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Maintaining Legal Status

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Rules for maintaining F-1/J-1 student status

International students are required to maintain full-time status at all times.

Full-time status at UMass Lowell is determined as follows:

  • Minimum of 9 credits for graduate students
  • Minimum of 9 credits for graduate certificate students
  • Minimum of 12 credits for undergraduate students
  • International students must be registered for “required” work towards completion of degree;
  • International students may only take one online course per semester (that counts towards their full-time enrollment);
  • All reductions of course load must be pre-approved by the International Students and Scholars Office;
  • Student cannot exceed 20 hours of work per week during the academic semester. The 20-hour limit refers to the combined total of both on and off-campus work;
  • All off-campus work must be pre-approved by the International Students and Scholars Office and a new Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 will be generated before a student is legally authorized to commence his/her off-campus employment. Occasionally, additional authorization may be needed from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services;
  • Any extended leave for a period longer than one week during the academic semester (i.e., between the start and end dates of an academic term as determined by the academic calendar) must be pre-approved by the International Students & Scholars Office. This includes leaves for the purpose of travel, medical reasons, military, academic discipline, etc.;
  • Students must maintain an active passport, valid for at least 6 months in advance. 

Change of Status

If you are requesting a new Initial Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and will require a change from another non-immigrant status to “F” or “J” student status, the ISSO strongly advises that you travel to your home country to petition for a change of status. The process of changing one’s status within the U.S. can take 5-7+ months.  Students who are in the U.S. in a different visa status are encouraged to contact the ISSO as soon as possible to initiate the proper discussions as other immigration-related complications may apply. 

Reinstatement

UMass Lowell does not support Reinstatement petitions for incoming, new international students.  An international student who has failed to maintain valid non-immigrant status in the U.S. prior to the issuance of their first Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from UMass Lowell will be required to apply for Reinstatement through travel.  We urge you to discuss this with an immigration attorney. ISSO is happy to recommend an immigration attorney at your request. 

Please also be sure to discuss accrual of Unlawful Presence Time with an immigration attorney.  Unlawful Presence carries severe legal consequences, which may include 3 and 10 year re-entry bars to the U.S., among other penalties.  Please note that filing a Reinstatement request in and of itself does not stop the unlawful presence clock.  If a Reinstatement request is denied, the unlawful presence started the day the non-immigrant fell out of status.

Unlawful Presence Time

All non-immigrants must have a valid status at all times while in the United States. USCIS monitors maintenance of status for all non-immigrants in all non-immigrant visa categories. Accumulation of 180 days of unlawful presence will result in a three-year re-entry bar to the U.S. Accumulation of 180+ days of unlawful presence will result in a ten-year re-entry bar to the U.S. There are also other legal ramifications to falling out of legal status. Please note that filing a Reinstatement Request in and of itself does not stop the unlawful presence clock.  If Reinstatement request is denied, the unlawful presence started the day non-immigrant fell out of status.

F-1 or J-1 visa Students

Attention students on an F-1 or J-1 visa: It is your responsibility to continually maintain full-time registration (9 credits for graduate students, 12 credits for undergraduate students).

Please keep this in mind as you plan your course registration / sequencing.

Inappropriately dropping a course that may affect subsequent course selection (pre-requisites), or an unexpected cancellation of a course MAY put you below full-time registration, thus causing you to violate your visa status. MBA students, specifically, should be reminded that you must maintain full-time registration throughout a semester, even if a Term II course is dropped or cancelled.

Should this occur, you must work with academic advisor and the ISSO to register for credits sufficient to continue to maintain aforementioned full-time status.

We urge you to contact your academic advisor when planning your course schedule, as well as conferring with them before dropping any courses to avoid any potential academic or immigration-related issues. Please contact the ISSO with any questions regarding the maintenance of your F-1 or J-1 status.

F-1/J-1 Status and SEVIS

The International Students and Scholars Office is required to report on the situations listed above through an electronic database tracking system, known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). We also report changes in personal and home country address, as well as changes in citizenship, academic level, academic discipline, etc.

At the beginning of each semester we are required to register each international student on the SEVIS system to verify that they are physically enrolled as a full-time student, confirm their US address and the school’s semester start and end dates as well as the next semester’s start date. Failure to do this automatically cancels the student’s immigration status. This means that students should be physically present in the U.S. at the start of the semester for us to be able to process their SEVIS registration.