Students are required to follow rules (or “regulations”) to maintain their F-1 visa status. When students do not follow the rules, they can “fall out of status” and need to regain their status.
Why would I need to gain my F-1 status again?
When students do not follow the regulations, the OIE must terminate their SEVIS record. There are many reasons why the OIE terminates students’ records. The most common one is failing to enroll (or stay enrolled) as a full-time student. Other reasons include working without authorization, failure to update the OIE with changes in your program, or being dropped from your academic department. The OIE will try to contact students before terminating their record. In most cases, you will know that your record is being terminated.
You might also need to regain your F-1 status if you needed more time to complete your degree but did not extend your I-20 before its “program end date”. Pay attention to the OIE’s reminder emails and don’t wait until the end of the semester to extend your I-20!
There are two different ways to get back into status as an F-1 student.
- One is to apply for reinstatement through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- The other is to travel outside the US and re-enter.
The details of both options are listed below but the key things to know are:
- There is no instant solution.
- It is your responsibility to address this as soon as possible after falling out of status.
- Both you and the OIE will need to do additional work, including issuing a new I-20.
- Getting back into status will cost you money. How much depends whether you choose to apply for reinstatement or to travel and re-enter the US.
If you fall out of F-1 status, you should immediately make an appointment with an advisor at the OIE to discuss your situation and determine which option is best for your circumstances. Talk to the OIE before taking any action related to reinstatement or travel – our trained advisors can help find the best solution for you.
You run serious immigration risk by not acting immediately once your F-1 student status ends, and the US Department of Homeland Security can actually go to your house and find you if you do not take action for reinstatement or otherwise leave the US.
Reinstatement vs. Travel to Regain F-1 Status
|What it is|
Student files an application to the USCIS requesting that the F-1 SEVIS record be “reinstated."
If approved, you do not have to leave the US.
Student exits the US and reenters the country again on a NEW SEVIS record.
Risk: Could be denied entry to US or denied visa renewal, if needed.
Must be maintaining F-1 status. Must be full-time or will be full-time in the next available semester.
May not have engaged in unauthorized employment.
Must file within five months of falling out of F-1 Status.
Must be able to maintain F-1 status upon re-entry.
Must be eligible to enter country outside of US, and re-enter US. See “Visas.”
|Time||General processing: 8-12 months, but can often be longer.||General processing: 2-3 weeks, depending on where you travel and if you need a new F-1 visa.|
Cost of lost income (see on-campus employment below)
New SEVIS fee
Travel and visa-related expenses (varies)
|F-1 Visa and non-US Visas|
No effect –you are not leaving the USA, so no visa is needed.
Upon reinstatement, old visa will still be valid if not expired.
Will need a valid US visa to re-enter the US in F-1 status.
May need a visa to enter country outside of the US (such as Canada).
|On-campus work||No on-campus work while the reinstatement is processing. This includes GTA, GRA, and RA positions.||On-campus work allowed as soon as you return to the US in the correct status.|
|Curricular Practical Training (CPT)||Immediately eligible to apply for CPT authorization after the reinstatement has been approved.|
Must wait two semesters before applying for CPT.
Exception if your graduate program requires an internship.
|Optional Practical Training (OPT)||Immediately eligible to apply for OPT authorization after the reinstatement has been approved.|
Must wait two semesters before applying for OPT.
Students graduating in less than a year: no OPT.
How to Regain Status - Action Steps
Once you choose which option to pursue to regain your F-1 status, the following sections can guide you on the procedures.
Filing for Reinstatement
Gather the following documents for your reinstatement application. Once you have all but the final two items gathered, set up an appointment with the OIE to receive a reinstatement recommendation and review your materials.
- Form I-539: Complete the Form I-539, and pay Form I-539 filing and biometric services fees. Check the up to date amounts through the link to the USCIS filing fees.
- Letter requesting your F-1 status reinstatement: Prepare a letter explaining the circumstances for falling out of status, how you will ensure it does not happen again, and a statement that not being granted reinstatement would result in undue hardship to you.
- Financial support documents: Recent bank statements, etc. demonstrating your ability to pay for your studies and personal expenses
- Form I-94
- Copy of passport identity page
- Copy of F-1 entry visa stamp
- Copies of all your past I-20s
- Proof of enrollment to demonstrate that you have maintained full-time enrollment
- Additional Support Materials: Sometimes, an additional letter from your academic advisor
- OIE Support Letter: After meeting with you and issuing the new reinstatement I-20, the OIE will give you a support letter to include in your application.
- Copy of signed I-20 recommending reinstatement of your F-1 status: We will issue you a reinstatement I-20 during your review appointment. Include a copy of the signed I-20.
Once you have gathered all your required reinstatement application documents, it is time to file:
- Make a copy or scan the full packet for your records before sending your application to the USCIS;
- Mail the I-539 and supporting documents to the correct USCIS filing address using a mailing method that you can track to confirm delivery.
You will receive a receipt notice in 3-4 weeks and can use that to track the status. The USCIS will review your application and if approved, your SEVIS record will be returned to active F-1 status. Send us your approval notice to receive a new I-20 that shows your active F-1 status.
Travel and Reentering the USA on an Initial Status I-20
Regaining status via travel will require careful planning specific to your timelines for travel, validity of your F-1 visa, and semesters remaining to graduate.
- Request New Initial I-20: Complete the Return from Academic Absence request in iStart. This will involve uploading proof of your finances to cover at least one academic year of study (unless you will finish your semester in less time). Your academic advisor will have to sign off on the request as well.
- Pay SEVIS Fee for new I-20 at fmjfee.com
- Exit and Reenter the United States on a New SEVIS Record: Up to 30 days before the program start date on your new I-20, you may present yourself at a US Customs and Border Patrol to reenter the US. You will need your new I-20, valid passport, and valid F-1 entry visa.
- Complete Immigration Check-in in iStart: We will use this information to register your record in the SEVIS system.