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Maintaining Status for International Students

U.S. federal regulations require all international students to maintain lawful (F-1/J-1) student status. It is your responsibility to be aware of the factors that will impact your legal status and make sure you take all necessary steps to remain compliant. 

We would like to share with you certain information important to maintain your status.


You must maintain full-time enrollment each term/semester (except during designated vacation periods) and normal progress toward the completion of your degree or program of study as follows:

  • Undergraduate: 12 semester credits
  • Graduate: 9 semester credits
  • ESL Program students must be enrolled in 18 clock hours of instruction per week (see: Full time enrollment policy for ESL Program)  and observe the attendance policy

The exceptions to the "full course of study" requirement are limited, but very important. In the situations described below, F-1 students are considered to be maintaining status even if they are not registered for a full course of study, and they continue to be eligible for F-1 benefits if they are otherwise eligible.

Reasons for a reduced course load

  • Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods (available to students in their first semester, one time only)
  • Initial difficulty with reading requirements (available to students in their first semester, one time only)
  • Initial difficulty with English language (available to students in their first semester, one time only)
  • Improper course level placement (must be confirmed by a faculty member or an academic advisor)
  • Illness or medical condition (12 months available per academic level), required a note from a medical doctor.

Online courses limit

All international students are limited to no more than 3 credits or one on-line course per semester as part of their full-time enrollment.


You should not take a reduced course load or a leave of absence without checking with the Center for International Education (CIE) in advance of the start of each term. 

Address Change

You must notify the Center for International Education of your local address when you arrive in the U.S. Any time you change your address while in the U.S., you must notify the Center for International Education within 10 days of the move. 

Academic Status

Any change in your academic status (e.g., early program completion, change of major, change of program or degree, etc.) must be reported to the CIE within 10 days.


You may not accept employment either on campus or off without written permission from the CIE and/or authorization from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. International students are prohibited from working more than 20 hours per week during the academic term. 


Before leaving the U.S. temporarily during your study at Salem State University please make sure that you have the following documents: a valid passport, an unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa in your passport, and a valid unexpired I-20 or DS-2019 with a valid travel signature. Note: request for travel signature must be submitted to the ISSI at least 4-5 business days before you plan to leave. 

Extension of I-20/DS2019

If you are unable to complete your program of study by the end date on your I-20 or DS-2019, you must obtain an extension of stay from the Center for International Education at least 30 days before your program end date. 

Financial Support

If you change programs, new evidence of financial support is necessary to process a SEVIS document for your new program. 

Leave of Absence, Withdrawal or Suspension

If you take a non-medical leave of absence, voluntarily withdraw, or are suspended, you will lose your legal status and be required to leave the United States within 15 days. The only exception that allows you to stay in the U.S. without transferring to another school or changing to another nonimmigrant status is a medical leave documented by a physician’s letter.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

You must apply for post-completion OPT before you complete your program requirements. Contact CIE 90 days before your expected completion date in order to begin the application process. All student interested in applying for OPT must attend a mandatory workshop before their request will be processed.

Transfer from another institution

You must ensure timely transfers of your SEVIS record to Salem State University from your previously attended U.S. institution.


IMPORTANT: If SEVIS does not receive a timely report each semester confirming that you are enrolled within 30 days, your SEVIS record will be terminated and you will be expected to either apply for reinstatement to lawful F-1 or J-1 status, or leave the U.S. immediately.

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