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Maintaining Your F/J Status

This information is for F-1 and J-1 students who have arrived at Cornell and completed the online required status activation.

Welcome aboard! Here are the key things you need to do to maintain your legal status now that you are at Cornell. Additionally, you will need to follow Cornell's academic and conduct policies, and all U.S. federal and state laws.

The Office of Global Learning is here to help. Please explore our website for information about travel, campus jobs, taxes, and more.

Essential: Remain enrolled as a full-time student.

Undergraduates are required to take at least 12 credit hours per semester in the fall and spring. Full-time enrollment for graduate students is defined by your degree program. If you are a graduate student, check with your department, school, or college to make sure you meet enrollment requirements.

If you need to drop below full-time or take a leave of absence, visit us to discuss your situation.

Full-time Enrollment Exceptions: Reduced Course Load

Federal immigration regulations set strict limits on enrollment that is less than full-time. Only a designated school official (DSO) in the Office of Global Learning International Services may grant a reduced course load. Contact us if you think you may be eligible.

A reduced course load can only be given for these reasons:
  1. Initial academic difficulties with the English language, U.S. teaching methods, or improper course placement (first semester only).
  2. Medical condition certified by documentation from a licensed medical doctor or clinical psychologist (maximum of 12 months per program of study).
  3. Completion of the course of study (final semester): You may enroll less than full-time if fewer courses are needed to complete your course of study. (You may not enroll in additional courses that are not required to satisfy the requirements for completion of your program or take additional courses for administrative purposes, personal reasons, or to delay graduation. Students considered to have completed their course of study must take action to maintain status beyond their studies.)

For Grad and Professional Students: In Absentia

If you are a graduate or professional student, in absentia status is a type of registration that allows you to maintain your F-1 or J-1 student status at Cornell while completing research elsewhere. In most cases, undergraduate students are not eligible to take this type of leave.

In absentia registration counts as full-time registration for immigration purposes. If you are approved for in absentia registration, you will be maintaining your F-1 or J-1 student status. You should discuss your particular situation with your graduate student services representative or professional school advising office to find out if you are eligible for in absentia and what procedures you need to follow.

Staying in Status: More Essentials


Don’t work without authorization.

Never work on campus for more than 20 hours per week while you are a registered student. Always consult with the Office of Global Learning about off-campus work. You must have our authorization before you begin work in an off-campus position.

Follow the policies and laws.

Comply with Cornell’s academic and conduct polices and all U.S. federal and state laws.

Notify us if you change your address.

Returning students and scholars must update their address within 10 days of any move (new students must complete the Required Status Activation before submitting an address update). Active F-1 students should use the F-1 Student Address Update form, and J-1 students should use the J-1 SEVIS Address Update form. This time frame is a legal requirement. You must also notify the Office of Global Learning within 10 days of any change to your phone number or email address. Also remember to update your address in Student Essentials.

Keep your passport valid.

Contact your embassy to renew your passport. Begin the process well before the expiration date. When you travel outside of the United States, make sure you have the required travel documents before leaving.

Apply early for an extension.

If you plan to extend your end date, start early! Talk with the Office of Global Learning before the end date on your I-20 or DS-2019.

Notify us if you plan to transfer.

Contact us before you finish at Cornell if you plan to transfer to another school or go on to another degree program at Cornell or elsewhere. You’ll need to complete the required immigration procedures before the end of your grace period.

Still have questions?

We're here to help you remain in the U.S. legally. Contact us if you have questions about these guidelines or your particular situation.

Help! I think I violated my status.

Contact the Office of Global Learning immediately and speak to an immigration advisor.

There are many things we can do to help you navigate a status violation once we are aware it has happened. However, there are problems we will not be able to solve if you have accrued too much unlawful presence time.

What about my family members’ status?

Your dependents’  F-2 or J-2 status is tied to your immigration status. If you fail to maintain your legal status, your dependents will also lose their legal status.


F-2 dependents may not work in the United States. They must comply with federal and state laws.


J-2 dependents may not work in the United States without valid work authorization from the Department of Homeland Security. They must comply with federal and state laws. They must be fully covered by health insurance.

Next Up: Leave of Absence