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Maintaining Status

MAINTENANCE OF LEGAL F-1 STATUS

This section provides general information on how to maintain legal F-1 status. In addition, continue to read all emails sent by the Lesley International Student Advisor and Lesley International Student Services (iss@lesley.edu) for immigration related updates. The Department of States Study in the States website also provides I-20 and F-1 information. 

The Lesley I-20 only permits in-person study at Lesley University for the program listed on the I-20. It does not permit study outside Lesley (including on-line programs). However, an occasional course at another school for which the credits will be able to be transferred into Lesley may be considered. A new I-20 will be needed before a student can take the course, including if it is an online course. The other US school must be on the SEVP list of approved schools. Download the certified school listContact iss@lesley.edu before registering for any in-person or on-line course at another US school. The Lesley international student advisor will review your request, and if approved, will issue a Concurrent Enrollment I-20 authorizing you to take the course. Failure to do so may jeopardize your legal F-1 status.

New students may check this section of our website for general  I-20 and F-1 information before they are issued the Lesley I-20.

  • Low Residency Programs

    Students requesting F-1 status to participate in a low residency program will only be issued a short-term I-20 for each residency period. Student departs the US after each low-residency period.

    Low residency students will not be eligible for F-1-related benefits, including on-campus employment, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). Additionally, any low residency program internship, practicum or thesis and dissertation research can only be done from outside of the US. Please refer to the Lesley Low Residency Programs section of this page for more detailed information, and contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance.

  • Passports must be valid six months beyond approved stay.

    Passports for F-1 and their F-2 dependents must always be valid six months beyond their approved time in the US (i.e., beyond I-20 Program of Study End Date, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expiration, etc.). 

    Passports must be compliant per above when re-entering the US, applying for a visa renewal, or applying to US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for Optional Practical Training (OPT), H-1B specialty work visa, permanent residency petition, or other status benefit request. 

  • F-1 Enrollment Requirements

    F-1 students must register as follows by the “Term 1” start date of each fall and spring semester

    Graduate Students (including those on a graduate certificate I-20):

    • 9 in-person credits each fall and spring semester, of which only 3 credits can be on-line or virtual. 
      • In total, students must have a minimum of 6 in-person credits spanning Term I and II.  
      • It is NOT legally acceptable to have 3 on-line credits each Term I and II. 

    Undergraduate Students

    • 12 in-person credits each fall and spring semester, of which only 3 credits can be on-line or virtual.
      • In total, students must have a minimum of 6 in-person credits spanning Term I and II.  
      • It is NOT legally acceptable to have 3 on-line credits each Term I and II. 

    Threshold students must register for:

    • 6 credits


    Thesis/Dissertation Students must register for:

    • Continuation course while actively completing their thesis/dissertation and maintaining good academic standing. 


    Hybrid Classes should remain at a minimum and contain at least 55% in-person attendance. Consult with your professor and with iss@lesley.edu before the first Add/Drop period of fall and spring semesters if you have any doubt.

    Incompletes do not count towards fulfillment of your F-1 enrollment requirement. Refer to the section on Incompletes for more detailed information. Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance. 

    Reduced Course Load Requests are limited and must be pre-approved through issuance of a new I-20 prior to dropping below full-time. Refer to the Reduced Course Load section for more detailed information. Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance. 

    Internships, Practicums, Fieldwork, or off-campus employment (paid or unpaid) – ALL require prior authorization through issuance of a new I-20 (even if done remotely). Check the Work Authorization section of our website for more detailed information and contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance. Do not engage in any off-site work or internship experience (paid or unpaid) BEFORE obtaining a new I-20 authorization. Approval from a Lesley academic or faculty advisor will never count as legal authorization for any of the above-mentioned experiences.

  • Incompletes

    Incompletes do NOT count towards fulfillment of your F-1 enrollment requirement. F-1 status students must fulfill their Incomplete requirements by the first day of the next academic term 1. F-1 status students cannot extend their I-20 simply to make up incomplete work. A student might also be denied participation in off-campus internship or fieldwork until the Incomplete work is finished. Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance.

  • Off-campus Work, Internship, Practicum, Fieldwork (paid or unpaid)

    Internships, Practicums, Fieldwork, or off-campus employment (paid or unpaid) – ALL require prior authorization through issuance of a new I-20 (even if done remotely). Check the Work Authorization section of our website for more detailed information and contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance. Do not engage in any off-site work or internship experience (paid or unpaid) BEFORE obtaining a new I-20 authorization. 

    Approval from a Lesley academic or faculty advisor will NEVER count as legal authorization for any of the above-mentioned experiences.

  • Reduced course load requests require pre-approval and a new I-20.

    F-1 regulations offer limited reduction of course load options, per education level, for the reasons described below: 

    • Academic Difficulties – can only be used once per academic level and only in the student’s first term in that level for:  improper course level placement; initial difficulty with reading requirements; initial difficulty with the English language; or unfamiliarity with the US teaching methods.
    • Illness or Medical Condition – will require a letter from a US licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy or a licensed clinical psychologist. 
    • For graduate thesis or dissertation students, in the final phase of their dissertation when they only have thesis/dissertation remaining for degree completion, must be registered accordingly.
    • In a student’s last semester - if after academic review of student’s transcript, it is confirmed that the student has less than a full-time semester remaining for degree completion. In this scenario, students cannot complete their last semester fully on-line, they must always maintain an in-person component to their registration. 


    CAUTION: All reduction of course load requests must be pre-approved through issuance of a new Form I-20. Failure to do so will jeopardize your legal F-1 status requiring you to apply to USCIS for legal reinstatement to F-1 status. It will also impact your ability to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT).

    How to apply for a Reduced Course Load I-20 BEFORE dropping below full-time or withdrawing

  • Change in Major or Minor

    You will need to request an updated I-20 if you change your major. The new major must be an in-person program. It must allow you to continue to fulfill the strict F-1, in-person enrollment requirement which only permits three on-line credits per semester.

    Changes to academic minors do not generate a new I-20. The minor must be completed along with the major and must be finished either at the same time as the major or before it. A student cannot remain in F-1 status simply to complete the requirements of a minor.

    If the student changes from an in-person program to a low-residency program, they will need to depart the US and finish the low-residency program from overseas. Low-residency students are only issued an I-20 for each low-residency period. They depart the US after each low residency.

    Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance BEFORE any change in major or minor.

  • Update your US address within 10 days of the move.
    1. Complete the “US Address Update Form for F-1 Students” from the  International Student Forms section of our website. The form is submitted to iss@lesley.edu to update your SEVIS address information.
    2. Also, update your address in your Student Self-Service. While updating your address in the Student Self-Service, check your emergency contact information and keep it accurate at all times. 
    3. Also, complete Form AR-11 and keep a copy of it with your immigration records. You may be asked for proof of this by USCIS at a future point. 
    4. Follow the  USCIS Change of Address Information page. This is especially important if you have a pending petition with USCIS.


    As you can see, updating your US address correctly is a multi-tiered process. Contact iss@lesley.edu if you have questions on above. 

  • I-20 Extension Requests – Your I-20 must be valid at all times.

    I-20 Extension requests may be submitted 30-60 days prior to the I-20 program of study expiration date by submitting an “Extension of Program Request Form” from the International Student Forms section of our website. An extension can only be considered if student has been making good academic progress towards completion of degree and still has “required” academic requirements remaining for degree completion. Your Lesley academic advisor will be asked to do a transcript review to verify this. Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance.

  • Leave of Absence Requests

    Any extended leave for a period longer than 5-7 business days during the academic semester (i.e., between the start and end dates of an academic term as determined by the academic calendar) must be pre-approved by the Lesley International Student Services office. 

    Extended leaves of absence for travel during a semester due to medical reasons, military, or academic discipline, etc. will all require prior approval from International Student Services. Most of these requests will also require a new Form I-20. Failure to abide by this may jeopardize your legal F-1 status. Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance. 

  • I-20 Travel Signature Requests

    Check the Travel Information section of our site for more detailed travel information, including critical port of entry advice. Submit a “Travel Signature Request Form” from the International Student Forms section of our site, two weeks before travel. 

    Travel to Canada, Mexico, or other Contiguous Territory – always Contact iss@lesley.edu for the latest information two weeks prior to departure. 

    F-1 students, including those on OPT or OPT STEM Extension, who are F-1 compliant, will need to present the following at the US port of re-entry:

    • Valid passport, valid six months beyond the I-20 end date. 
    • Or for those on OPT or OPT STEM Extension, six months beyond their Employment Authorization Document (EAD), provided they have remained OPT or STEM OPT compliant with all aspects of their OPT/STEM regulations. 
    • Valid multiple-entry F-1 visa.
    • Travel Attestation Signature on their most recent I-20 from the Lesley International Student Advisor, including students on OPT or STEM Extension. Travel signatures will not be provided to anyone who has not been compliant.
    • OPT and STEM Extension students may also be asked to present employment verification letter(s) at the port of entry. 


    F-2 Dependent Travel Signatures – F-2 dependents usually travel with the F-1, but if they need to travel separately, they too must have a recent travel signature from the Lesley International Student Advisor. They will also need a valid, multiple entry F-2 visa, and passport that is valid six months beyond their approved stay, as explained above. 

  • Form I-94 - Duration of Status (D/S) Validity of F Status

    The Form I-94, provides information on how the U.S. immigration inspector recorded your most recent entry into the US.  All F-1 and their F-2 dependents should receive the “D/S” notation on their Most Recent Form I-94. D/S means that you may remain in the United States as long as you continue to comply with all F-1 related requirements, including Optional Practical Training (OPT) or OPT STEM Extension. F-2 status is always dependent on the F-1 remaining in legal status. Refer to the section on F-2 compliance for more detailed information on F-2 dependent compliance. 

    Check your I-94 within 48 hours of each re-entry to the US. If your Form I-94 contains a specific date, or a notation other than “D/S”, you must report it to iss@lesley.edu immediately to request a correction. Failure to do so may cause you to start accumulating unlawful presence time. 

    Also, check the Travel Information section of our site for more detailed travel information, including critical port of entry advice. 

  • F-1 Transfers into Lesley or to Another School

    TRANSFERRING OUT from Lesley’s F-1 sponsorship to another school’s F-1 program.

    International students who intend to transfer from Lesley University to another college or university must complete the “Transfer Out Request Form” from the Forms section of our website before Lesley will transfer their F-1 SEVIS record to another school.

    Your SEVIS record will not be released until you submit the above-mentioned form completed and signed, along with an acceptance letter from the university where you intend to transfer to. Check with the International Student Advisor of your new school. They may require that our office complete some transfer information before they issue you the I-20. Be sure to check with them BEFORE you submit the above-mentioned Transfer Out Request Form to our office. The form allows you to upload documents for our review and signature, which can include any form that your new school is asking you to have us complete. We will process the F-1 SEVIS transfer out process within 5-7 business days of receiving the above-mentioned Transfer Out Request Form. Your new school will be able to issue you their I-20 from our release date.

    NoteOnce we transfer your SEVIS record to the new school, you will no longer be in Lesley’s F-1 SEVIS database or I-20 sponsorship. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to work or study on the Lesley University I-20 (in-person or online) or to use it to apply for an F1 visa renewal or to enter the US. Any Lesley Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT Extension employment authorization stops on the date we release your SEVIS record to the new school. Contact iss@lesley.edu with your questions. 

    Requesting to TRANSFER INTO Lesley’s F-1 sponsorship from another school’s F-1 program.

    If you are already in the US, maintaining legal F-1 status, including OPT or STEM OPT, and wish to transfer to the Lesley I-20 sponsorship, please contact iss@lesley.edu immediately to schedule a zoom meeting to discuss your case. There are very strict timelines associated with an F-1 SEVIS transfer between schools. The Lesley International Student Advisor will review your case for SEVIS Transfer eligibility. This transfer option only applies for students accepted into a Lesley full-time in-person program. It does not apply to Low Residency programs. If after meeting and reviewing your case, we feel that you are eligible for the Transfer I-20, we will provide additional information and relevant forms.

  • Drug, Alcohol, Smoking and Marijuana Policies

    Marijuana (cannabis) may be legal in some US states, but it is still a US Federal Offense. 

    Federal law always overrides state law. 

    In addition, please note that despite changes to Massachusetts law, the use, possession, purchase, processing, and manufacturing of marijuana – including medical marijuana – remains prohibited under federal law and, thus, are prohibited everywhere on Lesley’s campus. 

    Please also familiarize yourself with Lesley’s Drugs and Alcohol Policy, and the Smoke-Free Environment Policy.

    Also, check the Travel Information section of our site for more detailed travel information, including critical port of entry advice.

  • School Dismissal or Withdrawal – Check Lesley catalog policies.

    A university dismissal or suspension will result in the termination of F-1 status as well as that of their F-2 dependents. Refer to Lesley University’s Student Catalogs to familiarize yourself with Lesley’s academic and judicial policies. 

    Contact your academic advisor to assist with academic-related questions. Contact the Support Hub for all other questions. And always feel free to contact iss@lesley.edu for F-1 and I-20 related matters. 

  • I-20 Program Of Study Completion Date - This is an “estimated” date.

    CAUTION: For immigration purposes the I-20 Program End Date does not always coincide with the student’s actual degree completion date. When the I-20 is issued, the completion date is set based on an “estimated” time of completion. 

    The legal USCIS deadlines are based on when the student actually completes their degree requirements. Your actual degree completion determines the deadlines by which to depart the US upon degree completion, apply for post-completion work authorization or transfer to another US school. 

    The completion date is NOT the date that you submit your Intent to Graduate Form, Commencement date, or the school’s degree conferral date. 

    Please note: Students cannot intentionally delay the completion of their academic program to suit an immigration-related need, to allow more time to secure post-graduate employment or to take additional non-required courses. 

    The completion date for coursework (non-thesis) students is typically the last day of exams of the term in which they will complete their program.

    The completion date for graduate thesis or dissertation students is the date by which the student has finished all post-defense revisions, which is normally from 2-4 weeks beyond the thesis/dissertation defense date.

    If a student misses the deadline to submit the Lesley Intent to Graduate Form, they will be added to the school’s following degree conferral roster, but this will not extend their official immigration completion date.

    Any student wishing to work in the US after degree completion or transfer to another school’s F-1 program, should not travel outside of the US until they have secured a new I-20 or work authorization

    Contact iss@lesley.edu 90-120 days prior to your anticipated completion date to help plan a timely strategy specific to your personal situation. 

  • F-1 Grace Period

    F-1 students who have remained compliant with the F-1 regulations throughout, have a 60-day grace period beyond the completion of their degree completion to remain in the US. For immigration purposes your completion date is based on when you actually complete your degree requirements, which may differ from the “estimated program of study completion date” listed on your I-20.

    For F-1 students on Post Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT or STEM Extension OPT) status, who remained fully compliant with all aspects of OPT employment and reporting requirements, they also have a 60-day grace period beyond their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to remain in the US or be issued a Transfer I-20 to a new school or to a new Lesley program. Contact iss@lesley.edu for more detailed F-1 transfer information. 

    CAUTION ON TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF THE US WHILE ON GRACE PERIOD:

    If you leave the US during your grace period, and before having secured a new status (i.e., Post Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), Transfer to another school’s F-1 program or to a new Lesley program, you will jeopardize your OPT and Transfer eligibility. This includes any travel to Canada, Mexico, or other contiguous territory. F-2 dependents should follow the F-1 plan of action for the grace period to avoid jeopardizing status. Contact iss@lesley.edu 90-120 days before degree completion to help set a timely strategy. 

    Contact an immigration attorney before leaving the US if you have a pending petition with USCIS. 

  • F-2 Dependent Status

    F-2 status is always dependent on the F-1 remaining in legal F-1 status. 

    F-2 dependent spouses may enroll in less than a full course of study at an SEVP accredited institution of higher education. This means that F-2 dependents can study at a College or University while in the US, but never on a full-time basis. Consult with an immigration attorney before accepting any grant or scholarship. 

    F-2 dependents, under the age of 21, are ONLY permitted to engage in a full-time course of study from the K-12 grades. 

    F-2 spouses or F-2 dependents are not eligible for any US work authorization, including any on- or off-campus employment or remote work.

    F-2 minor dependents wishing to remain in the US beyond the age of 21, should secure a new status from USCIS. Consult with an immigration attorney 18 months prior to 21 for best advice. 

    Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance with F-2 related questions. We will also be happy to provide a list of immigration attorneys at your request. 

  • Unlawful Presence

    All non-immigrants must always have a valid immigration status while in the United States. USCIS monitors maintenance of status for all non-immigrants in all non-immigrant visa categories.

    Accumulation of 180 days of unlawful presence will result in a three-year re-entry bar to the U.S. Accumulation of 180+ days of unlawful presence will result in a ten-year re-entry bar to the U.S. There are also other legal ramifications to falling out of legal status.

    Please note that filing a Reinstatement Request in and of itself does not stop the unlawful presence clock. If the Reinstatement Request is denied, the unlawful presence started the day the non-immigrant person fell out of status. 

    Students who have fallen out of legal status will not be eligible for any I-20 related benefit, including Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT), Travel Signatures, etc. until their status has been reinstated by USCIS. 

    Contact iss@lesley.edu for assistance and an immigration attorney referral list. 

  • Public Charge

    Familiarize yourself with the Public Charge regulations and contact an immigration attorney before applying for any US public charge benefit. Please find more information on the Public Charge Rule on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. Contact iss@lesley.edu for an immigration attorney referral list.