Maintaining Status Overview
Program Extensions
Reduced Course Load (RCL)
Term Withdrawal & Leave of Absence

Maintaining Status Overview

As an F-1 student, it is your responsibility to understand how to maintain your status. Taking the time early on to become familiar with your obligations should make it easy to maintain your legal status. The ISAP Office can also assist with questions you may have.

Maintain Full-Time Enrollment

F-1 students must be enrolled full time. For undergraduate and graduate students, this means at least 12 units per semester. Only students enrolled in the Graduate Program in Visual and Critical Studies are considered full time at 9 units per semester.

If you believe you may be unable to maintain 12 units each semester for any reason, contact ISAP before you drop, withdraw, or stop attending courses. (See Reduced Course Load, below, for more details.)

Failure to be approved for a reduced course load before dropping below full-time status may result in a violation of your F-1 status.

Abide by U.S. Federal Regulations on Employment for F-1 Students

In general, F-1 students have limited employment options:

  • On-campus employment -- Up to 20 hours per week of work during the semester, and up to 40 hours per week during recognized school vacations (winter break, spring break, and summer).

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) -- Must apply and be approved for CPT through ISAP.

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) -- 12 months of work authorization postgraduation. Must work at least 20 hours per week, and employment must be related to your field of studies. You must apply and be authorized for OPT through USCIS.

Working off campus without prior authorization is considered illegal employment and is a serious violation of your F-1 status.

Check with ISAP before accepting any employment to make sure you meet eligibility requirements.

File Required Tax Forms Each Year

All international students are required to file at least one tax form (Form 8843) each year that they are in the United States. If you earn money in a given year, you are also required to file a tax return. Tax forms are filed each Spring. Please see the Taxes section for more information.

Keep Your Local Address Updated

ISAP is required to report a valid local address in SEVIS for each international student. You are required to update your local address each time you move, within 10 days of moving.

Update your address in WebAdvisor and then notify ISAP via email of the change.

If you legally change your name or country of citizenship, you must also report this information to ISAP.

Regularly Check Your CCA Email Account

ISAP will send important updates, reminder emails, and other messages to your CCA email address. You are responsible for checking this email address regularly and reading all emails from ISAP.

Make Sure Your Passport Is Valid

Your passport needs to be valid at all times. It should generally be valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States.

If your passport will expire earlier, you should contact your home country’s embassy or consulate in the United States for assistance in renewing your passport.

Get a Travel Endorsement Before Traveling Internationally

Before you travel outside the United States, make sure your I-20 Request form is endorsed for travel. This endorsement is a signature on the third page of your I-20 and is valid for 12 months while you are a student. While on OPT, travel signatures are valid for six months only.

To get a new travel signature, make an appointment with an ISAP staff member in Oakland or San Francisco.

Keep all Your I-20s

During your time at CCA, you will likely receive multiple I-20s. Keep all I-20s issued to you as you may need them if applying for OPT or other immigration benefits.

I-20 Information Is Correct

Ensure the program information and completion date on your I-20 Request form is accurate (first page, item 5). The program end date on your I-20 is an estimated completion date.

If you need additional semesters to complete your degree due to compelling medical or academic circumstances, you must apply for a program extension through ISAP before your current program completion date.

If you change majors, add a second major or minor, or plan to complete your program earlier, you must also see ISAP for an updated I-20 Request form.

Know Your Program Completion Date

Depart the United States within 60 days of your program completion date or OPT end date. Upon completion of your degree requirements, or at the end of your OPT (if you are eligible for and choose to do OPT), you have a 60-day grace period during which you may remain in the United States, but not work or study.

By the end of the 60-day grace period, you must either leave the United States, transfer to another school, or change to another immigration status. If you leave during your 60-day grace period, your F-1 status ends, and you forfeit the right to the rest of the grace period.

Program Extensions

If you feel you are at risk of not finishing your program on time, speak with your academic advisor or program manager. Convey your concerns and see if you can work out a plan to finish on time.

If this is not possible due to a compelling medical or academic reason, you must apply for a program extension through ISAP.

Note: You must request the program extension and receive your updated I-20 before the current program end date on your I-20. If you request a program extension on or after the program end date on your I-20, ISAP will not be able to process it and you risk violating your status.

Eligibility for a Program Extension

Per federal immigration regulations, program extensions may only be granted under the following circumstances:

(1) The student must have “continually maintained status” prior to the request for a program extension (8 CFR 214.2[f][7][iii]).

and

(2) The reason more time is needed must be due to “compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major or research topics, unexpected research problems, or documented illnesses” (8 CFR 214.2[f][7][iii]).

The regulations specifically state “[d]elays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for program extensions” (8 CFR 214.2[f][7][iii]).

Process to Request a Program Extension

Step 1: Dowload the appropriate Program Extension Form.

Step 2: Complete section 1 of the form.

Step 3: Meet with your academic advisor or program manager and bring the Program Extension Form. Your academic advisor/program manager will complete section 2, confirming the reason for the extension and giving an estimate of when you will complete all degree requirements.

Your advisor or program manager should also attach a copy of your academic plan (for undergraduate students) or degree audit (for graduate students) to the form.

If requesting an extension for medical reasons:

  • You do not need to share the details of the medical reason(s) with anyone outside of the ISAP Office. In this case, the main purpose of the meeting is to confirm your new expected program completion date and put together a new academic plan.

  • You may need to obtain documentation from your doctor regarding the medical reason for your program extension.

Medical documentation must:

Be from a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or clinical psychologist licensed in the United States.

Be on the doctor’s official letterhead with an original signature.

State you are unable to finish your program as planned due to compelling medical reasons.

Step 4: Turn in the completed Program Extension form, copy of your academic plan/degree audit, and, in the case of a medical reason, the documentation from your doctor to ISAP to have your request processed.

Step 5: Pick up your updated I-20 with the new program completion date.

Allow three to five business days for your request to be processed. ISAP will email you when it is ready.

Reduced Course Load (RCL)

Federal immigration regulations require F-1 students to be enrolled full time every semester, with only precise exceptions when the ISAP Office may authorize a reduced course load.

All students must be approved for a RCL before they drop, withdraw, or stop attending courses. Doing any of these things without first obtaining approval from ISAP may put you in violation of your F-1 status.

There is a three-to-five business-day processing time for RCL requests, so plan ahead to allow enough time to process your request.

A reduced course load may only be authorized for the following reasons:

  • Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements

  • Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods

  • Improper course-level placement

  • The student is in the final semester of the program and needs less than a full-time course load to graduate.

  • A documented medical condition that makes it medically unadvisable for the student to take a full course load.

A RCL is approved for one semester only and there are limits to the number of times a RCL may be authorized.

Only one academic RCL (any one of the academic reasons listed above) per degree level may be authorized for a student.

A medical RCL may be authorized a maximum of three semesters, and the RCL must be reapproved each semester with updated documentation.

Process to Request a Reduced Course Load

Step 1: Download the Reduced Course Load form.

Step 2: Complete section 1.

Step 3: Make an appointment with your academic advisor or program manager to complete section 2. Your advisor will confirm the reason for the reduced course load.

If requesting the RCL for medical reasons:

  • You do not need to share the details of the medical reason(s) with anyone outside the ISAP Office. In this case, the main purpose of the meeting with your advisor or program manager is to discuss the academic effects of the RCL and to put together a new academic plan to complete your degree.

  • You must obtain documentation that your medical condition is sufficiently serious that you are unable to complete a full-time course load.

Guidelines for medical documentation:

Must be from a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or clinical psychologist licensed in the United States.

Must be on the doctor’s official letterhead with an original signature.

Confirm that in the doctor’s professional medical opinion, it would be unadvisable for you to pursue a full-time course of study.

Give an estimate of when you could reasonably be expected to return to a full-time course load.

Step 4: Turn in the completed Reduced Course Load form, along with any supporting documentation, to ISAP.

Step 5: After being notified by ISAP that your RCL has been approved, you may register for the approved number of credits or drop below full-time status to the approved number of credits.

If you received a scholarship from CCA, dropping below full-time enrollment may mean you lose your scholarship. Contact the Financial Aid Office to discuss your situation and the effect an approved RCL might have on your scholarship.

Term Withdrawal & Leave of Absence

If you need to withdraw from courses at CCA for the current semester or take a leave of absence for a future semester, or both, you must follow all college procedures to complete the withdrawal or leave of absence, or both.

Information on withdrawing from all courses or taking a leave of absence can be found in the Student Handbook.

Part of the procedure is to meet with an ISAP advisor to discuss your plans and have your Term Withdrawal or Leave of Absence form(s), or both, signed. To do this, set up an appointment with an ISAP advisor either in Oakland or San Francisco.

Effect on SEVIS Record and Immigration Status

Once you have submitted the Term Withdrawal form to the Student Records Office and you have been withdrawn from your courses, your SEVIS record will be terminated and you will have a 15-day grace period to leave the United States.

Your F-1 status ends when your SEVIS record is terminated.

Returning to CCA

When you are ready to return to CCA, contact ISAP. All returning students are required to provide a new I-20 Request form and updated financial documentation before being issued a new I-20.

To allow enough time for issuance of your I-20 and application for a new visa (should you need one), contact ISAP at least 90 days before the start of the semester in which you will return to CCA.

Effect on Eligibility for CPT and OPT

Immigration regulations require that a student be in F-1 status for at least one full academic year before being eligible for CPT or OPT. Withdrawing or taking a leave of absence, or both, creates a break in your F-1 status. This means that your “time-clock” for being eligible for CPT or OPT resets.

Upon returning to CCA, you must maintain F-1 status continuously for at least two semesters before becoming eligible for CPT or OPT again.