Top 10 Tips for Maintaining Your F/J Student Status

"Founders Rock" color bar

As an F-1 or J-1 student in the US, you have rules and requirements to properly maintain your F-1 or J-1 status. Violating F/J status is a serious issue an can lead to direct impacts to your ability to remain in the US to continue your studies or to return later, even in other U.S. visa statuses.

Below are BIO's tips on properly maintaining your F/J status to keep your immigration record safe and secure:

"Founders Rock" color bar

1. Maintain U.S. Physical Presence & Keep your local U.S. address up-to-date

F/J students cannot be outside of the US for 5 or more consecutive months, or the F/J status will end. Keep your local, physical residential address current in your Cal Central profile, using address type "Local". It must be updated within 10 days every time you move. (Students on post-completion employment authorizations will instead use the BIO SSU Hub to update address and employment information.) 

You are expected to be in the US, studying in person full-time OR after completion engaged in F/J post-completion employment. Temporary absences or travel are allowed, but should not interfere with your studies and work in the U.S

2. Maintain full-time enrollment. Online enrollment is limited to 1 course or 3 units.

You must be enrolled in full-time units each semester. For immigration purposes, in most cases, students must complete a minimum of 12 units per semester. Check your college (UG) or dept (Grads) for minimum unit requirements. ONLINE ENROLLMENT LIMITS: Students can count only 1 course or 3 units of on-line coursework towards the full time requirement. If the full time requirement for a semester can be satisfied with only 3 units or 1 single course, the full time requirement cannot be satisfied with online coursework alone. 

3. Get BIO approval before a reduction in course load or withdrawal

If for some reason you must reduce your enrollment below full-time units or withdraw from your program, you are required to have approval from BIO before doing so.

4. Avoid violating the UC Berkeley Code of Student Conduct or U.S. laws

If you are found in violation of the Student Code of Conduct, or have been arrested or violated U.S. laws it’s important to contact BIO as soon as possible to understand what the impact may be on your F-1/J-1 status, as well as next steps and resources for support. Remember, any violation (suspension, dismissal, arrest) that impacts your ability to be an enrolled, full-time student or continue your post-completion employment will have a negative impact on your F-1/J-1 status.

5. Attend the school noted on your I-20 (F-1s) or DS-2019 (J-1s)

You must have a current, valid I-20/DS-2019 from the school you are attending full-time. If you transfer from another school to UC Berkeley, or from UC Berkeley to another school, make sure you follow the proper procedure to transfer.

6. Keep your I-20 or DS-2019 valid at all times and understand your completion date.

Your I-20 or DS-2019 is only valid as long as you are a continuing, full-time student in your degree program, or on your approved post-completion training. If you graduate early, your I-20 or DS-2019 will be shortened to the last day of your final semester of enrollment. If your final semester is Summer you MUST be enrolled in Summer! You must notify BIO of your early completion in order to avoid overstaying. If you need more time to complete your program, apply for an Extension of Program BEFORE the current completion date on your I-20 or DS-2019.

7. Get a travel endorsement and understand your travel documents

Before any international travel, review the necessary travel documents and obtain a travel signature from BIO. Travel endorsements are valid for one year during the program of study, but BIO recommends obtaining a new signature every 10 months. Exception: Travel endorsements during F-1 post-completion OPT/STEM are only valid for 6 months. REMINDER: F/J students cannot be outside of the US for 5 or more consectutive months, or the F/J status will end. 

8. Understand your grace period after completion

  • F-1s have a 60 day grace period following the end of the program of study or authorized OPT Post-Completion Training. F-1’s may use the grace period to depart the U.S., continue studies via Change of Level or Transfer, or apply for Post-Completion OPT employment.
  • J-1s have a 30 day grace period following the end of their program of study or Post-Completion Academic Training.  J-1s may ONLY use the grace period for departure. Any Transfer or post-completion Academic Training request must be submitted BEFORE the end of the program of study or DS-2019 expiration.

9. Work ONLY with proper Employment Authorization.

F-1 and J-1 students have limited options for employment. Before beginning any employment, review and understand F-1 or J-1 student employment rules for on-campus work or off-campus work, including before degree completion (On-Campus Employment Authorization or Academic Training for J-1s ; CPT for F-1s) and after your degree completion (Academic Training for J-1s and OPT for F-1 students). Be aware of employment authorization application procedures, eligibility, deadlines and rules for maintaining status during post-completion employment (Academic Training for J-1s and OPT for F-1 students).

10. J-1 students & J-2 dependents must maintain proper health insurance

J-1 students — and their J-2 dependents — must maintain health insurance coverage that meets J-1 federal guidelines for the entire length of their program, including post-completion Academic Training. The UC Berkeley Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) meets these requirements.