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Maintaining F-1 Student Status

Student Responsibilities in Maintaining F-1 Immigration Status
Welcome to the U.S.! All international students are required by U.S. law to abide by the immigration regulations throughout their stay in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) admits students to the U.S. for the sole purpose of being a full-time student. Participation in any other activity, from employment to vacation, is considered to be a privilege and is only allowable in accordance with strict DHS regulations. Failure to take appropriate measures to abide by the conditions of your non-immigrant status could result in penalties for violations of the law. Penalties can be severe and include deportation and five and ten-year bars from reentry to the U.S. It is your responsibility to understand and follow the laws and rules given by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the University. Advisors at the Office of International Students and Visiting Scholars (OISVS) are available to assist you. However, it is the student and not the university who is ultimately responsible for remaining aware of and abiding by the regulations and maintaining legal student status.

Check-In with the Office of International Students and Visiting Scholars (OISVS) at ACU
All new international F-1 students must be physically present in our office within the first 5 days of arriving at ACU. Our office is located in room 124 of the Hardin Administration Building. You will need to bring the following items with you:

  • Valid I-20 from ACU
  • Valid I-94 card with a legal entry stamp into the U.S.
  • Valid Passport and F-1 visa
  • Your Abilene address, phone number and ACU email address, and emergency contacts.

The OISVS is required to report your arrival and current immigration information in SEVIS. You will be out of status if you have not brought the information mentioned above to our office.

NOTE: You are required to attend ACU’s International Student Orientation.

Important Documents

Passport: The passport is the legal document issued by your country of citizenship. It must be kept valid at all times during your stay in the U.S., and must be valid at least 6 months into the future to re-enter the U.S. or to apply for a U.S. visa. Your passport can usually be renewed through your country’s Embassy or one of its consulates in the U.S.

Form I-20: The I-20 is the document issued for F-1 students by the institution you will be attending. You must present it to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad to obtain a visa and at the port of entry for admission to the U.S. It must be signed for travel on page 3 every 6 months in order for you to reenter the U.S. after an absence of 5 months or less.

I-94 card: The I-94 card is the white card which you complete before entering the U.S. This document authorizes your presence into the U.S. as a student for a specified period of time. Be sure your I-94 card name matches your passport, and is marked F-1, D/S by the official at the port of entry.

Visa: The U.S. entry visa is a “foil” placed in your passport and grants the bearer the right to request permission to enter the U.S. Actual permission to enter into the U.S. is still determined the Customs and Border Patrol agent at the port of entry. While you are in the U.S., your visa may expire. You will not be able to renew it in the U.S. A new visa may be required to re-enter the US after an absence.

To maintain your status, you must always: 

Be enrolled full-time every Fall and Spring semester.

  • 12 credit hours for undergraduate students
  • 9 credit hours for graduate students (excluding ESL classes) *
  • No hours are required during summer break if you intend to register for the next fall term, unless notified by the Designated School Official (DSO). You must register full-time for the summer session if it is your first or your final semester.
  • There are some circumstances in which students may receive permission to enroll in less than a full course of study for one semester. Authorization must be obtained from the DSO BEFORE you drop below full time.
  • No more than one, 3-hour class of online or distance learning is allowed per semester, and cannot be the only class in your final semester.
  • Failure to enroll full time will result in the loss of your immigration status in the U.S.

Maintain a valid I-20, I-94, and passport at all times.
 Keep your immigration documents with you: passport, I-94 card, I-20.

Obtain written authorization in a timely manner from the DSO for each of the following (check with the OISVS for each deadline):

  • Reduced Course Load to enroll in less than a full course of study
  • Changing your degree level: Bachelor’s to Master’s, Master’s to Doctorate, etc…
  • Concurrent Enrollment: Enrollment at another institution in order to fulfill full time status.
  • An extension for the completion date of your I-20.
  • Transferring to another institution

Notify the OISVS
 in all of the following circumstances:

  • Change of major. You will need a new I-20 noting the changes.
  • Any change of address (local or permanent) within 10 days of moving.
  • Before securing any employment (read the requirements on work authorization.)
  • When you have completed your degree.

Contact the OISVS
 before securing any employment and read the requirements on the work authorization link.

Make normal academic progress toward the completion of your degree and complete your degree by the end date of your I-20 (line 5, page 1).

  • If an extension is needed for completion, contact the OISVS. The request for an extension must be made at least one month before the completion date on your document.
  • Failure to do so will result in the loss of your legal student status in the US.

Bring your I-20 to the OISVS for the DSO to sign your I-20 before traveling outside the U.S.

  • Re-entry to the U.S. could be denied if your I-20 is not signed. If you are given a form I-515 upon entry to the U.S., come to the OISVS immediately to file the appropriate documents within the 30-day deadline, or your record will be terminated by DHS.
  • Mailing of travel documents will be at student expense.

Complete an official immigration transfer
 before transferring to a new institution. Enrollment at ACU is required up to the transfer release date. See the document on F-1 transfers, and meet with the Immigration Specialist for more details.

Check your personal ACU email account often. The OISVS will send important information or messages through ACU email only. Failure to check your email daily could result in serious consequences.

To maintain your status, you must never:

Work off campus unless you have the necessary work authorization.

Work on campus more than 20 hours per week while school is in session. This is considered illegal work.

Take a leave of absence, drop below full time course load, start an internship, or work without first receiving OISVS approval.

Break the rules of ACU or the laws of the US. ACU student policies can be found here. Students who drive must obey all traffic rules; all other US laws also apply. Your wages and scholarships are subject to federal tax withholding, and you must fill out tax documents every year, even if you do not earn wages.
What happens if I become out of status?
If you violate the terms of your status, your SEVIS record will be terminated. Under some circumstances, you may apply for a reinstatement to be put back into lawful status. It is a serious violation to be out of status and there is no guarantee that DHS will approve reinstating you to active status. If you are denied reinstatement, you will be required to leave the U.S. immediately. In other circumstances (such as illegal work), you cannot apply for a reinstatement and you will be required to leave the U.S. immediately.

Reinstatement to Lawful Status

Grace Periods for Remaining in the U.S. – “Grace period” refers to the amount of time you are legally allowed to remain in the U.S. after completing your program of study.

You are not allowed to work on or off-campus during the grace periods.

Immigration Status Academic Program Grace Period
F-1 Complete the Program 60 days after completion
F-1 Withdraw or cease to attend classes WITH prior permission from the OISVS 15 days
F-1 Lose immigration status, withdraw or cease to attend classes WITHOUT prior permission from the OISVS No Grace Period

You must leave the U.S. when:

  • You complete your program successfully (even if earlier than document end date);
  • You have ended your enrollment as a student, or been suspended by the university;
  • You are denied a reinstatement or have failed to otherwise maintain your student status.

The Office of International Students and Visiting Scholars (OISVS) assists students in the preparation and receipt of their acceptance documents to study at ACU and offers services to F-1 students during their studies at ACU. The information provided to you in this document is a courtesy to you. The OISVS makes every attempt to provide accurate immigration advice for F-1 students. The information in our documents is general and should not be taken as legal advice. Please contact an immigration attorney if legal advice is needed. It is your responsibility to understand and follow the rules given by DHS and the University.

For more information about the F-1 regulations, please see the following: 

The staff at the Office of International Students and Visiting Scholars are available to assist you. Contact:

Veronica Whitt, Assistant Director for International Student Services (
for questions related to housing, university procedures, the International Students’ Association, or medical and life issues.

Lucy Dawson, Associate Director, Office of International Students and Visiting Scholars, Primary Designated School Official (PDSO) (
for questions related to international student health insurance and immigration.

*Graduate students enrolled in undergraduate leveling hours are encouraged to take at least 12 hours of classes.