Maintaining Status

All F-1 and J-1 visa-holding students are responsible for maintaining their individual status as full-time students within the United States. International students receive immigration education and support of the Office of International Programs. However, all international students must stay current in their knowledge of the rules and regulations that govern their status while in the United States. Ample resources exist on U.S. Department of State, U.S Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. government websites, but we encourage you first and foremost to contact our office for regulation review and guidance whenever you have questions. If you decide to research your rights and responsibilities independently, please only follow guidance that is published on official U.S. government websites, uless you are working with an attorney.

What does maintaining status mean?

•    Fulfilling the purpose for why the Department of State issued you your visa
•    Following the regulations associated with that purpose

What must F-1 students do to maintain status?

All of your documentation must remain up-to-date and valid.

♦  Form I-20
• All the information on your I-20 should be accurate at all times. If you change your major, if
 your financial support changes, if you gain employment authorization, your employer
 changes, or if your expected graduation date changes, you MUST see the international
 student advisor and request that the form be updated.
• In addition, this form must be validated for travel every 12 months.
• The expiration date on your I-20 is also the expiration date of your immigration status as an
 F-1 student. You must apply for an I-20 extension prior to the program end date on your I-20
 with your international student advisor.
♦  Passport
• Students must maintain a valid passport while studying in the U.S. Passports should always
 be valid for at least six months.
♦  Visa
• A student's visa may expire while he/she is studying in the United States. However, if you travel outside the U.S., you will need to apply for a renewal before re-entering the country. Please plan ahead.
♦  I-94
• Your I-94 record is an important document and the information on the I-94 record should
 match the data within your passport, indicate your F-1 status and be issued for D/S, which
 means that as long as your I-20 is valid, your I-94 is also valid. You can access your I-94
 record here:

Keep your immigration forms in a safe place. You should always be prepared to present all of these documents to the proper authorities when traveling between countries.



One of the more confusing issues that international students seem to be facing at this time is the full course of study requirement and the online distance learning limits that you must abide by according to the Department of Homeland Security in order to maintain your F-1 status. As you may know, exceptions have been granted to this rule for colleges and universities that have moved their courses online during the pandemic. However, Mercer University is operating fully face to face, with very few exceptions. What this means in terms of the regulation for online courses is this: only one online or distance learning class can count toward a full course of study for an F-1 student during each term or semester.


SPECIAL CONSIDERATION: The rules about full course of study and online and distance learning are rules issued by Homeland Security that govern your visa status. They provide a baseline for the MINIMUM number of hours you can take for IMMIGRATION purposes only. These rules do not govern your program of study and cannot supersede any requirements set in the Mercer University catalog for your program of study.


CLARIFICATION: There are several logical conditions implied by this relationship that you must consider when registering for your course.


  1. If you are enrolled in a program that requires that you take more hours per term than the minimum required by law to be in status, then you MUST register for the number of hours required by your academic program.
  2. If you are enrolled in a cohort program or an academically lock-step program that requires you to take certain courses in a certain sequence and during a specific semester, you MUST follow that plan.
  3. If you are enrolled in a program that does not allow students to choose additional online options, even though there may be an online section available in the schedule for a course that is also involved in a different academic program, you CANNOT take that online course.
  4. If you are in a program that requires students to study during the summer, then you MUST be enrolled during the summer.


If you have any questions regarding your enrollment requirements at the beginning of a term, your ACADEMIC ADVISOR is the person who should be answering those questions, and that is the person who should be able to advise you best regarding your requirements for your degree. If your academic advisor suggests that you enroll in LESS than the minimum number of hours required to maintain a full course of study, or that you enroll in MORE than ONE online course, you should consult with your international student advisor first, and include your academic advisor in the conversation.


Additionally, if, during the course of the semester you run into an issue that requires you to drop a course, change programs, withdraw from school, etc. then you MUST consult with your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR to make sure that any changes you make to your academic program do not violate immigration regulations.


I hope that the notes above help to clarify the roles of each of the governing rules you must abide by in order to a) remain in Active visa status and b) achieve your academic degree goal. If you have any questions, please make sure to ask. Making assumptions can lead to poor choices with negative consequences.

Students are eligible to work on-campus. Students will work with their international student advisor once they have been offered employment to process a request for a U.S. Social Security Number.

Students are NOT ELIGIBLE to work OFF-CAMPUS without proper authorization from their international student advisor/USCIS.

Please see the Employment page for details.

Students must report to the international student advisor any change in physical address within 10 days of a move.

Notify your international student advisor of any change to or addition of F2 dependents.

Complete an Income Tax Return as per IRS regulation by April 15th of every year.



Within 60 days of completing the degree program, do one of the following:
1. Apply for post-completion OPT (you can apply before you graduate!)
2. Be admitted to another Mercer University degree program and request a change of level
3. Be admitted to a degree program at another U.S institution and request your international*
student advisor to transfer of your SEVIS record
4. Apply for a change of status by submitting a I-539 application to USCIS
5. Depart the U.S.


Transfer Out of Mercer University

F-1 visa-holding students at Mercer University who wish to transfer to another institution must follow the academic policies of Mercer University and request a SEVIS transfer through the Office of International Programs.

Failure to complete the steps procedural steps below in a timely manner, and failure to notify the P/DSO at Mercer regarding transfer plans could result in a termination of your SEVIS record.

Current Mercer University Students: Steps for Requesting a SEVIS Transfer

•  Notify your international student advisor once you have been accepted and make plans to transfer to another university or program.
•  Send a copy of your admission letter from the new school to your international student advisor.
•  Send the new school’s SEVIS Transfer-In Request form to your Mercer University international student advisor. You may need to request this form from either your international student admission contact or the office supporting international students at your new institution.
•  Once the admission letter and SEVIS Transfer-In Request form from your new school has been received, your SEVIS record at Mercer University will be transferred/will be scheduled to transfer to your new school.

Notes: Begin classes at the new institution with 5 months of the SEVIS transfer. Students who do not begin classes within 5 months must get a new "initial attendance" I-20 from the new institution.

Tips for Choosing a Transfer Date:

•  After the transfer release date, Mercer University will no longer have access to the record and cannot make any changes to the record. Any changes to the record must be made by the new institution including transferring the record to a different school.
•  Students are only eligible to work on-campus at the institution that possesses the SEVIS records.
•  After the transfer date, students participating in post-completion OPT must stop off-campus employment and are only eligible to work at the new school.
•  The SEVIS record must be transferred to the new school within 60 days of completing their Mercer University program. After the 60 day grace period, the record is no longer eligible for transfer in SEVIS.

Please note, this list of requirements to maintain your status is not a legal document. It is your responsibility as an F-1 student to learn about all requirements to maintain status. If you have any questions regarding these, or any other immigration regulations affecting status, please make an appointment to see your international student advisor.

Additional Resource: Study in the States – Maintaining Your Status