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Maintaining Lawful Status

Lawfully Maintaining F-1 Visa Status

One of the main functions carried out by Student Life Services is assisting international students with maintaining their non-immigrant F-1 status while in the United States. The information on this site is for this purpose. However, all information is subject to change without notice. Due to ongoing changes in federal regulations and other matters pertaining to U.S. law, changes may not be immediately reflected in the information provided here. Please see your adviser in Student Life Services for questions and clarification on any matters pertaining to your F-1 visa status.

Under United States law, it is your personal responsibility to maintain lawful F-1 student status. As an F-1 student at Gordon-Conwell, you must lawfully maintain your visa status throughout your entire course of study by complying with all regulations that apply to F-1 visa students (and F-2 dependents). Violation of any laws and/or restrictions will affect your ability to pursue study in the U.S. and at Gordon-Conwell, and in most instances will result in disciplinary and/or legal action.

To ensure that you are lawfully maintaining F-1 status, please ensure that you are in compliance with the following requirements:

  1. Maintain full-time enrollment and progress toward your degree program. Learn More »
  2. Abide by all employment restrictions and obtain proper employment authorization before beginning any authorized work. Do not pursue any form of unauthorized off-campus employment.
  3. Update your address and/or legal name within 10 days of the change.
  4. Receive a valid international student adviser (Designated School Official) signature on page 3 of your I-20 and proper documentation before traveling outside the U.S.
  5. Properly transfer your SEVIS record when changing schools.
  6. Obtain a program extension if you will continue study beyond the end date on your I-20.
  7. Obtain a new I-20 if you begin a new degree program.
  8. Do not stay in the U.S. beyond the 60 day grace period given to you following the program end date on your I-20.
  9. Obtain permission before requesting a leave of absence or withdrawal from Gordon-Conwell in order to receive an approved 15 day grace period eligibility.
  10. Keep your passport valid at all time.
  11. Maintain compliance with Massachusetts health insurance requirements.
  12. Receive and respond as requested to emails and other notices regularly from Gordon-Conwell and your adviser in Student Life Services.

F-2 dependents may not work or study under any circumstances. To pursue study, F-2 dependents must apply for a Change of Status to F-1.

To understand the rights and restrictions of the F-1 student visa, begin by reading the “Instructions to Students” on page 2 of your I-20. Follow those instructions carefully! Also, speak with your international adviser to receive further clarification on what is required of you as an F-1 student. Remember, students who observe the restrictions of the F-1 student visa will enjoy the rights associated with it, including authorized on-campus employment and practical training. Students who violate those restrictions run the risk of losing these, and many other rights, and/or legal or disciplinary action.

Full Course of Study Requirement

F-1 visa students are required to register full-time each Fall and Spring semester. At Gordon-Conwell, full-time enrollment is equal to 7 or more credit hours per semester. However, most classes are 3 credits each, so this generally means you need to take 9 credit hours each semester (typically 3 classes per semester) to lawfully maintain your visa status.

Only one Semlink course per semester can count toward full-time status. There are no exceptions to this rule. Enrollment through the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) or Gordon-Conwell’s Center for Urban Ministry Education (CUME) is subject to the approval of the Registration Office and your adviser. Audited classes and other non-credit classes (i.e. Mentored Ministry units) do not count towards maintaining full-time status.

F-1 students are not required to register for classes in the summer and/or winter semesters.

Reduced Course Load

F-1 students must maintain a full course of study/full-time enrollment each Fall and Spring semester. However, unforeseen circumstances can affect your ability to meet this requirement. To pursue a reduced course load, you must first request authorization from your adviser in order to maintain F-1 status. This authorization must be indicated on your most recent I-20.

There are restrictions to keep in mind when requesting a reduced course load. According to U.S. law, you may pursue a reduced course load only under the following circumstances:

  • Initial difficulties with the English language or reading requirements (normally available only during your first semester of study)
  • Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods (normally available only during your first semester of study)
  • Improper course level placement
  • Illness or medical condition
    For a reduced course load due to illness or other medical condition, you must provide medical documentation that verifies a reduced course load is necessary due to illness or medical condition. A letter from the physician who is treating you is acceptable, but must be official and on letterhead. The letter must clearly specify the time period recommended for the reduced course load and cannot exceed one year.
  • To complete program of study in final term
    In most cases, if you are in your final semester of study you can pursue a reduced course load if no other courses are required to complete your degree program. This typically occurs when students have only one or two courses remaining for the completion of their degree program, and do not plan to pursue a second degree at Gordon-Conwell.

Students approved for a reduced course load are required to resume a full course of study in no later than 12 months.

Transferring to Another Institution

F-1 students already in the U.S. are permitted to transfer to another SEVP approved institution. Transfer students must complete the necessary I-20/visa certificate application process at the transfer-in school and notify their current institution (or transfer-out school) of their intent to transfer. After the transfer-out date, the student?s record will be transferred electronically through the federal database called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (or SEVIS). Remember that your SEVIS record can only be transferred to one school, so you must plan carefully and decide which school you will attend before requesting a transfer.

If you decide to transfer out of Gordon-Conwell to another school, first see your international student adviser, or Designated School Official (DSO), in Student Life Services. You will also be asked by the school you wish to attend (transfer-in school) to complete a transfer request form which you will submit to your adviser. This form must be completed and sent to the transfer-in school. This form will notify Gordon-Conwell of where to release your SEVIS record/I-20 and will establish a line of communication between the two schools. Once Gordon-Conwell releases your SEVIS record on a date determined, the transfer-in school will receive your record and begin processing your request for a new I-20 and student record.

Applying for an I-20 Extension

If your I-20 will expire and you need additional time to complete your current degree program, you must apply for an I-20 extension at least 30 days before the end date (indicated in section 5 of your most recent I-20). To receive an extension, Gordon-Conwell’s Registration Office must first provide written documentation to Student Life Services, at your request, indicating the date you are expected to complete your current program and the number of classes you have remaining. If you do not apply for an extension before your program end date and that date lapses, you will fall out of status and need to apply for reinstatement. If this happens, please see your adviser immediately for details on the reinstatement process. Delays in completing program requirements that are caused by academic probation or poor academic performance are not acceptable reasons for extending your program end date.

Grace Period Eligibility

60-Day Grace Period

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) automatically provides a 60-day grace period for F-1 students who complete their program of study. The 60-day grace period eligibility is calculated from the date of completion indicated on your I-20 (line 5). Students authorized for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) have a 60-day grace period beginning from the date the OPT expires. Students who do not complete a program of study are not eligible for a 60-day grace period. The 60 day grace period cannot be used to re-enter the U.S. after travel abroad. This means if you leave the U.S. after your I-20 end date but before the end of your 60 day grace period, you cannot re-enter the U.S. In this instance, your F-1 visa will automatically terminate.

15-Day Grace Period

Students who discontinue their program of study are not eligible for a 60-day grace period. However, students who obtain prior approval from Student Life Services are eligible for a 15-day grace period in which to depart the U.S. Students are strongly encouraged to obtain the 15-day grace period approval to avoid problems re-entering the U.S. in the future.

Unapproved Withdrawals or Terminations

Students who fail to lawfully maintain status, withdraw from Gordon-Conwell without notice and prior Student Life Services approval, and/or otherwise terminate or interrupt their course of study are not eligible for any grace period.

The International Student Office requires all current F-1 students at the Gordon-Conwell—Charlotte campus to submit two forms each semester as proof of maintaining active status.

Please email the completed forms to [email protected], or schedule a Current International Student Advising appointment with the International Student Advisor to submit them in person.

Requesting a Reduced Course Load

International students may apply for a reduced course load (RCL) for specific circumstances: academic or medical. Please review the criteria for allowing reduced courses loads before submitting a request.

Academic Difficulty

F-1 students may be approved for a reduced course load for academic difficulty for no more than one semester. Students must take at least one course (3 credit hours) while in an authorized reduced course load. Situations of academic difficulty include:

  • Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements
  • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods
  • Improper course level placement

Medical Conditions

F-1 students may be approved for a reduced course load for documented medical conditions. Students must provide documentation from one of the following:

  • licensed medical doctor
  • doctor of osteopathy
  • clinical psychologist

Students approved for Reduced Course Load for a medical condition should take as many classes as possible, but are not required to take any courses during the period of RCL. RCL for medical conditions is limited to a total of 12 months during the course of studies. F-1 students must provide a copy of the doctor’s letter and any other medical documentation to support this request.

Request Reduced Course Load

Changing Visa Status

Foreign nationals previously admitted to the U.S. under a valid visa may be eligible to change their visa status, depending on their current visa type and whether they have maintained active status.

  • Submit Gordon-Conwell—Charlotte Application for I-20/Visa Certificate
  • Submit a copy of the acceptance letter to the seminary and all required financial documentation, either via email or in person.
  • Schedule a Current International Student Advising appointment with the International Student Advisor
    • The International Student Advisor will create a new I-20 form.
    • The advisor will review the requirements for the change of status with the applicant.
    • Bring all the necessary forms and information below for the advisor’s review.
  • Prepare the complete Change of Status Application Packet for submission to USCIS (the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), and mail it to USCIS before the deadline. The packet needs to include the following:
    • New I-20: Photocopy of new I-20, which must contain applicant’s signature.
    • Copies of Financial Documents: Include copies of the financial documentation used to obtain the I-20.
    • Payment: Applicants must make two separate payments.
      • Proof of payment of the SEVIS I-190 fee.  This can be paid online at http://www.fmjfee.com.
      • Application fee
    • I-94: Copies of your I-94 card and copies of any dependents included in the change of status. You may retrieve using the following link:https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/request.html
    • Passport: Photocopy the identity page of your passport and any dependents.
    • For Dependents changing to F-1
      • In addition to the required documents for requesting a change to F-1 status, a dependent wishing to change from a non-immigrant dependent status (e.g., an F-2 spouse) must establish that he or she has been maintaining valid dependent status.
  • I-539 Application
    • Complete every section of the form.
    • Include “Supplement-1” if any dependents are included in this application.
  • Optional Letter from the applicant: the applicant may include a letter explaining why he or she wants to change status to F-1. A strong letter can help convince USCIS of the student’s temporary intent as well as persuade USCIS that the student did not have a pre-conceived intention to study in the U.S.

Apply for an I-20 Extension

If you will not finish your degree before your current I-20 end date, you may apply for an I-20 extension (later I-20 end date). Please note that you must have continually maintained proper F-1 status to be eligible for an extension. To apply for this, you will need to:

  1. Prove academic and/or medical need for the extension. Complete the I-20 Extension Application with the help of the Registration Office and your International Student Advisor. For reasons of medical necessity, please provide a doctor’s note, which must include the following information:
    • Doctor’s name and contact information
    • Your diagnosis
    • The recommended treatment
    • The length of time required to complete the treatment
  2. Prove financial ability to pay for the extra time needed with the I-20 extension. Complete the International Student Financial Worksheet and provide supporting documentation (such as bank statements and affidavits of support).
  3. Submit your completed application for I-20 extension. Do this before your I-20 end date to your International Student Advisor. We recommend doing this at least one month in advance, to allow for processing times. Your International Student Advisor will evaluate your application for I-20 extension.

Questions?

Contact the International Student Office at [email protected] or call 704-527-9909.

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