Maintaining F-1 & M-1 Status

Know the rules for maintaining your status

Students who come to the U.S. are granted nonimmigrant classifications known as "F-1" or "M-1". This is commonly referred to as your "status." A spouse or child under the age of 21 who comes to the United States to be with an F-1 or M-1 student is a "dependent," and is given F-2 or M-2 status. This status is valid as long as the F-1 or M-1 student maintains valid status.

In order to remain legally present in the United States, you must "maintain" your status; that is you must follow the rules that apply to your status. It is your legal responsibility to understand and follow these rules. To help you stay in compliance, this section provides information regarding the most important rules for F-1s and M-1s. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact CGCC’s International Education Program (IEP) office.

Requirements for maintaining legal status

Here are the most important things to remember to stay in compliance with USCIS regulations:

  1. Your passport must be valid at all times. Do not let it expire!
  2. You must attend the school that issued your SEVIS I-20
  3. You must carry and complete a full course of study (minimum of 12 credits) every Fall and Spring semester. Summer sessions are optional.
  4. Do not enroll for more than ONE online/internet course (or 3 credits) per semester
  5. SEVIS I-20 must not be expired
  6. Engage ONLY in authorized employment and do not work for more than 20 hours a week while school is in session
  7. Apply for a program extension BEFORE your I-20 expires
  8. Inform IEP of your current U.S. address within 10 days of any relocation move
  9. Notify IEP by letter if you intend to discontinue enrollment at CGCC
  10. Notify the IEP Office if you intend to cancel your enrollment or will graduate and return home prior to completion of your program listed on the I-20
  11. Depart the U.S. within the 60-day period following completion of your program, or depart the U.S. within 15 days if you terminate your program in the middle of a semester or regular session or fallout of status.
  12. Disclose fully and truthfully all information requested by USCIS
  13. Obey all federal and state laws that prohibit the commission of crimes of violence

Keep your immigration documents safe
It is extremely important to keep your original documents in a safe place. You will need them in the future to identify yourself, apply for employment authorization, prove your status, and maintain a record of your status throughout your stay in the United States.

Do not let your immigration papers expire!
F-1 students are responsible for maintaining their legal status while studying in the U.S. Consequences for an F-1 student who fails to maintain legal status can be serious. Students who are out of legal status are ineligible for school transfer, travel endorsement, employment, OPT, program extension, change to another status, as well as other benefits. Out-of-status students must either apply for reinstatement or leave the U.S. and reenter with an initial SEVIS I-20 (see below, “Out-of Status”).

Immigration regulations require that all international students with F-1 and M-1 visas register for a minimum number of credits each semester to maintain their student status in the United States. They also require that CGCC verify that its international students are registered for a full course of study. Minimum credit levels for Undergraduate students: (including transfer undergraduate students and non-degree undergraduate students) is 12 credits.

F-2 Dependents
F-2 dependents may study part-time (11 credits or less per semester) in any certified program at a school certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Online / Internet courses
F-1 Visa students can enroll in ONE online or internet course or 3 credits per semester as part of the 12 credit hour requirement.

In some circumstances, students may request permission to take less than a full course of study during an academic term. However, you must have prior approval from IEP before registering for less than a full course of study or dropping below a full course of study. Immigration regulations allow only a few reasons for a reduced course load. If you fall below full-time status during a term for any reason that is not recognized in the regulations, you will lose your legal status in the United States. This is the most common way students lose their legal status! Meet with a staff person at IEP to receive prior approval before you finalize your plans to register for less than a full course or to withdraw from a class.
Reduced Course Load (RCL)
If you plan to register for less than a full course of study, or cancel a course and drop below the full course load during the term, you must submit a Reduced Course Load (RCL) Form to IEP, which lists acceptable reasons for a reduced course load.
Reasons that are NOT acceptable:

  1. I don't have enough money
  2. I'm too busy finishing incomplete classes from last semester
  3. I'm too busy with employment
  4. I'm too busy with extracurricular (or non-academic) activities
  5. I'm pregnant
  6. I'm suspended from my college, and cannot register. (Always consult your academic adviser and an IEP staff person in such cases.)

Request a RCL form
You can email a request to and we will send it to you electronically.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College requires all international students to enroll in the Maricopa Community College International Student Health Insurance Plan with Renaissance Agencies, Inc. The health insurance is made in two annual payments divided by Fall (five months) and Spring/Summer (seven months). To be considered in legal status, you need to have your insurance cost paid or enrolled in the eCashier payment plan.


If you fail to follow the legal status guidelines, you and your dependents will lose legal status and all related benefits. This is very serious and you want to avoid this situation if at all possible. It means that you will not be eligible to enroll for classes for the following semester, apply for any employment — even on-campus jobs — and you will not be able to receive a reentry signature on your SEVIS I-20 for travel. Further, your SEVIS record (and those of your dependents) will be terminated and SEVIS will automatically notify the immigration services of your loss of legal status. You may be asked to appear at an immigration office and become subject to deportation from the U.S. If you lose your legal status, meet with someone in the International Education Program office immediately to discuss your options.

Regaining your legal status
Failure to maintain status can happen by either dropping under 12 credit hours, working off campus illegally, or not beginning classes by the date indicated on the SEVIS I-20. You cannot regain your legal status without new documents. There are two options to regain your legal status:

  1. Reentering the U.S. on an initial attendance document (under certain circumstances)
  2. Filing an application for reinstatement with USCIS

Unfortunately, both methods carry risks and success cannot be guaranteed.

Option I — Reinstatement by reentry into the US
This is done by departing the U.S. and re-entering with a new "Initial Attendance" I-20. You may also need to apply for a new entry visa before your return. You are at an increased risk for denial of your visa and reentry if embassy or immigration officials find you have violated your legal status. In addition, your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization is affected when you regain your status through reentry. You will also need to obtain a new "Evidence of Financial Support" form along with a new bank letter.

Option II — Reinstatement with the U.S.C.I.S inside the United States
This is done from within the U.S. by mailing an application with supporting documents to the immigration service. Remember, while your reinstatement request is being processed (in pending status), you cannot:

  1. Legally work on-campus or off-campus while in the U.S.
  2. Relocate to a new residency — mail from USCIS is not forwarded

Any reinstatement may result in a greater risk that future visa applications may be denied. Also, if you leave the United States while your application is pending, your application will be canceled. If you have been out-of-status for longer than 5 months, you are ineligible for reinstatement. CGCC is required to report to USCIS within 21 days when a student drops below 12 credits. Email to make an appointment with an International Support Specialist Sr. to discuss applying for USCIS reinstatement application.

F-1 students who have maintained lawful status and who are unable to complete their program of study prior to the completion date listed on the I-20 may be eligible for a program extension. Please note, you must apply for an I-20 PRIOR TO THE EXPIRATION DATE listed in item #5 of your I-20. The IEP office can grant a program extension to a student under two conditions:

  1. The student has continually maintained legal status; and
  2. The delays are caused by compelling academic or medical reasons, such as changes of major, original length of time to complete the program was not reasonable for the program, beginning in remedial courses such as ESL courses, loss of credits upon transfer to another school, or documented illnesses.

Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for extension. An F-1 student who is unable to complete the educational program within the time period written on the I-20 and who is ineligible for program extension or fails to apply for a program extension prior to the completion date, is considered to be out of status. If you qualify for an I-20 program extension, you will need the following to apply for it:

  1. A Program of Study and Degree Check sheet. Make an appointment with your academic adviser to get these forms.
  2. A new "Evidence of Financial Support" and bank letter (no more than 6 months old)