Violation of Status

A violation of F-1 status is a serious issue. The information below provides a brief overview of status violations and possible solutions. If a status violation occurs, it is extremely important to discuss your situation with an immigration attorney and an International Student Advisor before taking any action.

Examples of F-1/J-1 Immigration Status Violations

If a student violates their immigration status, they are no longer eligible for on-campus employment, practical training, travel signatures for re-entry to the U.S., or any other F-1 benefits. Below is a list of common situations when a student may violate their immigration status. There are certainly other situations where a status violation could occur; however, these are the most common.

  • Enrolling for less than full-time or dropping/resigning below full-time without first receiving ISS approval.
    • 12 credit hours per semester is required for all students. (Graduate students who have an Assistantship are permitted to take only 9 credits). Additionally, graduate students nearing the end of their programs and working full-time on a doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis, project, portfolio, or comprehensive exam may be eligible to be certified full-time by the Graduate School while registered for fewer than 12 credits (or fewer than 9 credits with a TA, GA, RA position). 
  • Failing to extend an I-20 before the Program End Date, if additional time is needed to complete degree requirements.
  • Being inside the U.S. with an expired passport.
  • Failing to report/update their local residential address in the HUB Student Center. Addresses must be updated in HUB within 10 days of a change.
  • Withdrawing from all courses or withdrawing below full-time without permission from ISS. It is important to discuss your situation with an ISS Advisor before filing paperwork to withdrawal from courses.
    • Filing for an Academic Withdrawal after the semester ends will result in a status violation.
    • Failing to depart the U.S. after the university withdraws/suspends a student for misconduct or other violations.
  • Working without the required work authorization.
  • Failing to depart the U.S. or transfer to a new U.S. school within the deadline provided by ISS after an academic dismissal.
  • Students who graduate, or who complete a period of post-completion OPT, and then do not leave the US, transfer to a new school/program, or change to another immigration status before the end of their grace period. F-1 students have a 60-day grace period after completing their academic program or post-completion/STEM OPT.

It is extremely important that all F-1 international students understand how to maintain their immigration status. Additional information on maintaining status can be found:

F-1 Maintaining Status

Reinstatement to F-1 Status - Overview

F-1 students who have failed to maintain their immigration status may request reinstatement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), in certain situations.   Alternatively, students may decide to return home, pay the SEVIS Fee, apply for a new F-1 visa, and re-enter the U.S. using a new initial I-20. Additional information on travel and re-entry is below.   

There are positives and negatives to filing a reinstatement application with the USCIS, so it is best to discuss your situation with both an immigration attorney and an International Student Advisor. It is extremely important that students who violate their immigration status understand any and all options available to them, especially given recent changes in the interpretation and application of the Unlawful Presence regulation. 

If an attorney advises a student to request reinstatement from the USCIS, an International Student Advisor will provide a list of documents to prepare. After reviewing your documentation, a DSO will make a determination on your eligibility based on the circumstances of your case. If deemed eligible, the DSO will create a new I-20 requesting "reinstatement". A copy of this I-20 must be mailed to the USCIS, along with the other required materials. Additional information on how to file a reinstatement application will be provided after an International Student Advisor confirms that reinstatement is an option. 

Reinstatement - Eligibility Requirements

The USCIS will evaluate F-1 reinstatement applicants on the following criteria:  

  • The violation of status was due to circumstances beyond the student's control OR the violation relates to a reduction in your course load that would have been within a DSO's power to authorize, and that failure to approve the reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to the student. 
    • Some examples of "circumstances beyond the student's control" might include serious injury or illness, closure of the institution, a natural disaster or inadvertence, oversight or neglect on the part of the DSO, but do not include instances where a pattern of violations or where a willful failure on the student's part resulted in the need for reinstatement.   
  • The applicant must not have a record of repeated or willful violations of USCIS regulations
  • The applicant is currently pursuing a full-time course of study
  • The applicant must not have engaged in unauthorized employment
  • The applicant has not been out-of-status for more than 5 months at the time of filing the request for reinstatement.

Reinstatement - Important Considerations

  • Processing times at the USCIS vary greatly. 3-12 months (sometimes longer) is common.
  • After filing for reinstatement, students must maintain their F-1 status, which includes enrolling full-time.
  • While the application is pending, students may not travel outside the U.S. If they do, the USCIS will consider the application to be abandoned and the application will be denied.
  • Students with a pending reinstatement may not work on campus and are not eligible for any practical training. 
  • If approved, the USCIS will send an approval notice to the mailing address on Form I-539.
  • If the applicant has F-2 dependents, their status is automatically reinstated if the reinstatement is approved.
  • If a reinstatement application is denied by the USCIS, the student will begin to accrue unlawful presence on the day after the denial. Accrual of more than 180 days of unlawful presence could result in a 3-year or 10-year bar from reentering the U.S. It is extremely important that the possibility of a denial, and the consequences of accruing unlawful presence are considered when making a decision to file for reinstatement.

Travel and Reentry - Overview

In some cases it may be advisable to depart the U.S. and re-enter with a new I-20, rather than applying for reinstatement. To do this, you will need a new “initial” I-20 from the school you are currently attending. Once a new I-20 is issued, you must:

  • Pay the $200 SEVIS Fee
  • Depart the U.S.
  • Re-enter the U.S. using a valid F-1 visa

A re-entry to the U.S. after a status violation is viewed as an initial entry to the U.S. As such, you are bound by restrictions placed on new students, such as the requirement that you wait a full academic year (2 semesters) before you are eligible for practical training (CPT, OPT).

Note: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for determining if you are eligible to re-enter the U.S. and the U.S. State Department is responsible for determining your eligibility for a new U.S. visa. ISS cannot guarantee a successful re-entry to the U.S. or the issuance of a new visa stamp.

To request a new I-20 for travel and reentry:

1.    Schedule an appointment with an International Student Services (ISS) adviser to discuss your situation. 

2.    If we suggest travel and re-entry, submit the required documentation to request an “initial” I-20. We will need the following:

  • New financial documents showing one full year of funding (or less if you will graduate in one semester).
  • Copy of your flight itinerary indicating your date of departure from the U.S.
  • Your home country address reported to the HUB Student Center

Travel and Reentry vs. Reinstatement

Both Reinstatement and Travel and Re-entry involve risks. If your application for reinstatement is denied, you will be required to depart the U.S. immediately. However, students who are reinstated by the USCIS continue in their previous F-1 status. Reinstatement applications can also take a long time to receive a decision (3-12 months) and on-campus employment is not possible while awaiting a decision.

If you choose travel and re-entry and are denied re-entry at the border, you may be required to return home immediately from the port of entry. Students who choose travel and re-entry are also considered initial status students and must complete one academic year before they are eligible to apply for off-campus employment (Optional Practical Training or Curricular Practical Training). However, travel and re-entry can be a quick process – depending on the availability of flights and availability of visa appointments. 

Disclaimer

We try to provide useful information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to in these handouts and webcasts or any associated web sites. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel or tax professional. Neither the University at Buffalo nor the Office of International Student Services is responsible for any errors or omissions contained in these materials, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.