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Maintaining Legal Student Status

What does “legal status” mean?
When you enter the United States using a non-immigrant visa (such as J1 or F1), you have entered in that legal status or classification. The U.S. government has inspected you and your documents and has decided that you may enter to undertake the activity for which your visa was designed – in your case, for full-time study. As long as you follow all the rules of that approved activity, you are maintaining that legal non-immigrant status. Your status is not dependent upon the length of your visa! (Please see ADVISORY NOTE Visa vs. Status: What’s the difference?) All you need to do is follow the rules of your visa category.

What do I have to do to maintain legal status?
Generally speaking, you must do what is required by your visa category and avoid doing what is prohibited by that category. For example, if you enter as a tourist (B1/B2 visa), your principal activity must be visiting and touring. You may not be an employee or a student (except to enroll in a class for enjoyment as part of your visit).

I’m an F1 student. What are the rules of my status?

  • Upon entry to the United States, report to the school (the one whose I-20 you used to enter the country) for initial SEVIS registration.
  • Enroll for – and stay enrolled for – full-time study during each fall and spring semester. (For undergraduates, this means maintaining enrollment in at least 12 credits.) Summers are optional, legally speaking, but graduate students should consult the Graduate Office for further information. Any drop below full-time enrollment in fall or spring must be authorized in advance by Student Affairs and entered into SEVIS.
  • Make “normal progress toward the degree” by finishing your program by the stop date on your I-20.
  • If you cannot finish on time, apply for an extension of your I-20 before that stop date. Such an extension can be granted only if the delay in completion is due to circumstances beyond your control.
  • Follow the correct procedures if you change your major and/or change your program level (e.g., from M.S. to Ph.D.).*
  • If needing to transfer to another university, follow the correct procedures for school transfer.*
    Report each change of address within ten days to Student Affairs so that SEVIS record can be updated.
  • Abide by any special requirements that may apply to your case, such as Special Registration.*
  • Avoid all off-campus employment unless authorized specifically for you under federal regulations.*

I’m a J1 student. Are the rules different for me?
The regulations for staying in J1 student status are virtually the same as for F1 status. Your paperwork, of course, is the DS-2019, which must be kept current.

What are the consequences of violating my status?
The first result is that New Mexico Tech is required to report that violation in SEVIS and to “terminate” your record. This notifies the government that you are no longer in status – that you are no longer legally present in the United States. At the same time, all benefits attached to J1 or F1 status (campus employment, in-state tuition consideration, travel endorsement, practical training recommendation, etc.) disappear.