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F-1 Student Information

Maintaining F-1 Status

In order to study at the College of Charleston, you had to obtain an I-20 from our institution and then apply for an F-1 visa.  Now that you are studying at the College, you need to make sure you maintain your legal status.

As an F-1 student, you are admitted to the U.S. in F-1 status for a period known as "duration of status," or (D/S).  It is extremely important for a nonimmigration to maintain his or her status while in the U.S.  Failure to maintain the terms and conditions of nonimmigrant status is grounds for termination of a student's SEVIS record.

First, immigration regulations require new students to report to the College of Charleston's Center for International Education (CIE) within the first two weeks of the start of classes.  If a student fails to report, he/she will be considered "out of status."  In addition to reporting to the CIE, students must following the rules and guidelines outlined below.

To maintain F-1 Status, a student MUST:

  1. Maintain a passport that is valid at least six months into the future
  2. Attend the school you are authorized to attend
  3. Remain in the United States for no longer than 60 days after completing the full course of study, unless prior to that time the student has followed procedures for applying for optional practical training (OPT), moving educational levels, or school transfer
  4. Report a change of address within 10 days to the CIE
  5. Report a change in your legal name or dependent's legal name to the CIE within 10 days of this action occuring
  6. Limit on-campus employment to 20 hours a week while school is in session
  7. Not work off-campus without authorization (click here for more information)
  8. Pursue a full course of study and make normal progress towards the completion of the course of study before the expiration of the program completion date on the College of Charleston issued I-20

Full course of study and full-time study, except during the summer school breaks, are defined as follows:

  • Undergraduates - 12 credits per semester
  • Graduates - 9 credits per semester

Students can only enroll in one online course for up to 3 credits per semester that can count towards their full-time enrollment.

Please note that a student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of the DSO will be considered out of status.

If a student has any special circumstances, always seek the advice of the CIE on the maintainance of F-1 status immediately.

Remember it is ultimately your responsibility to maintain your immigration status. 

SEVIS

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a web-based system for maintaining information on international students and exchange visitors in the United States.  It is administered by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a division of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

For complete information about SEVIS, please visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services SEVIS website.  

Extending your I-20

Department of Homeland Security regulations require students in F-1 status to complete their program by the expected completion date noted in item 5 on the I-20.

If students will not be able to complete their current program by the expected completion date because of valid academic or medical reasons, they must apply for a Program Extension with the CIE before the expected completion date.

Students must bring in the following documents:

  1. I-20 and I-94 print out
  2. Passport
  3. Financial documentation showing that student can meet the cost of the additional time needed to complete the program
  4. Program Extension Form completed by the student and faculty/academic advisor

Upon approval of the extension petition, the student will receive a new I-20.

Reinstatement

Students who have failed to maintain their F-1 student status are entitled to apply to the USCIS to ask to be reinstated (returned) to student status. Please note that a student who has been out of status for more than 5 months is ineligible for reinstatement.

When students show clearly that the violation of the rules happened for reasons beyond their control or that the violation was merely technical and not serious, the USCIS is more inclined to forgive the violation and return the student to proper status.

Students can also be reinstated if they can show that failure to regain status would result in serious hardship.

Students should submit the following documents to the local USCIS office:

  • A new College of Charleston issued visa document indicating that it has been issued for the purpose of an application for "Reinstatement" (Student must sign item #11)
  • Photocopies of all other visa documents (from College of Charleston and any other colleges attended)
  • A completed Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) signed by the student with all questions answered
  • A letter no longer than one page written by the student providing the facts and circumstances which resulted in the violation of status. Students should mention that they are currently enrolled in a full load of classes and also explain how a hardship would result from not being returned to F-1 student status
  • A photocopy of the front and back of your Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure card usually stapled inside passport)
  • Photocopies of the biographical and F-1 visa pages of the passport
  • Official copies of transcripts from all the schools attended while in the United States
  • Documents which establish the necessary financial support to complete the program of study
  • A check or money order made out to the "DHS" for $290.00 (as of March 24, 2011). Note: While the reinstatement application is pending, the student may not work

Grace Period

If you are an F-1 Student and have completed your program of study, you have 60 days to leave the United States, apply for a change of status, or transfer to another school.

After your F-1 OPT expires, you have 60 days to leave the United States, apply for a change of status, or transfer to another school.

Transfer to another school

International students maintaining valid F-1 status may transfer to the College of Charleston from another U.S. Service approved school by following the transfer procedures set forth in the regulations.

Simply transferring academically from one school to another does not transfer a student's F-1 status unless the student and DSO follow the federal regulations surrounding the transfer process. The transfer process, however, does not require government adjudication. Rather, it is a notification process that takes place as an update event in SEVIS with the active participation of the student, the "transfer out" school, and the "transfer in" school.

Transfer Process

  • Student must inform the DSO at current school ("transfer out") of intention to transfer and provide the DSO with the complete name of our university: College of Charleston.
  • DSO at transfer-out school will need to release SEVIS record to the College of Charleston.
  • A release date will be set for the College of Charleston to access a student's transfer record. However, if the transfer-out school determines that the students has failed to maintain status, or if the SEVIS record indicates that the students is not in active status, then a release date cannot be set, and the transfer cannot proceed.
  • Once a student's record has been released in SEVIS (with a release date), the College of Charleston will then issue the SEVIS document.

Transfer Deadlines

If a student completes a course of study (or OPT), the student is eligible for transfer through the end of the 60-day grace period. Failure to transfer during the 60-day grace period will result in the loss of your F-1 student visa status and you will be considered "out of status".

In addition, the start date at the transfer-in school must be within 5 months following the release date set by the transfer-out school, or within 5 months of the program completion date in SEVIS, whichever date is earlier. This means that a student can remain in the United States for nor more than 5 months between completing at the transfer-out school and beginning at the transfer-in school (granted the transfer was initiated in SEVIS within 60-days of the completion of program or OPT).

Arrival at the College of Charleston:

Upon arriving at the College, all new students, including transfer students, are required to bring the following documents to the Center for International Education at the Multicultural Center within 15-days of arrival (failure to do so will result in the termination of your F-1 student visa):

  • College of Charleston SEVIS issued visa document and I-20's from all previous schools attended
  • Passport with F-1 visa stamp
  • Form I-94 (arrival/departure record)

Please note that failure to check-in with CIE within 15 days of the begin date of classes will result in the termination of your F-1 student status. The transfer process is not complete until you check-in at CIE.

Employment Authorization

International students at the College are frequently interested in pursuing on-campus or off-campus employment. Employment benefits available to international students may include a job on the College of Charleston campus, off-campus employment (an internship of Co-op experience), or Optional Practical Training following graduation.

Students should be very familiar with the immigration requirements and deadlines to ensure their ability to take advantage of the benefit of working in the United States.

Working On-Campus

International students on F-1 status are eligible to begin working on-campus immediately upon enrolling at the College.

On-campus work does not require DSO approval. Students establish their eligibility to work by providing the Payroll Office at the College with the necessary required documents. Please check with Human Resources at 843.953.7656 for information on what documents are required.

General Guidelines and Limitations

All on-campus work is treated the same for the 20 hours per week limit; e.g., a teaching assistant working 15 hours per week can only work 5 additional hours per week in another on-campus job.  On-campus employment includes work done as a teaching or research assistant as well as jobs in the school library, and administrative offices.

Students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week when school is in session. During school breaks, international students may work up to 40 hours per week on-campus.

Employment is "incident to status," and does not require DSO or USIC approval. Students temporarily attending two institutions concurrently may work only on the campus of the institution that issued their SEVIS Form.

A student may not engage in on-campus employment during the 60-day grace period following the completion of a course of study or thereafter, expect for employment authorized for OPT.

Off-Campus Employment

An international student who has been enrolled full-time at the College of Charleston for one full academic year may be eligible to work off-campus in work which is directly related to his/her program of study. USCIS student regulations call this Curricular Practical Training (CPT) which should not be confused with Optional Practical Training (the 12 months of employment authorization available following graduation from CofC). Note: Use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT.

The regulations at 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(10)(i) define curricular practical training as "alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum which is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school."

Curricular practical training is available to F-1 students who have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least nine consecutive months. In most cases, curricular practical training will not be authorized if it results in a work commitment of more than twenty hours/week while a student is enrolled in classes.

Eligibility / Application Process

The requirements to be eligible for Curricular Practical Training are:

  • The student must have been in full-time status for at least 9 consecutive months
  • The student must be in good academic standing, making normal progress
  • Students may engage in Curricular Practical Training only for the specific employer location and period approved and recorded by the DSO in SEVIS
  • Duration of Curricular Practical depends on the specific period granted by the DSO. It may be granted in increments of no more than one year
  • Curricular Practical Training can be approved for part-time (20 hours or less) or full-time (over 20) hours
  • Employment must be an integral part of an established curriculum, in the student's course of study
  • Student must obtain a written recommendation from the academic advisor that the student is authorized for the training in question
  • Student must have an offer of employment from an employer offering work that qualifies as curricular practical training
  • Use of full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training
  • Student must receive written authorization from DSO, who records authorization in SEVIS and issues SEVIS I-20 with notation, before work begins
  • Student must continue to maintain a full course of study in F-1 status during the period of employment

Optical Practical Training

Students are eligible for OPT only after completing one year of full-time courses. Students may submit an application for optional practical training (OPT) up to 90 days prior to their graduation date. Application of OPT after graduation is not permitted. Students granted optional practical training receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card). Currently, it is taking between 6 to 9 weeks for USCIS to process OPT applications and mail EAD cards.

To apply for practical training, students must submit to the International Student Advisor:

  • A completed I-765 form (Application for Employment Authorization)
  • Original I-20 forms
  • Photocopy of your Form I-94 Arrival/departure card front and back on one page)
  • Photocopy of your Biographical page of your passport
  • If previously engaged in practical training, include a photocopy of your first EAD card
  • Two full color frontal photographs "passport style" which is no more than 30 days old. Write your name and I-94 number in pencil on the back of each photo.
  • Check or money order made payable to "DHS" for $175. Please note: Students are encouraged not to travel while OPT application is pending. Traveling may cause the application to be cancelled by USCIS.

Concurrent Enrollment

"Concurrent Enrollment" means that a student is enrolled in two places at the same time. An international student may be given permission to engage in Concurrent Enrollment provided the student meets the following USCIS requirements:

  • Combined enrollment amounts to a full course of study
  • The student has been granted permission from a faculty advisor to enroll at another college (advisor must sign Concurrent Enrollment Form)
  • Must receive written approval from DSO at the Center for International Education
  • The student is making normal progress at the College of Charleston and is not in danger of probation or disqualification
  • The coursework at the other school is not a vocational and will be accepted for fulfilling degree requirements at the College

Procedure

  • Obtain a "concurrent enrollment approval letter" from the College of Charleston International Student Advisor
  • Mail or fax a copy of the Registration Form of the other college to the International Office during the first week of classes: 843.953.7663
  • Provide proof of completion of course work done at the other college/university BEFORE the next quarter

Travel

Travel and Re-entry into the United States:
International students at the College planning to travel outside the United States should always consult with the CIE before leaving the country.

Guidelines

  • Students must have a vaild travel signature on the 3rd page of their I-20. Signatures are valid for 12 months unless the student is on OPT and then the signature is valid for only 6 months.
  • Students are encouraged to carry official transcripts, latest financial documents and enrollment verification as some students have been asked to provide these documents at the port of entry
  • Always carry your passport and valid immigration documents for domestic or international travel; passports should be valid for at least six months into the future
  • For student on OPT you must carry your EAD card and proof of employment such as a letter from your employer and copies of your pay stubs.

Since Mexico and Canada share land borders with the U.S., many students may not think of inquiring about entry requirements in advance. Please not that Mexico and Canada have distinct entry requirements, which must be investigated by students and their families just like any other country.

Rules Regarding a Temporary Absence

If you remain continuously registered for a full course of study with the College, but must travel outside the United States, you are permitted to reenter the U.S. after a "temporary absence" of five months or less using:

  • Your current SEVIS ID if the back page is properly signed for travel by CIE, or
  • A new school's SEVIS ID if you will enter a school other than the College of Charleston when you return (see the transfer page for complete information on this process)

If You Are Outside of the U.S. for Longer Than a Temporary Absence

After a period of more than five months outside of the U.S., you are considered gone for longer than a temporary absence. Your current SEVIS ID will be invalid and you must request a new SEVIS ID to return to the College, or reenter on a new school's SEVIS ID if you will attend a school other than the College of Charleston when you return.

Travel on Post Completion OPT

An F-1 student with an unexpired EAD issued for post completion practical training and who is otherwise admissible may re-enter the U.S. to resume employment after a temporary absence. The EAD must be shown in combination with a SEVIS ID endorsed for travel and re-entry by the DSO within the last 6 months.

Important: If you are outside the U.S. for a period of more than 5 months you will not be permitted to reenter on your current SEVIS ID. Therefore, you will be ineligible for off-campus employment until after you have maintained a full course of study for another 9 consecutive months.

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