • Please verify the correct format for your local address at usps.com 
  • Telephone – two required 

    • A home country phone number (outside of the U.S.) 
    • A U.S. mobile phone number  
    • Please be sure to set up voicemail on your mobile phone. ISSA will only call you regarding important issues. 
    • Update any telephone number change in Account Management 
  • Emergency Contact 

    • Please provide information for an emergency contact. This is the person who the University will contact if you are seriously ill or injured 
  • Work Address 

    • If you are a graduate student and have a departmental mailbox or office, use this address as your work address 

EMPLOYMENT

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 ISSA. 

ONCE YOU LEAVE PENN STATE

After graduation and while working on Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM Extension OPT, you are still required to report any address change. When you no longer have access to Account Management, please log into iStart and complete the OPT Update form. Please note that you may need to use the Limited Services link to access your iStart account. 

Enrollment Requirements

Full-time Enrollment

Part-time Enrollment/Reduced Course Load

Hybrid, Web-based, or Online Courses

World Campus Enrollment

Summer Enrollment

Concurrent Enrollment

Withdrawals

 

Full-time Enrollment

Both F-1 and J-1 students must maintain full-time academic status.

Undergraduate and Law students in F-1 or J-1 status need to enroll for a minimum of 12 credits/semester to fulfill Department of  Homeland Security (DHS) visa requirements for full-time enrollment.

Graduate students in F-1 or J-1 status need to enroll in a minimum of 9 credits/semester to fulfill the Department of Homeland Security visa requirements for full-time enrollment.

F-1 and J-1 students may count no more than 3 hybrid-remote/online credits toward their minimum requirement. 

The following instructional modes count as in-person for immigration purposes:

  • In person (P)
  • Hybrid 25%-50% Remote (H2)
  • Hybrid 51-74% Remote (H5)

Part-time Enrollment/Reduced Course Load

Part-time enrollment/exceptions to full-time study must be cleared with an International Student Adviser in advance. For additional information, review the reduced course load information.

Hybrid, Web-based, or Online Courses

F-1 and J-1 students may count only 3 credits that are taught hybrid-remote/online, including World Campus, and Web, courses towards full-time enrollment each semester.

These instructional modes count as hybrid-remote/online: 

  • Hybrid 75% and up Remote (H7)
  • Remote Blended (RB)
  • Remote Asynchronous (RA)
  • Remote Synchronous (RS)
  • Video Receiving (VR)
  • Distance Education (DE)

World Campus Enrollment

F-1 and J-1 students cannot do a change of campus to World Campus and remain in the United States. Full-time enrollment in World Campus within the U.S. is a violation of F-1 and J-1 status. You can take web-based courses from outside the United States and do not need to be in F-1 or J-1 status. 

Summer Enrollment

Starting during the Summer

Undergraduate Students:

  • Undergraduate students beginning their degree in Summer Session I must be registered for 12 credits.
  • Undergraduate students beginning their degree in Summer Session II must be registered for 6 credits.
  • F-1 and J-1 students may count no more than 3 hybrid-remote/online credits toward their minimum requirement.

Graduate Students:

  • Graduate students beginning their degree in Summer Session I must be registered for 9 credits.
  • Graduate students beginning their degree in Summer Session II must be registered for 5 credits.
  • F-1 and J-1 students may count no more than 3 hybrid-remote/online credits toward their minimum requirement.

Graduating at the End of Summer

Students who intend to graduate or complete their program in summer must enroll in summer courses. No more than 3 hybrid-remote/online credits may count towards full-time summer enrollment.  If requesting approval for part-time enrollment for final semester, enrollment cannot be fully hybrid-remote/online.

Continuing Your Studies in the Fall Semester

Students who plan to enroll in the following fall semester may do any of the items listed below during the summer as it is considered a "vacation" period:

Concurrent Enrollment

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 do not count toward the Department of Homeland Security’s full-time enrollment requirement for international students.

Withdrawals

Withdrawals occur once the semester has begun. There are three possible consequences of withdrawing from all classes:

  1. Termination of the SEVIS record based on “authorized early withdrawal” if the student seeks advice from an international student adviser in ISSA 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.
  2. Termination of the SEVIS record based on “unauthorized early withdrawal” if the student does not seek advice from an international student adviser in ISSA 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. Retroactive withdrawals may cause a student’s SEVIS record to be terminated.
  3. International Student and Scholar Advising (ISSA)-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 ISSA does not withdraw students from any classes. Withdrawing from classes is an academic function by the student or academic advising unit, not an immigration function processed by ISSA. To withdraw from classes, students must go to LionPath and process the withdrawal online. We suggest that the student seek the advice of an academic adviser beforehand. Again, students must initiate the withdrawal: see instructions on the Registrar's website.

Change of Academic Level

As an international student at Penn State, you are required to maintain status while changing to another academic degree level. An example of a change of degree level may be from bachelor’s degree to master’s degree or master’s degree to doctoral degree. This also includes reductions of academic level, such as doctoral degree to master's degree. 

Your I-20 or DS-2019 must state accurate information, including a new academic degree level. If you change your academic degree level while at Penn State, you will need to follow the steps below to receive a new I-20 or DS-2019:  

  1. Accept an offer of admission at the new program degree level 
  2. Complete the Change of Level form in iStart and submit new financial documentation. 

This checklist must be completed, and a new I-20/DS-2019 must be issued no later than the end of your grace period. 

Note: Enrollment in your new program must begin at the next available session start date but no more than 5 months from the end of the last program. 

Health Insurance

It is mandatory for all international students in F-1 and J-1 status and for their accompanying dependents to have health insurance. Additionally, the U.S. Department of State requires that all J-1 exchange visitors (students, scholars, interns, etc.) and their dependents maintain health insurance. Willful violation of this mandate requires termination of the J-1 status. 

F-1 Program Extension

You are responsible for familiarizing yourself with your F-1 immigration status and your I-20, including the program end date and expiration date.

If you will not complete your academic program by the program end date listed on your I-20, you must request an extension no later than 45 days before the expiration of your I-20. You will not be able to request an extension after your I-20 expires.

 

How Do I Find the Program End Date on My I-20?

Eligibility

Requesting an Extension

 

How Do I Find the Program End Date on My I-20?

The program end date is listed on page one of your I-20

 

Eligibility

ISSA may grant a program extension if you meet the following criteria: 

  • Submit your extension request in iStart no later than 45 days before the expiration date of your I-20. 

  • Have maintained and are currently maintaining F-1 immigration status.  

  • Full-time enrollment (unless you have been approved for a Reduced Course Load through ISSA) 

  • The delay is caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major or research topics, unexpected research problems, or documented illnesses.  
    Note: Delays caused by academic warning or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extension. 

  • You are progressing normally toward your educational degree. 

 

Requesting an Extension 

Submit an extension request in iStart (listed under I-20 or DS-2019 Requests). This form requires the academic adviser’s input regarding your academic needs. 

Notes:  

 

Correcting a Terminated F-1 Record

Correcting a Terminated F-1 Record

F-1 students are required to maintain status by honoring the rules of their non-immigrant status.

There are two methods for correcting a terminated F-1 record: 

  1. Travel with a New/Initial I-20/DS-2019
  2. Reinstatement within the United States through U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

Both methods have benefits and risks, so it's important to seek advice from an international student adviser.

Travel with a New/Initial I-20/DS-2019

If you wish to return to Penn State for in-person studies after a withdrawal or military service, or come back after an academic suspension or a leave of absence, please follow these steps:

  1. Complete the re-enrollment process with the Registrar’s Office (undergraduates) or through the Graduate School (graduate students).
    Note: ISSA can process your returning student I-20/DS-2019 only after we can confirm that you are approved to return by the Registrar’s Office or your
  2. About 3 months before the date of your approved return to the University, request a new I-20 or DS-2019 via iStart > I-20 or DS-2019 Requests > Returning Students. You will be required to upload recent financial support documents with this request. More information about financial requirements can be found our website.
    Note: If your Penn State access account is no longer active, log in to iStart through Limited Services.

F-1 Reinstatement (within the U.S.) 

An application for reinstatement is possible for those who:

  • Lost their status due to circumstances beyond their control (e.g., serious illness); and
  • Have not engaged in unauthorized employment;
  • Do not have a record of repeated violations, or
  • Have not been out-of-status for more than five (5) months.

Students who have filed for reinstatement should:

  • Follow the rules for maintaining status, such as continued enrollment;
  • Not travel outside the U.S. while the reinstatement request is pending; and
  • Not be employed on or off campus while the reinstatement application is being processed.

Step 1: Request your Reinstatement I-20 by completing the Reinstatement form in iStart. To do this, you will need to submit recent financial documents.

Step 2: Submit the reinstatement application Form I-539 to USCIS with the following documents:

  1. Copy of Reinstatement I-20 signed by you.
  2. Copies of financial support documents used to obtain the I-20.
  3. 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.
  4. Any other letter(s) explaining the circumstances (e.g., from the international student adviser, academic adviser, or medical professional)
  5. Copies of all current immigration documents (e.g., previous I-20s, most recent arrival record I-94, valid passport, visa stamp, if applicable)
  6. Official Transcript (visit Penn State's online transcript request form)
  7. Copy of current and/or future class schedule
  8. Pay the processing fee for form I-539.

J-1 Program Extension

J-1 Program Extension

You are responsible for familiarizing yourself with your J-1 immigration status and your DS-2019, including the program end date and expiration date.

If you will not complete your academic program by the program end date listed on your DS-2019, you must request an extension no later than 45 days before the expiration of your DS-2019. You will not be able to request an extension after your DS-2019 expires.

 

How Do I Find the Program End Date on My DS-2019?

Eligibility

Requesting an Extension

 

How Do I Find the Program End Date on My DS-2019?

Check the first page of your DS-2019, block 3, which identifies the beginning and end dates of your academic program.

 

DS-2019 block 3 example

 

Eligibility

You must be in active J-1 status and meet the following criteria: 

  • Submit your extension request in iStart no later than 45 days before the expiration date of your DS-2019. 

  • Have maintained and are currently maintaining J-1 immigration status.  

  • Any employment, if applicable, occurred only with approval from ISSA. 

  • Full-time enrollment (unless you have been approved for a Reduced Course Load through ISSA) 

  • Have complied with the health insurance mandate for you and, if applicable, your dependents. 

  • The delay is caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major or research topics, unexpected research problems, or documented illnesses.  
    Note: Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extension. 

  • You are progressing normally toward your educational degree. 

 

Requesting an Extension

Submit an extension request in iStart (listed under I-20 or DS-2019 Requests), which requires the academic adviser’s input regarding your academic needs. 

Notes:

J-1 Reinstatement

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, ISSA 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 ISSA 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 ISSA. 

Taking a Break from Studies and Returning

Leave of Absence or Withdrawal Procedures

There are two processes that you need to follow – the academic process and the immigration process.

Leave of Absence

A student is allowed to apply for a Leave of Absence for a period of time (usually up to one year) and return to continue their degree program.

  1. Academic: Apply for a Leave of Absence with the Registrar's Office.
    The deadline for applying is the last business day before the first day of classes for the semester that the leave will begin.
  2. Immigration:  After you complete step 1, submit the Exit Form in iStart before leaving the U.S. Your I-20/DS-2019 record will be terminated as a result.

Withdrawal

If you are unable to complete the semester, you may choose to withdraw from the University.

Note: We strongly recommend you withdraw only after talking with your academic adviser/department as well as an International Student Adviser to determine the consequences to your academic standing and immigration status.

  1. Academic: Refer to the Registrar’s website to see the university process to withdraw.
  2. Immigration:  Once you withdraw from the semester, you must complete the Exit Form in iStart before leaving the U.S. Your I-20/DS-2019 record will be terminated as a result of the withdrawal.
    Discuss your situation with an International Student Adviser to determine the timing of leaving the U.S. 

 

Getting a New I-20/DS-2019 To Return to the University

If you wish to return to Penn State for in-person studies after a withdrawal or military service, or come back after an academic suspension or a leave of absence, please follow these steps:

  1. Complete the re-enrollment process with the Registrar’s Office (undergraduates) or through the Graduate School (graduate students).
    Note: ISSA can process your returning student I-20/DS-2019 only after we can confirm that you are approved to return by the Registrar’s Office or your graduate program.
  2. About 3 months before the date of your approved return to the University, apply for a new I-20 or DS-2019 in iStart by completing the Returning Students eForm (under I-20/DS-2019 requests). You will be required to upload updated financial support documents with this request. More information about financial requirements can be found our website.
    Note: If your Penn State access account is no longer active, log in to iStart through Limited Services.

Transferring to a New Institution (F-1 and J-1 Students)

F-1 and J-1 students must notify ISSA 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

  1. In iStart submit the SEVIS Transfer Out form (under k. Other Requests).
  2. Upload the admission/acceptance letter from the school to which you are planning to transfer.

Note:

  • No transfer request will be processed without a completed iStart form 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 ISSA 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:

  • Graduating/recently graduated? You should not request a date before you have completed classes at Penn State, but you must request a date within your 60-day grace period. ISSA suggests using the day after graduation as the transfer release date.
  • 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. ISSA recommends you choose a date close to the end of OPT, if possible.
  • NOT graduated and 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.
    Transferring in the middle of a semester is not advisable because 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 your active F-1 or J-1 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.

Grace Period

  • F-1 students have a 60-day grace period upon completion of studies during which to take action to continue their lawful 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, they must depart by the end of the grace period. Complete the Exit form 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:

 

Record Keeping

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. ISSA 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 ISSA.  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

A registration hold may be placed on an international student’s LionPATH account if a student does not comply with ISSA’s request to follow regulations and policies. The following situations may result in a registration hold: 

  • When a student does not complete Mandatory Immigration Check-in with ISSA 
  • When a student does not update their local address, home address, telephone number, and/or email address in Account Management since this information is reported in SEVIS 
  • When a student does not request a new immigration document for a change of Penn State campus 

The registration hold will be removed after the student complies with submitting the requested information and contacts ISSA. Please keep in mind that it may take 1-2 business days to remove the hold.