Maintaining Immigration Status

As an international student, you are responsible for maintaining your immigration status. Maintaining status means that you are abiding by regulations and reporting requirements. Failure to maintain status will result in a loss of status, which may require you to depart the United States quickly.

ISSS advisors are also referred to as “Designated School Officials” (DSOs) and “Responsible Officers” (AROs). We are not federal or law enforcement officials, however we are required to report information about your status to the federal government. We are here to help you, which means that we are your point of contact for questions about immigration, travelling, work authorizations, cultural adjustment, and other issues.

The information on this page in intended to give you a brief overview of some of your status requirements. Individual circumstances may vary in certain cases, so when in doubt, always consult an ISSS advisor first before making a decision that could potentially impact your immigration status.

Looking for More Information? View our Immigration Matters Powerpoint from Orientation, here.

Dos and Don’ts of Maintaining Status:

Do

1. Do maintain full-time enrollment status at all times; Undergraduate students need to be registered for a minimum of 12 credits during the fall and spring semesters; graduate students need to be registered for a minimum of 9 credits during the fall and spring semesters. Under certain circumstances, you may be allowed to register for fewer credits to be in full-time status. Please confirm with ISSS office if you need any clarifications. More information on full-time status is available below.

Note: No more than one 3 credit, fully (100%) online/distance education per academic term may counted toward the full time enrollment requirement. More information on online credit limitations for students is available below.

2. Do talk to an ISSS advisor before dropping below full-time enrollment.

3. Do keep your personal contact information up to date in MyUAlbany. International students must update their SEVIS USA address to reflect their current, physical residence in the United States. Students must also keep their SEVIS foreign address (address outside the United States), phone numbers, and emails up to date in MyUAlbany. This information is required in SEVIS.

4. Do keep your I-20 or DS-2019 form up to date. This includes knowing your program end date and making sure that you apply for an extension to your program before it expires, if needed.

5. Do keep your passport valid at all times.

6. Do obtain a travel signature signature from ISSS on your I-20 or DS-2019 before you travel outside the United States.

7. Do allow 5-7 business days for ISSS to process your requests.

Don't

1. Don't lose your documents. Make photocopies of everything because it makes replacement easier if you do lose them. Do not every throw out an I-20 or DS-2019, even if you have a new one. These are federal documents and you should keep them for your records.

2. Don't rely on information from other students or unverified internet sources when it comes to USCIS, immigration, or visa matters.

3. Don't work without the appropriate employment authorization. For purposes of immigration, “unpaid” work may still be considered work in some cases, and you may need authorization for it. This is especially true for off-campus employment. You must have prior authorization before beginning any work off-campus.

Full Time Status
All F-1 and J-1 visa holders are required to enroll for full-time registration every fall and spring semester. Currently, the University considers 12 credits to be full-time for undergraduate students. Effective Fall 2017, the University has updated its policy so that full-time enrollment for graduate students will be a minimum of 9 credits. This means that graduate students must register for 9 credits minimum to be considered a full-time student in accordance with regulations. Undergraduate students will continue to be required to register for 12 credits each semester. Violating the full course of study requirement jeopardizes and could lead to the loss of F-1 immigration status. A student who loses her/his F-1 status must request to regain F-1 status through the process of reinstatement with the Department of Homeland Security. Reinstatement is costly, time consuming and has no guarantee of a positive outcome.

For exceptions to the full-time registration requirement, please see the section on Reduced Course Load Authorizations.

Download a Reduced Course Load Authorization form.

Online/Distance Education Course Requirements
On-line classes have become increasingly popular for students. However, U.S. Federal Government regulations limit the number of online courses international students can count towards their full-time course load requirement.

F-1 and J-1 international students can count only ONE Fully On-line class toward the minimum number of credits needed for full-time enrollment during the semester. If you only need one course to complete your program of study, that course cannot be Fully On-line.

Undergraduate Students
Undergraduate students are required to maintain 12 credits every Fall and Spring semester. If you wish to enroll in an online course, only ONE 3 credit course (or ONE 4 credit course) can count towards your full course of study requirement of 12. The remaining 9 credits must be in-person or hybrid classes.

If you registration does not fit into any of these categories, please contact the ISSS office prior to enrolling in any Fully On-line classes.

Courses at Other Institutions/Concurrent Enrollment
International students may be eligible for concurrent enrollment at another institution. However, at least 50% of a student's credits must be taken at the University at Albany. If any credits at the other institution are needed to meet the international student full-time requirement of 12 credits, the student must provide proof of enrollment to ISSS prior to matriculation at the other institution. Additionally, the student needs to consult her or his academic advisor regarding approval of transfer credits to UAlbany. These requirements only apply to fall and spring semesters when full-time enrollment is required, not the summer term period.

USCIS Change of Status
Individuals may be eligible to apply for a change of immigration status in the United States through USCIS. To request a change of status with USCIS, applicants must complete an I-539 form and submit it in a timely fashion with all required documentation. If you are an F or J visa holder thinking of changing status, or if you hold a different immigration status and are planning to change status to F or J, please consult an ISSS advisor. Different immigration categories carry different restrictions, especially in terms of employment authorization and study restrictions.

Please note that applying for a change of status in the United States can be a timely process, and may take several months (or longer).

Terminology
F-1: The F-1 visa category is for students pursuing full-time study in the United States
F-2: Dependents of an F-1 (spouse or child under 21) are referred to as F-2s.
J-1: The J-1 visa has a number of subcategories for exchange visitors, which include students, exchange visitors, visiting scholars, au pairs, etc... The Exchange Visitor program is administered by the Department of State
J-2: Dependents of an J-1 (spouse or child under 21) are referred to as J-2s.
SEVIS: The federal database managed by the Department of Homeland Security which houses the records for F-1 and J-1 students. ISSS makes regular reporting in SEVIS.
Status: This is the legal standing of a visa holder in the United States. Different statuses allow different purposes for being in the United States. Some allow study, employment, and other benefits, others do not.
Visa: This is the entry document. A student needs a valid visa to enter the United States, and should enter using the visa that reflects their current status. A student can remain in the United States on an expired visa as long as his or her immigration status is still valid.
Non-Immigrant: F-1s and J-1s are non-immigrant visas, meaning that the student must show non-immigrant intent prior to obtaining the visa.
I-20: This document is used for a F-1 student to obtain an F-1 status, and proves their status while in the United States.
DS-2019: This documents is used for a J-1 exchange visitors to obtain a J-1 visa, and proves their status while in the United States.
DHS (Department of Homeland Security): The federal agency responsible for a number of security and enforcement related matters, including immigration enforcement. SEVIS is managed by DHS.
USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services): This federal agency, housed under the Department of Homeland Security, adjudicates benefits such as OPTs and changes of status.
CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection): This federal agency, housed under the Department of Homeland Security, mostly interacts with students at the border and determines their eligibility to enter the U.S.
ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement): This federal agency, housed under the Department of Homeland Security, this is a law enforcement agency for immigration related matters.