The United States has laws governing foreign nationals living within its borders. It is vital for you to take responsibility and learn about these laws which are constantly updated.
Students who come to the U.S. are granted non-immigrant classifications known as “F-1,” “J-1” and “M." This is commonly referred to as your “status.” (South Dakota State University only admits F-1 and J-1 Students.) A spouse or child (under the age of 21) who is allowed to come to the U.S. to be with an F-1 student is considered a “dependent” and is given F-2 status. This status is valid as long as the F-1 student maintains valid status.
In order to remain legally present in the U.S., you must maintain your status. To maintain legal status in the U.S., you must follow the rules that apply to your Visa Category.
**It is your legal responsibility to know and adhere to these rules.**
The most important rules for F-1 students:
- You must attend the school that you were authorized to attend on your I-20.
- You must maintain a full course of study (see below) during the academic year. (Full-time attendance during summer sessions is not required unless you were admitted to begin your studies during summer session.)
- You may not drop below full-time status without authorization from the Office of International Affairs.
- You cannot be employed off campus without proper authorization.
- Have a clean criminal record - charges such as DUI (driving under the influence), possession of illegal substance, MIP (Minor in Possession), buying/owning a firearm or assault will lead to the termination of your legal status in the United States. The Office of International Affairs cannot assist you with criminal charges.
You must follow the Department of Homeland Security rules regarding:
- Extending your stay (apply for extensions before I-20 expires.)
- NOTE: If you complete your degree before your I-20 Expires, your program end date is the date of you complete your program...NOT the program end date listed on your I-20.
- Changing from one degree program level to another (bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D.) or transferring to another school.
- Report any changes in your residential address by updating the current mailing address with the Office of International Affairs.
- Staying in the U.S. past your grace period.
Full course of study requirement
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires all international students with F-1 visas to register for a minimum number of credits each semester to maintain their student status in the U.S. It also requires the university to verify that its international students are registered for a full course of study.
Minimum credit levels to maintain your F-1 Student Status:
- Undergraduate students (including transfer undergraduate students and non-degree undergraduate students) must be registered for a minimum of 12 credits.
- Graduate students (including masters and Ph.D. students): Full course of study is typically 9 credits at the graduate level; however, the credits may vary depending on the percentage of graduate assistantship a student has.
IMPORTANT: To be able to be considered taking a full course load, your transcript must indicate that you are in 12 credits at the undergraduate level or 9 credits at the graduate level. (Unless the graduate student has an assistantship.) If you are worried about the potential of failing a course and would like to avoid the possibility of this affecting your GPA, you may want to speak with the Records and Registration Office at the beginning of the semester and request that the course be graded as a P/F (pass/fail) course.
Taking Less Than a Full Course of Study
In some circumstances, students are allowed to take less than a full course of study during an academic term. However, you must have prior approval from your international adviser before registering for less than a full course of study or dropping below a full course of study. The legal regulations allow only a few acceptable reasons for not carrying a full course of study through the entire academic term. Typically, undergraduate students will use the Request for a Reduced Course Load Form which can be picked up at the Office of International Affairs in the Hilton M. Briggs Library. Graduate students will generally use the Full-time Enrollment Verification Form.
If you fall below full-time status during a term for any reason that is not recognized in the regulations, you will lose your legal status in the U.S. This is the most common way students lose their legal status! Meet with your international adviser for prior approval before you finalize your plans to register for less than a full course or to withdraw from a class.
Note: For independent study courses and for courses in which you have taken an "incomplete," the credits count only in the academic term in which you registered for them.
Exception From Full Course of Study
If undergraduate students plan to register for less than a full course of study, or if you cancel a course and drop below the full course load, they must fill out and submit a Request for a Reduced Course Load Authorization Form to your international student adviser. This packet lists acceptable reasons recognized in the regulations. Reasons that are not considered acceptable by the Immigration Service or U.S. State Department include:
- I don't have enough money.
- I'm too busy finishing incomplete classes from last semester.
- I'm too busy with employment.
- I'm too busy with extracurricular activities.
- I'm studying for the GMAT, GRE, CPA or other similar exams.
- I'm suspended from my college, and cannot register.
Graduate Students who have an assistantship or who have completed their formal course work and are working on their thesis/dissertation, will need to complete the Full-time Enrollment Verification Form.
Request for Reduced Course Load Forms
Forms are available at the Office of International Affairs in the Hilton M. Briggs Library. You must first see your international adviser before dropping below a full course of study. Bring your Exception Form with you to the meeting, as all requests for a Reduced Course Load Authorization Form must be signed by an academic advisor, and usually require a note of explanation from the academic advisor. You must then submit the signed form to your international adviser during a scheduled appointment. If approved, the form is processed and kept in your permanent file in the Office of International Affairs. One copy should also be kept by you. It is important to keep copies of your signed Request for a Reduced Course Load Authorization Forms. You may be required to present them to a U.S. consular or USCIS official in the future if you request a new visa stamp, file for a change of visa status or request an adjustment of status to permanent residence.