International students are required to maintain legal status while here. This is a legal issue, so be careful to follow the regulations in this regard. Failure to do so will result in your being terminated, which means you will have to apply to the USCIS for reinstatement, which is a somewhat cumbersome and expensive process. That said, by all means, stay in status.
In order to maintain legal status as an F-1 or J-1 student
- Maintain a valid passport and unexpired Form I-20.
- Register as a full-time student every Fall/Spring semester:
- Undergraduate = minimum 12 credit hours.
- Graduate = minimum 9 credit hours.
- A maximum of 3 online credits may apply to full-time status.
- Students in their last semester may register part-time, but they must be in at least one class in which they are required to be physically present. In other words, enrolling in only online courses in your last semester is not allowed by USCIS. You must also notify your DSO/ARO in OIP in advance.
- Note that summer registration is not required to maintain your legal status if you were full-time in the previous spring semester and you will be full-time in the subsequent fall semester.
- Do not work off campus without the permission of your DSO/ARO in the OIP. Working off campus without OIP approval will result in termination and reinstatement is generally never granted in this case by the USCIS.
- Remember that approval by a department for off-campus work does not constitute OIP approval. You must have direct OIP approval in order to maintain status. See the Student Employment page for information on off-campus employment possibilities, particularly CPT and OPT.
- Notify your DSO/ARO in OIP of any changes within 14 days. This includes changes in address, name and/or program.
- Contact OIP if you expect to graduate later than the program end date on your I-20 or DS-2019 so that you can apply for an extension. This must be done in advance of the end date and/or new semester.
- Keep a valid passport (& dependents' passports) at all times. Contact your embassy 6 months prior to the expiration date to arrange a renewal.
- J students must also maintain adequate health insurance as specified by federal regulations. F students are also required to maintain health insurance per UNC regulations.
Keeping Your Documents
Be sure to keep all official documents you receive safe. This includes your I-94 Card, EADs, current and past I-20s and DS-2019s, and current passport. You must also keep your previous passport if it contains the visa that you used to enter the country. You need these documents as proof of your legal status, and you will need them all in the future, when applying for OPT, for example.
You are not required to maintain a valid visa as long as you are already in the country and not planning on leaving and coming back. A valid visa is only required for entering the country, not for staying in it.