Accruing Unlawful Presence for F-1 Students

International students should be aware that it is essential to comply with the visa regulations in order to maintain their visa. You could lose your legal status if you violate the F-1 visa regulations.

The consequences of this could include, but are not limited to:

  • Ineligibility to work on campus.
  • Ineligibility to apply for or pursue Curricular Practical Training.
  • Ineligibility to apply for or pursue Optional Practical Training.
  • Ineligibility to receive a Transfer Recommendation to attend a new school.
  • Ineligibility to apply for a change of visa status.

An individual who fails to maintain legal status will begin unlawful presence based on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after DHS denies the individual's request for an immigration benefit (for example, reinstatement), if DHS makes a formal finding that the student/scholar violated their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit.
  • The day after an immigration judge orders that the student should be excluded, deported, or removed (regardless of whether the decision is being appealed).

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What can happen if an individual does accrue unlawful presence?

It is possible that an individual will be restricted from entering the U.S. for three years, ten years, or even permanently:

Individuals who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then depart, may be subject to three-year or 10-year bars to admission, depending on how much unlawful presence they accrued before they departed the United States. Individuals who have accrued a total period of more than one year of unlawful presence, whether in a single stay or during multiple stays in the United States, and who then reenter or attempt to reenter the United States without being admitted or paroled are permanently inadmissible. Those subject to the three-year, 10-year, or permanent unlawful presence bars to admission are generally not eligible to apply for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status to permanent residence unless they are eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or another form of relief. (emphasis added)

What are examples of ways F students might lose legal status?

These are the most common situations where students lose their legal status, but this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Students academically suspended after a semester ends, who do not transfer to a new U.S. school in a timely way or who do not leave the U.S. by the deadline.
  • Students who fail to correctly report/update their mailing (residential) address in MyUThis prevents ISSS from submitting a required report to SEVIS that you are registered each fall/spring, and eventually leads to automated termination of your SEVIS record.
  • Students who enroll below full-time without obtaining the required ISSS Reduced Course Load approval.
  • Students who register for too many online course credits.
  • Students who do not extend an expiring I-20 before the end date.
  • Students who voluntarily withdraw during a semester but do not leave the U.S. within 15 days.
  • Students who are withdrawn by the school for misconduct or other violations and do not leave the U.S.
  • Students who work off-campus without obtaining employment authorization.
  • Students who graduate or complete their OPT but do not 1) depart the U.S. by the established deadline, 2) transfer to a new school/program, or 3) change to another immigration status in a timely way. F-1 students have a 60 day grace period following graduation or the end of OPT.

What can I do to avoid losing my legal status?

To be clear, as an international student, it is your responsibility to maintain your F status.

ISSS advisers and other university staff are here to help you, but you must take responsibility for ensuring you follow the rules of your immigration status. Your best defense against losing your legal status is to:

  • Read your emails from the UMN and ISSS including the ISSS Weekly Update. We send important updates through email. If you see an email and you think it is incorrect, do not just ignore it; check with ISSS.
  • Be aware of your own immigration situation. While ISSS strives to make the best use of the technology available to us, sometimes technology fails. These reminders we send through MyISSS and email are a courtesy we provide, but, you are responsible for your status. This is why you must remain aware of your own immigration situation by being aware of when your will I-20 expire, keeping your U.S. address updated in MyU, and making sure you are enrolled full-time or have authorization from ISSS to drop below full-time.
  • Remember to follow these immigration requirements:
    • Register full-time or receive authorization to take a Reduced Course Load.
    • Remember that you can only count a maximum of three online or distance learning credits per semester towards your Full Course Load requirements.
    • Update your U.S. address in MyU within 10 days of any change. Before doing so, review the directions on our website to ensure you enter the information in the required format as addresses that are not formatted correctly may be rejected.
    • You cannot work in the U.S. illegally. Do not work off-campus without obtaining authorization from ISSS.
    • Get an updated travel signature if you need to travel outside of the U.S. and the travel signature on your documents will have expired by the time you return to the U.S. Signatures are valid for one year or six months while on OPT
    • Follow deadlines - If ISSS gives you a deadline by which you need to do something, follow it. Missing a deadline could result in your losing your legal status.
    • Attend class and strive to do well academically. This does not mean you have to get all As, but some students do not attend class (or attend sporadically) and eventually receive failing grades.
    • Maintain, at least, the minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) required by your academic program. Too many low grades will lower your GPA. If you drop below the required GPA, If this happens, you may be put on probation and given the chance to improve your GPA. If you still do not improve your GPA, you will likely be suspended for one year. If this occurs, you will either need to leave the U.S. or transfer to another U.S. school. You cannot remain in the U.S. and not attend school.
    • Do not engage in academic misconduct. Charges of academic misconduct may lead you to be suspended or expelled at any point, including while a semester is in session or after/between semesters. If this were to occur, it would impact your immigration status. Examples of misconduct include, but are not limited to, turning in or copying others’ work on assignments, looking at someone else’s test, paying for someone else to write papers for you, and hiring someone else to take online classes for you. You can make an appointment with an ISSS Academic Counselor if you have questions about Academic Misconduct.
  • If you lose your legal F status for any reason, you should speak to an ISSS adviser IMMEDIATELY so that we can help you assess your situation and whether you qualify for reinstatement.
  • A word about parents: ISSS fully understands the role parents often play and that the thought of telling parents news that might upset, anger, or disappoint them can be scary.  No student looks forward to telling a parent they are going to be academically suspended and may have to return home for a year. In the past, the anxiety of giving parents bad news has sometimes contributed to students avoiding dealing with immigration problems, even to the extent of staying in the U.S. and pretending to still be attending school. Staying in the U.S. will make your problems worse.  Be honest, deal with your problems immediately, and do not attempt to “hide” your immigration status/problems by staying in the U.S. without legal status in the hopes your parents might not find out.

What things are not counted toward unlawful presence?

F-1 students generally do not accrue unlawful presence in certain situations, including but not limited to:

  • During the period of up to 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20.
  • While you pursue a full course of study at an educational institution approved by DHS for attendance by international students.
  • During any additional periods of authorized pre- or post-completion practical training, including the allowed periods of unemployment.
  • While are you are changing educational levels (example: bachelor’s to master’s, or master’s to PhD) provided that you transition to the new educational level while following the appropriate transfer process.
  • While you are in the approved cap-gap period between OPT and an H-1B.
  • While your application for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) remains pending.
  • While you pursue a school transfer provided that you do everything necessary to maintain your visa status.
  • Assuming you file for reinstatement of status in a timely manner, unlawful presence will not accrue during the time the request is pending. A reinstatement application will be considered "timely filed" if you are not out of status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the reinstatement application. If the reinstatement request is approved, the period of time you were out of status prior to filing the application, along with the period of time during the pendency of the request, will not be counted as unlawful presence.
  • During annual vacation (summer break) if you are eligible and intend to register for the next term.
  • During your additional grace period as permitted under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv) to prepare for departure. This grace period is either:
    • 60 days following completion of a course of study or authorized practical training (OPT).
    • 15 days if the designated school official (DSO) authorized the withdrawal from classes (SEVIS termination reason: authorized early withdrawal).
  • During a period of reduced course load, as authorized by ISSS.

Do these rules apply to F-2 dependents?

  • F-2 dependents (the spouse and children under 21 of an F-1) rely upon the F-1 maintaining their legal status. If the F-1 loses legal status, so do the dependents.
  • Dependents who are younger than 18 do not typically accrue unlawful presence.
Last updated: September 18, 2023