The U.S. government requires that international students on F-1 and J-1
visas register and complete a full course of study each semester.
Thus, international students (both F-1 and J-1) must enroll full time in order to maintain status. For undergraduate students this is defined as 12 credit hours. For graduate students this is defined as 8 credit hours.
Summer session is considered a vacation period and students are not required to enroll during the summer (exception: graduate students admitted to begin a program of study effective summer session must enroll as a full-time student the summer of admission.
As SEVIS now requires reporting on student enrollment it becomes more important that students and departments understand full time enrollment as defined under Immigration law.
Exceptions from Full Time Enrollment for F-1 students
Under certain circumstances, students may request an exception from full time enrollment. This request must be approved by an International Student Services Advisor (also known as a DSO) in order for the student to maintain status.
Students must obtain prior approval from the ISS before enrolling for less than a full-course study or before a cancel/withdraw that results in less than a full course load.
In order to find out if you qualify for or in order to request an “exception from full time enrollment,” please see the Request for an Exception from Full Time Enrollment Form. Please note that you must submit the required documents indicated on the form in order for your request to be considered.
Some of the reasons the ISS may authorize a temporary deviation from a full course load are for a medical problem, a valid academic reason for enrolling less than full time, the last semester of enrollment and for other reasons.
Note: Certain academic programs as well as exchange and scholarship program sponsors and other private educational funding agencies may use a different credit requirement for their students. If this credit requirement is higher than that of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) , it takes precedence over the BCIS requirement.
Acceptable Reasons for Less Than a Full Course Load (F-1 Students)
The U.S. Government recognizes that circumstances exist that may prohibit a student from enrolling full time. Consequently, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) has deemed the following to be acceptable reasons for carrying less than a full course load.
Note: The reasons below are acceptable only if a student has obtained PRIOR approval from an ISSS adviser for completing less than a full course of study. Students who may have an acceptable reason but fail to obtain prior approval from ISSS will be considered, under new the immigration service regulations, to be in violation of legal status.
An F-1 student may reduce his/her course load only once per program level due to academic difficulties. To maintain legal status, an F-1 student who is authorized to reduce his/her course load due to this reason must still be enrolled for at least on half the full time credit requirement (This means at least 4 credit hours for graduate students/and at least six credit hours for undergraduate students.) and must enroll full-time the next available semester. The ISS must approve the request to cancel/withdraw from a class before any changes to a student’s enrollment are made! The US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services accepts the following academic difficulties as reasons for a reduction of a student’s course load:
A student must be completing a program
of study by the end of the semester. The student must be able to
demonstrate that s/he has applied
Working Full or Part-time on a Research/Thesis
Submit the Exception form prior to the beginning of the semester.
One Exception form per semester.
Participating in a Full-time REQUIRED Internship or Full-Time Co-Op
Prior approval of the Exception form for internship or co-op is required. The Internship must be a graduation requirement. The ISS will need evidence of the internship requirement in the course catalog.
Special Asian Student Relief
Student must attach a copy of the work permission granted by the BCIS to the Exception form and submit the form before the beginning of the semester.
Enrollment at Another School
Reasons Not Acceptable for Less than a Full Course of Study
Consequences of Failure to Enroll Full Time Without an Acceptable Reason and Approved Exception Form
Exception from A Full Course of Study Form
The Exception from Full Time Enrollment Form must be completed for each semester that a student fails to enroll full time. It is imperative that the Exception form be submitted to the ISS and approved prior to enrollment for less than a full course of study or prior to a cancel/withdrawal that results in less than a full course of study. Failure to obtain prior approval of less than a full course load will result in the loss of legal status under current immigration regulations.