The United States government has mandated a series of regulations and guidelines that degree-seeking international students in F-1 and J-1 visa categories must adhere to during their stay in the U.S. It is critical that students understand and comply with the criteria outlined below. Failure to adhere to one or more of these requirements can result in a student’s loss of status.
International Student and Scholar Services (I.S.S.S.) is here to support you in navigating these visa status and maintenance requirements. We understand that this information can be dense and confusing at times, so we are here to help!
Appropriate Full-Time Enrollment
U.S. federal regulations require international F-1 and J-1 students to maintain full-time enrollment throughout their program, uphold good academic standing, and make normal academic progress toward their degree objective.
Students must be registered for classes by the end of the first week of classes each semester. Registration must meet minimum enrollment requirements. Undergraduate students are required to be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester. Graduate students must generally be enrolled for at least 9 credit hours.
Some students may be eligible to enroll for less than full-time or be considered full-time with fewer hours than stated above. Speak with an International Student Advisor for guidance.
Online/Distance Learning Course Policy
Based on federal regulations requiring physical presence, both F-1 and J-1 international students are subject to restrictions regarding online coursework. Remember that not complying with federal regulations regarding online/distance education courses can lead to losing F-1/J-1 status. F-1 and J-1 visa holders have slightly different requirements regarding registration in online courses.
F-1 degree seeking students can count three credits in an online/distance learning course per semester toward the full-time enrollment requirement. Therefore, a minimum of 9 out of 12 credits for undergraduates must be on-campus, face-to-face. F-1 graduate students must register for a minimum of 6 out of 9 credits on-campus, face-to-face.
J-1 students cannot count online courses towards the full-time enrollment requirement. Therefore, J-1 students should enroll full-time in on-campus, face-to-face courses before adding any online courses each semester. If you hold a government scholarship, please contact your government sponsor for authorization for registration in online (WEB) hours.
Returning students are not required by immigration regulations to enroll in the summer session if they were full-time in the spring semester and will continue their enrollment in the fall semester. Students may choose to study, return home, or work on campus (or off-campus if eligible and if authorized in advance) in the summer. Students authorized for full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) may also be exempted from enrolling in classes without jeopardizing their non-immigrant status, but should check with their international student advisor first.
However, full-time enrollment in the summer is required for international students beginning or finishing their program of study. Graduate students must be enrolled in a full course of study as determined by their graduate study plans. Undergraduate students may either enroll in 12 credit hours total, between Summer I and Summer II, or they may enroll for Summer II only, for at least 6 credit hours. Students who will take only one course during the summer term are not permitted to take that course through online or distance education if it is their first or last term of enrollment.
Exceptions to Full-Time Enrollment
Enrollment in less than full-time may be authorized as an exception in the following situations:
- If the student is medically unable to maintain a full-time course load (with letter of recommendation from Counseling Center or physician).
- If a student is having difficulty during the first semester of enrollment due to (1) initial difficulties with the English language, (2) with the reading requirements.
- If the student has been placed in or advised by their academic advisor to take a course at an improper course level or if a student is unfamiliar with American teaching methods (with letter of explanation from advisor).
- If the student is in their final semester or has completed all required coursework.
If you believe that you qualify for any of the mentioned exceptions, contact an International Student Advisor immediately before dropping below a full course of study.
Please note: there may be financial consequences for dropping below full-time status. Please check with the cashier’s office to confirm if there will be any issues with your student account.
Employment and Practical Training
There are strict guidelines governing training and employment for F-1 and J-1 visa holders and their dependents. If a student is identified as working without authorization, the student will be "out of status" and is subject to having their SEVIS record terminated for unauthorized employment.
- All international students are eligible to work on campus up to 20 hours per week (40 hours per week during vacation periods), without the approval of the U.S. government or the University. This includes Research and Teaching Assistantships.
- All forms of practical training (OPT/CPT), whether on- or off-campus, must be approved by the U.S. government or University.
- Community service-based volunteering is generally permitted; however, students cannot volunteer for a position that the organization would normally hire someone to fill.
For further information regarding student employment, please visit our webpage on Training and Employment.
Maintain Updated Records and Documents
It is important to keep all documentation updated throughout your program of study. Failure to maintain current records can result in a violation of your visa status with the U.S. government, and, therefore, the loss of benefits associated with the F-1 or J-1 visa. Please review the following information for procedures on keeping documentation up-to-date.
Updating Visa Documents
It is critical that you maintain a valid passport, know the expiration date of the passport, renew the passport in a timely manner, and provide the International Programs Center (IPC) with a copy of your new passport for record keeping purposes.
You must be aware of your I-20/DS-2019 end date. In the event that you will not graduate before your program end date, you will need to request a program extension via your ISSS Account.
Visa renewal is only required if your visa has expired and you are leaving the U.S. and planning to return on the same status. Information on how to renew your visa can be found here. If you have recently updated your visa, make sure to provide IPC with a copy before or upon your return to UNCG.
Report a Change of Address
Students are required to report a change of U.S. or Overseas address to IPC within ten days. Update your address via UNCGenie under “Update Address(es) and Phone(s).” Note: the “local” address represents your U.S. address and "permanent" address represents the address in your home country.
Report a Change of Name
- Contact the University Registrar’s Office for changes of name.
- Contact IPC as soon as your updated name appears in UNCGenie, for procedures to change your name on the I-20 or DS-2019
- Submit a request via your ISSS account to receive an updated I-20. For assistance, email an advisor at email@example.com.
Report a Change in Major or Program of Study
- Undergraduate students must contact the University Registrar’s Office.
- Graduate students must contact the Graduate School. Please note that graduate students admitted to a new program must apply for a new I-20 and provide updated financial documents.
- Complete a Change of Program request via your ISSS account to receive an updated I-20
Health Insurance Requirements
All J-1 and F-1 international students are required to maintain current health insurance coverage. Students must choose to waive or enroll themselves and their dependents in the UNCG Student Blue Health Insurance plan each semester. J-1 students whose program sponsor provides proof of the Department of State mandated minimum insurance coverage for the student and all dependents are eligible to waive the University’s Student Blue Health Insurance Plan. If you do not waive the university health insurance at the beginning of each semester, you will be automatically enrolled and charged accordingly.
Failure to comply with this regulation may result in termination of the student’s program of study.
Maintain Financial Solvency
F-1 and J-1 visa statuses are by definition self-supporting and non-immigrant. U.S. Federal regulations require international degree-seeking students (including dependents) to maintain financial solvency throughout their stay in the U.S. Proof of financial solvency is required for the production of an initial I-20 and for any extension of a program. Failure to pay tuition in a timely manner will cause the cancellation of courses by the university, resulting in the revocation of one’s visa status by the U.S. Department of State. Students worried about making timely payments should contact the UNCG Cashier’s Office as soon as possible to sign up for a payment plan.
Please note F-1 and J-1 students (including dependents) are ineligible for U.S. Government public assistance including public funds and health care benefits. Accessing public benefits may jeopardize a student’s U.S. visa renewal while abroad or reentry into the U.S. Spouses and children in F-2 status cannot work, so the F-1 student must have adequate funds to support the entire family. While J-2 dependents may apply for work permission, they must first demonstrate that they already have adequate financial support prior to receiving work authorization. Please direct inquiries to an International Student Advisor.
Other Considerations for Maintaining Status
Academic Integrity and Student Conduct
The University has clear policies regarding academic integrity and student conduct. As the primary purpose of the F-1 visa category is to pursue a degree at an institution of higher education in the U.S., anything that jeopardizes your enrollment can lead to being considered out of status.
The UNCG Academic Integrity policy covers incidents of cheating, plagiarism, and the like, and can be found here. The UNCG Student Code of Conduct is another important policy to be aware of as violation of its terms can lead to dismissal from the University. Finally, students must also consider what it means to be in good academic standing at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Violation of U.S. State and Federal Laws
Restrictions on Marijauana Usage: The differentiation between federal and state laws can be confusing to those unfamiliar with our legal system and Fs & Js may travel over breaks to states where marijuana (to some extent) is legal under state law.
It is a federal crime in the U.S. to manufacture, import, possess, use or distribute marijuana. Regardless of whether state law provides for the manufacture, use, or possession of marijuana, even for medical purposes, it remains a criminal offense under federal law. Furthermore, a noncitizen that admits to the possession or use of marijuana may be found inadmissible to the U.S.
Detailed information can be found at:
An F-1 or J-1 student who does not follow the guidelines for maintaining status can lose his/her legal ability to remain in the United States as a full-time student. Violations of status include, but are not limited to:
- Unauthorized drop below full-course load
- Failure to timely file for a program extension
- Accepting off-campus work without prior authorization
- Not requesting a SEVIS transfer
- Overstay: staying in the U.S. beyond your 60 day grace period
Failing to maintain status or falling out of status will result in the termination of your SEVIS record requiring your immediate departure from the U.S. Your record can be terminated manually by a DSO or ARO at IPC or automatically by SEVP. If you believe that you may be out of status or in danger of falling out of status please contact your international advisor immediately to confirm status information and request protocol for reinstatement if applicable.
Unlawful Presence Policy
As of August 9, 2018 the U.S. has enacted a strict policy on the acrument of “unlawful presence.” Visit this webpage from Cornell University to learn more about this policy and how it can affect you.
Change Your Status
There are several instances that may require a student to change, or adjust, their immigration status to another. Change of status involves switching classification within visa categories (e.g., changing from F-1 to F-2) or to an entirely new visa category altogether (e.g., changing from an F-1 to an H1-B).
According to U.S. immigration law, when an individual currently in the U.S. in one non-immigrant status wishes to change to another non-immigrant status, they can do so in one of two ways:
- The individual can leave the U.S., apply for an entry visa for the new status at a U.S. consulate abroad, and reenter the U.S. with the appropriate documentation for the new status. For further details, please visit Obtaining and Renewing Your Visa.
- The individual can file an application for a change of non-immigrant status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.) and remain in the U.S. for U.S.C.I.S. to make a decision on their application. For further details, please contact IPC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While our office cannot provide legal advice on how to change your immigration status, we recommend that you contact a local immigration attorney that is knowledgeable about student visas. The American Immigration Lawyers Association website is a very useful resource you can use to identify attorneys in the Triad area.