Maintaining Student Status & Forms

While studying in the U.S. with an F1 or J1 visa your primary purpose is to be enrolled as a fulltime student and maintain your student status at all times. 

Please scroll down for more information on how to maintain your student status while studying at SMU.

Full-time Enrollment

International Students are required to enroll full-time every fall and spring semester. Full-time enrollment at SMU is:

  • 12 credit hours for undergraduate students
  • 9 credit hours for graduate students
    *Please be advised that there are some graduate programs that have different enrollment requirements than the standard 9 credit hour requirement.

Summer Enrollment

Enrolling for summer is optional unless otherwise deemed by your academic department or if the summer term is your first semester at SMU.

Exceptions to Full-Time Enrollment Requirements

Although the U.S. government requires full-time enrollment for every long semester, the government also acknowledges that full-time enrollment is not always possible. Reasons for which the government allows less than full-time enrollment are:

  1. If it is the international student’s first semester at SMU and the student is having language difficulties or is unfamiliar with U.S. teaching methods, then the student would become eligible for a reduced course load for academic reasons.
  2. If the international student was improperly placed in a course level that the student is not prepared to take, then the student can seek a reduced course load for academic reasons.
  3. If the international student has a severe medical condition that will prevent the student from attending classes and/or fulfilling course requirements, then the student can seek a reduced course load for medical reasons.
  4. If the international student is in his/her graduating semester and does not need to be enrolled full-time in order to complete his/her program, then the student can seek a reduced course load for last semester.

Important: All exceptions will need to be authorized by the ISSS office prior to dropping a course. Dropping a course without the authorization from a Designated School Official (DSO) at the ISSS office is considered a violation of an international student’s immigration status.

Enrolling in Online Courses

International students are permitted to enroll in one online course or a 3-credit hour course that counts towards the student’s full-time enrollment requirement. In other words, undergraduate students will need to be enrolled in at least 9 credit hours of in-person (on-campus?) courses and graduate students will need to be enrolled in at least 6 credit hours of in-person courses.

Concurrent Enrollment

International students are permitted to enroll concurrently (same time) at SMU and another institution. However, any courses taken at another institution must be approved by the ISSS office and the credits taken at the other institution must be transferrable to SMU. Therefore, concurrent enrollment must also be approved by the student’s academic advisor at SMU.

Enrollment with Approved Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Students approved for a full-time CPT (working more than 20 hours per week) are only allowed to register for the CPT-related course. Students approved for a part-time CPT (working less than 20 hours per week) are required to register as a full-time student.

Forms:
Reduced Course Load for Academic Reasons (students must talk to an ISSS advisor to discuss) 
Reduced Course Load for Medical Reasons (students must talk to an ISSS advisor to discuss) 
Reduced Course Load for Last Semester
Concurrent Enrollment

Making normal academic progress means that you are enrolling full-time every semester and are making progress towards completing your program. It also means being in good academic standing with the university. However, sometimes students who are making normal academic progress still need more time on their I-20 to complete their program. If that is the case, then you will need to apply for a “Program Extension” I-20/DS-2019.

Note: Program Extensions require recommendation from academic advisor, new financial documentation, and student needs to be making normal academic progress. Program Extensions can only be granted for up to 1 year at a time.

Before you begin completing the form:

1. Talk to your Immigration Advisor about your eligibility
2. Have the full name and email address of your Academic Advisor or Faculty Advisor
3. Proof of Financial Evidence for the time requesting the extension. 

 

Forms:
F-1/J-1 Student Program Extension

 

U.S. Residence Address

International students are required by law to report an address change within 10 days of moving. Each time a student moves, the residence change must be reported to the ISSS office so the change can be reported to the government.

To update your address, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Login to my.smu.edu
  2. Under “Student Homepage”, click on “Profile”
  3. Under the “Addresses” tab, click on the edit icon next to “Residence”
  4. Update Address and click “Save”

Foreign Address

If students need to update their address in their home country, they must also report this change within 10 days by e-mailing the new address to isss@smu.edu

Phone Numbers

Phone numbers will also need to be updated within 10 days.

To update your phone number, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Login to my.smu.edu
  2. Under “Student Homepage”, click on “Profile”
  3. Under the “Phone Numbers” tab, edit the phone number
  4. Update Address and click “Save”

All students must have an I-20 that accurately reflects their current program of study. If you are changing majors, you will need to speak to academic advisor to change your major administratively. Once that has been completed, the ISSS office will receive notification and will then proceed in issuing a new I-20. 

If you are seeking to change programs to a lower level, you will need to submit the Change of Major or Program. For example, a student was admitted to a PhD program and after one year of study, the student has decided to change level of education to a Masters program. In this case, a new I-20 will need to be issued with a new program end date. *Note: Academic advisor will need to complete the Change of Major or Program form indicating new program details. ISSS will issue new I-20 upon receipt of this form.

If students need more time to complete program, due to the change of major or program, students need to be aware that they ,may also need to complete the Program Extension process. 

Forms:
Change of Major or Program

On-Campus Employment

F-1/J-1 students are eligible to work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during the academic year and full-time (more than 20 hours per week) during winter and summer vacation. On-campus employment may include teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or student positions at the campus library, bookstore, food/dining services, etc. Students are not eligible to work on-campus after the completion of their degree, unless they have work authorization in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card).

To receive written work authorization for on-campus employment, the student and their supervisor will need to complete the On-Campus Work Eligibility form via DocuSign. The supervisor is the only person that can submit the On-Campus Work Eligibility form.

Instructions for Supervisors on Submitting the On-Campus Work Eligibility form

On-Campus Work Authorization Process (for SMU faculty/staff ONLY)

Presentations

Work Authorization Information Presentation

Off-Campus Employment

F-1/J-1 students may not engage in off-campus employment (including paid and unpaid internships) before receiving proper employment authorization from the ISSS office.

Types of Off-Campus Work Authorization available to F-1 Students:

Economic Hardship: As an F-1 student, you may be eligible to apply to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for off-campus employment based on severe economic hardship. This program allows you to work in any kind of off-campus part-time employment while school is in session and full- time during school breaks. You must also maintain a full course of study during the fall and spring semesters.

Eligibility Requirements:

(1) You must have maintained legal status for at least one academic year (nine consecutive months) 

(2) You must be in current legal status for at least one academic year (nine consecutive months) 

(3) You must have made a good faith effort to find employment on-campus.  

(4) You must demonstrate unforeseen severe economic hardship and explain why other employment options are unavailable or insufficient. 

Severe Economic Hardship is an ‘event’ that occurred after your coming to the United States and that was beyond your control as an F-1 student. Examples of such an ‘event’ could be “loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.” Another example would be death of the student’s sponsor. Please note: If you are a transfer student from another U.S. school where you had an Economic Hardship EAD card, you will lose that Economic Hardship work authorization, upon transferring to Southern Methodist University or to any other school.

To apply for Severe Economic Hardship, please collect the following documents

 
    • A letter from you requesting work authorization and explaining the unforeseen ‘event’ that has occurred since your arrival to the U.S. that requires you to seek employment authorization and that other employment options are unavailable or insufficient.  
    • A notarized letter from your sponsor, explaining the reasons they cannot fully support you at this time and why the situation was unforeseen, if applicable. In the case of death of a sponsor, a letter from another family member or friend explaining this situation must be supplied (original and 2 copies).  
    • Any other documentation, which supports your case proving that the ‘event’ happened, when it happened, and that it was beyond your control .
    • Two passport pictures
    • Recent I20 document, valid passport (including name, picture, and expiration date), visa, andI-94 card arrival information. 
    • Any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) cards, if applicable. 
    • Cashier’s check or money order made out to ‘USCIS’https://www.uscis.gov/g-1055 (check current amount). 
    • Any work without authorization is a serious violation of immigration law.

J-1 STUDENTS OFF-CAMPUS WORK AUTHORIZATION OPTIONS: 

  • Academic Training (AT): Employment authorization that allows J-1 students to gain practical experience directly related to the program of study listed on the DS-2019. The length of time given for AT is dependent on the length of study on the DS-2019, with a maximum time of 18 months. AT is approved by the ISSS office, provided that the student is eligible and submits all required documentation. For more information, please review the forms below.
  • Economic Hardship: Employment authorization based on severe economic hardship. This benefit would allow any type of off-campus, part-time employment during the semester and full-time during winter and summer vacation. For more information, please see Economic Hardship Work Authorization form.

Forms:
Economic Hardship Work Authorization (book an appointment to get the form)
J-1 Student Academic Training Application

Volunteering has a very specific connotation when it comes to international students. It refers to donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without remuneration or any other type of compensation. There should be:

  • No expectation of compensation
  • Anybody working that position would be a volunteer irrespective of their visa/work eligibility status
  • The services provided by the volunteer should not be the same services for which he or she was previously paid and/or expects to be hired and paid for in the future

Volunteering at SMU

SMU does not generally follow the practice of permitting students to volunteer on-campus unless it has been formally approved by Human Resources (and Legal Affairs, if applicable). You should request your supervisor to contact SMU Human Resources to inquire about the process involved in hiring a student worker on as a volunteer on a project.

Volunteering during OPT

If you engage in employment that is not paid while on OPT, it is important to ensure that your voluntary employment does not violate any labor laws. It is also recommended that you keep the following records as it may be requested by USCIS if you are applying for immigration benefits in the future:

  • Copies of employment agreements or contracts with the employer including start and end dates, training mode (on location, online, etc) and location of the internship/unpaid training for each employer.
  •  Copies of company time and attendance records that document your daily tasks in detail for all employers during the unpaid internship or training

Forms:
Volunteering vs Employment

When Traveling You Must Have:

1. Current I-20/DS-2019 form

Before leaving the U.S. the most current I-20/DS-2019 will need to be endorsed for travel and re-entry by a Designated School Official. Travel Endorsement is located on page two of I-20 (first page on DS-2019) and is valid for one calendar year, or until the completion of your degree, whichever comes first. Travel Endorsement for students on OPT is valid for six months, or until the end date of their OPT, whichever comes first. ISSS will have the endorsement ready within 3 business days, if there are no complications. However, we suggest you submit the request 2 weeks prior to travel in case a new I-20 is needed.

2. Valid Passport

For at least six months into the future at the time of re-entry.

3. Valid U.S. Visa stamp

There are some exceptions for students who are traveling to Canada or Mexico, for less than 30 days. Please see the Automatic Extension of Visa Validity form for more information.

4. EAD card, if on Post/STEM Extension OPT and Employment Letter

If applying for a visa, it is RECOMMENDED to have:

  • Financial Support Documents
    Financial support documents accurately reflect the amount on the I-20 document, and be less than six months old.
  • Status Verification Letter
    Can apply for letter in Letter Requests, processing times are 5 business days.
  • SMU Transcript
    The transcript can be obtained from the Registrar’s Office.

Please be sure to check consulate website for any additional requirements and for procedures.

Note: Students on academic probation, who’ve been suspended while outside of the U.S. will not be eligible to return to SMU and any I-20 will be not be valid.

Forms:
Travel Endorsement Request Form
Automatic Extension of Visa Validity

F-1/J-1 Students can bring their spouse or children (under the age of 21) as an F-2/J-2 dependent status for the duration of the student’s study, which includes time spent on Optional Practical Training or Academic Training. The F-2/J-2 dependent will need a dependent I-20/DS-2019 to apply for an F-2/J-2 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside of the U.S or to apply for a change of status. To request to add a dependent, please fill out the following "Adding a Dependent" Form.

 

* Please note: Processing times for such requests are 5-7 business days. This process is only for continuing students at SMU, new students will submit all documentation to their admitting department.

 

Forms: 

Adding a Dependent Form 

 

If you plan on enrolling full-time at another institution, you can transfer your SEVIS record to your new school, if you are able to enroll for the next available term or within 5 months, whichever is sooner.

If you would like to transfer TO SMU, you and a DSO at your current school will need to complete the “Transfer-to-SMU” form. You, the student, will then be responsible to for submitting this form to your admitting department.

If you would like to transfer OUT of SMU, you will need to complete the “Transfer Out Request Form” and submit it to ISSS office, along with a copy of your admission letter to your new school.

*Note: SEVIS records can only be transferred out after the completion of the semester or within the 60-day grace period.

Forms:
Transfer TO SMU
Transfer OUT Request (Student)

If you are already in the U.S. and are interested in changing your visa status to F-1/J-1 or F-2/J-2, then the ISSS office can guide you through this process. There are two options for obtaining a change of status:

  1. Apply inside the U.S. for a Change of Status
  2. Leave the U.S. and Re-enter with a New Visa Status

Option 1: Apply inside the U.S. for a change of Status

This option requires adjudication from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) government agency. The application process can take up to 6-9 months, or even longer. Current processing times can be found by going to the USCIS website.

Option 2: Leave the U.S. and re-enter with a new visa status

This option requires you to depart the U.S., apply for an F/J visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, and re-enter with your new visa. If you are a newly accepted student, who has not attended SMU before, and would like to study here for a future semester, then you would apply for an I-20 through the Central Admissions Office. However, if you are a current student at SMU and would like to pursue this option, you will need to submit the following documents:

  1. Change of Status Re-Entry Request Form
  2. Financial Documentation (i.e. bank statement/letter), dated within the last 6 months
  3. Copy of Passport
  4. Letter from Academic Advisor
  5. Copy of Flight Itinerary or Departure Plan

Note: Please note that all students wanting to change status will need to speak to an International Advisor before any I-20s can be issued, with the exception of new students traveling to get an F/J visa. Please book an appointment to speak with an advisor.

Additional Documents Required by Visa Type

F1 to F2

  • Copy of previous I-20, listed as an F1
  • Official transcripts
  • Copy of primary visa holder’s documents (passport, visa, I-94, I-20)
  • Primary visa holder’s official transcripts and letter of good academic standing from academic advisor

Note: You will be required to maintain your F1 status until your application is approved. Until approved, all enrollment and employment must cease immediately.

 


F2 to F1

  • Copy of previous I-20, listed as F2
  • Copy of primary visa holder’s documents (passport, visa, I-94, I-20)
  • Primary visa holder’s official transcripts and letter of good academic standing from academic advisor

 

Note: As an F2 status holder, you are allowed to enroll on a part-time basis. Any part-time enrollment must be approved by academic department prior to enrolling.


H4 to F1
  • Copy of H4 Approval Notice and/or H4 visa
  • Copy of H1’s immigration documents (approval notice, visa, passport, etc.)
  • Employment letter from H-1 sponsor
  • Official transcripts (only if already enrolled)

Note: You must maintain your immigration status until your application is approved. You must be enrolled full-time when your application is approved.

 


H1 to F1

  • Copy of H-1 immigration documents (approval notice, visa, passport, etc.)
  • Employment letter from H-1 sponsor
  • Official transcripts (only if already enrolled)

Note: You must maintain your immigration status until your application is approved. You must be enrolled full-time when your application is approved.

 

J1/J2 to F1

  • Official transcripts, if enrolled
  • Copy of waiver if subject to 212(e)
  • If a J-2, please include a copy of J-1 immigration documents

Note: You must maintain your immigration status until your application is approved.


E or L to F1

  • If a dependent, provide a copy of primary visa holder’s documents (passport, visa, I-94, and letter of employment)

 

CHANGE OF STATUS OR RE-ENTRY

 

CHANGE OF STATUS THROUGH USCIS

RE-ENTRY WITH NEW I20

APPROXIMATE COST

  • I-539 fee:$370
  • Biometrics fee: $85 biometrics services (fees subject to change)
  • Plane ticket
  • Possible visa application fees
  • SEVIS fee ($350.00)

PROCESSING TIME

6-9 months

  • If student needs a new visa, you need to check U.S. Embassy for visa processing times. If applicant does not need a new visa, and depending on travel destination, this can take less than a week.
  • While you may travel to Canada or Mexico to obtain a new F-1 visa, this process can be complicated as a third country national applicant.

TAKING CLASSES

  • B-1/B-2 cannot study until COS is approved
  • F-2 dependents can study on a part-time basis

 

You must be enrolled in classes. If your departure causes delays, you are responsible for contacting all offices at SMU regarding a possible withdrawal request. Please note, there will be no refunds.

EMPLOYMENT

  • You are not eligible to work until reinstatement is adjudicated and approved
  • If approved, your time spent prior to the approval will count towards the one academic year requirement to be eligible for CPT or OPT work authorization.
  • You can resume on-campus employment upon returning to the U.S.
  • You must accrue one academic year on your new SEVIS I20 before eligible for CPT or OPT work authorization.

OTHER

J-1 visa holders that are subject to the two-year home residency requirement are not eligible to change their status within the U.S.

If you are denied a visa in a U.S. Embassy located in Canada or Mexico, you may need to return to re-apply for a new visa.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: May I begin attending classes before my application has been approved?

A: All applicants may be able to begin attending class after their change of status application has been submitted and while waiting for approval, except for individuals who have entered the United States on a B-1/B-2. Also, individuals who have entered with a WT or WB visa waiver from a waiver country are not eligible to being attending classes. F-2 status holders are eligible to enroll on a part-time basis only. It is strongly recommended that all other visa holders consult with an immigration attorney to verify their eligibility to enroll in classes while their change of status is pending.

Q: May I begin campus employment such as an assistantship while waiting for the change of status approval?

A: No. If eligible (see above), you may only attend classes full-time while your application is pending,

Q: What happens if my application is denied?


A: If the application is denied, students may be required to leave the U.S. on short notice, interrupting their program of study at an inconvenient or academically disadvantageous time. If students have maintained their previous visa status, they may be allowed to continue to reside in the U.S. as their previous visa status.

Q: Can I travel while my application for change of status is pending?

A: No. Leaving the U.S. while an application for change of status is pending is considered an abandonment of petition. Contact your International Advisor for your options if you must travel out of the U.S. during this period.

Remember: When you change your status in the United States, your visa in your passport does not change. Visas may only be obtained outside the United Status at a U.S. embassy or consulate. For example: If your status is changed to F-2 and you depart the United States, you must obtain an F-2 visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States before re-entering the United States.

Forms

Change of Status I-20 Request (please book an appointment with advisor to get form)
Re-entry to the U.S. to Change Status Request (Current Students Only)

 

It is your responsibility to remain in compliance with immigration and the university regulations. The ISSS office provides information and services to ensure that you are aware of your responsibilities and are able to remain complaint. The ISSS office has taken steps to provide you this information by creating the “International Student Compliance” Course, which every new student will be required to complete. In addition to our website and the course, the ISSS office hosts seminars and information sessions on various topics throughout the year.

If you do not comply with the regulations, the ISSS office is required to terminate your SEVIS record. Termination of a SEVIS record (I-20/DS-2019) has serious negative consequences for you, as it can end your ability to stay in the U.S. and attend school.

Reasons for the termination of your SEVIS record include:

  • Unauthorized employment
  • Unauthorized withdrawal from classes
  • Unauthorized drop below full course of study
  • Expulsion and suspension
  • Failure to enroll in classes
  • Failure to report OPT employment (automatic action by SEVIS)
  • Accrual of 90 days of unemployment while on OPT (automatic action by SEVIS

In most cases, the termination of your SEVIS record means that you must make plans to immediately depart from the United States. In other words, there may not be a grace period after a termination.

If your SEVIS record is terminated, you have two options: travel outside the United States with a new I-20 or submit a reinstatement application to regain your status. An International Advisor at the ISSS can work with you to determine your options.

Best ways to ensure that your SEVIS record is not terminated:

  • Always remain in a full course of study OR request and receive permission from the ISSS office before dropping below a full course of study or withdrawing from all classes
  • All employment must have WRITTEN work authorization from ISSS or USCIS
  • Do not break university or U.S. laws
  • Always check your SMU email for important reminders
  • Do not let your I-20 expire

REINSTATEMENT VS RE-ENTRY

 

REINSTATEMENT

RE-ENTRY WITH NEW I20

Cost:

I-539 plus Biometrics Fee: Check most recent fees: uscis.gov (approximately $500.00)

 

Plane ticket to home country

Visa application fees (if necessary)

$350 SEVIS fee

Processing Time:

6-9 months approximate processing time

Length of time is dependent on how long it takes to travel and obtain a new visa, if necessary. Visa processing without delays can take as short as 7 days. However, with additional security checks and delays, this process could take up to 3 months.

Concerns:

If your reinstatement is denied, your current visa will be automatically cancelled, student will be permanently limited to applying for visas in home country, student may begin accumulating “unlawful presence days” and risk being barred from the U.S., and an official record of violation will be recorded with DHS.

While you may travel to Canada or Mexico to obtain a new F-1 visa if necessary, this process can be extremely difficult if you are not a legal resident of those countries.
If you are denied a visa in one of these countries, you may need to return to your home country and reapply for a new F-1 visa.

Employment:

Once approved, time spent before violation will count towards one academic year requirement for CPT or OPT work authorization.

You will have to accrue one academic year on new SEVIS I20 before eligible for CPT or OPT work authorization.

Note:

While the reinstatement application is being processed, students are not eligible for any type of employment.

You will need to reenter the U.S. no more than 30 days before the program start date on your Form I-20 or DS-2019.
If you need to delay your re-entry to the U.S., contact the ISSS office immediately.

Forms:
Reinstatement to F-1 Status (Book an appointment with advisor to get the form)
Re-entry to the U.S. to Correct Status

There are instances when a student would like discontinue their enrollment at SMU. The university does allow Leave of Absences, however, for immigration purposes there needs to be action taken on the SEVIS record. Therefore, if you are planning to cancel enrollment or withdraw from the university entirely, you will need to submit a request to withdraw, cancel or request a Leave of Absence.

Undergraduate Students: All Undergraduate Students will initiate this request with the Student Success and Retention Office. In the form, you will be asked to provide a copy of your travel itinerary that shows date of departure.

Graduate Students: All Graduate Students will submit two separate forms. You will submit the SEVIS Withdrawal Request to our office through Docusign. In addition, you need to submit a request to your School as well as the University Registrar’s Office.

If you are looking to take time off from school for medical reasons, you have one of two options:

  1. “Withdraw” your SEVIS record, depart the U.S., and possibly return for a future semester
  2. You can reduce your course load to zero credit hours, but you will need to remain in the U.S. to seek treatment.

 

If you withdraw your SEVIS record, your record will be terminated for “Authorized Early Withdrawal”. If you decide to return to SMU, your next enrollment needs to be within 5 months from your last enrollment to keep the same SEVIS ID. If your next enrollment is more than 5 months after your last enrollment, then you can come back to SMU with a new I-20, which has a new SEVIS ID (will require a new SEVIS fee payment). Once you are ready to return to SMU, please submit the "Returning After Early Withdrawal" form (link to form below). 

*Note: If you make plans to take a leave of absence with the university and do not inform the ISSS office, your SEVIS record will be either be terminated for “Unauthorized Drop Below Full-Time” or “Failure to Enroll”. Having a terminated record for these reasons could have serious consequences for your future in the U.S.

Forms:

SEVIS Record Withdrawal for GR students ONLY
Returning After Early Withdrawal

As an F-1 student, you have several options after completing your program. As you get ready to complete your program of study, you can:

  • Apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) so you can work in the United States. Applications for OPT can be submitted before your completion date and must be received by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) no later than 60 days after the completion of the academic program requirements.
  • Transfer to a new school. You must request a “Transfer Out” of your SEVIS record, please see “Transferring Schools” section for more information. You have until the end of your 60-day grace period to transfer out and receive a new I-20 from your new school.
  • Start a new program of study at SMU. You must be fully admitted, and apply for and receive a new I-20 from the ISSS office before the end of the grace period. You will need to apply for a “Change of Education Level or Program” I-20 with your admitting department. 
    *Note: You will only be able to receive a new I-20 after you have completed your program, but before the end date of your 60-day grace period.
  • Leave the United States before the end of the grace period. Please be sure to clear of all your holds with the university, before your departure.
  • Change Status: There are several other visa options that F-1 students can transition to. Please see Immigration Options for International Students for more information about these other visa types. If you do change your status, please be sure to provide the ISSS office with proof of your approved new status.