Full Course of Study and Exceptions

Law Cite 8 CFR § 214.2 (f)(6): Full Course of Study

Full Course of Study

The Immigration regulations provide specific guidance as to what constitutes a full course of study as well as identify exceptions. DSOs must be aware of the regulatory framework to ensure compliance through SEVIS. Persons whose educational program is described below are reported as being in a full course of study.

Graduate Study

Graduate Students: As certified by DSO to be full course of study. An institution sets its own requirements. The common practice is 9 credit hours with some exceptions, but this is not a regulatory requirement. Some schools may require a student who is doing only research toward the Ph.D. to register for research and pay a registration fee, while others may carry an “O” course load in the registrar’s file with an annotation that the student is doing his/her Ph.D. research. Either approach or something in between is acceptable, provided the school is monitoring the progress of the student and confirms continuing student status. Note that SEVIS requires a report each semester or session on which students are “enrolled” or otherwise maintaining status. By the definition (see text following) a graduate student is engaged in a “full course of study” regardless of how many or how few courses show in the registrar’s file. The school that shows an “O” course load can still report the student as full-time without reporting it as an exception to the full course of study provided the school has determined that the student is engaged in full-time pursuit of the degree. (See “Exceptions to a Full Course of Study” below.)

*Note: On-campus employment that is part of a scholarship fellowship, or assistantship is considered part of the full course of study provided the student is otherwise taking a full course of study.

Undergraduate Study

Undergraduate Student: At least 12 credit hours, or the equivalent thereof, for students enrolled in a standard credit-hour system, except during the last term. Unlike the graduate student, the undergraduate student is held to a particular hours standard to meet the full course of study requirement. The student must carry the course load each semester or session. For example, a student in Colorado cannot double up on courses in the fall and go to school part-time in the spring to take advantage of the ski season. Part-time study in the spring is a violation of status, regardless of how many courses he/she took the semester before. However, a student in the final term may take fewer than 12 credit hours if he/she needs less to complete the degree. For example, a student who normally takes 4 courses per semester might take 5 per semester in the two semesters of the junior year and the first semester of the senior year.

By the final semester of the senior year, he only needs one course to graduate. By definition of full course of study for an undergraduate, that student could take only one course during the final term. As this enrollment is considered a full course of study, the lower course load would not be reportable to SEVIS as an exception to the full course of study rule.

Other Types of Study

Postsecondary: Associate or other degrees that are accepted by institutions of higher learning – at least 12 clock hours per week.

Other Postsecondary: Schools including ESL – 18 clock hours per week, if classroom time dominates or 22 clock hours per week if lab dominates.

Elementary and High Schools: Full-time as defined by the schools system for normal progress toward graduation.

Special Circumstances as Defined by the Commissioner of Immigration: In certain circumstances that affect an entire country, group of students, or area of the U.S., BCIS may grant students work permission and declare less that the Normal course load to constitute a full course of study. For example, during the Asian financial crisis, INS promulgated such a rule allowing off campus employment and adjustments in course schedules. Those students would have been reported in SEVIS as carrying a full course of study because the INS had declared them to be fully enrolled under this special circumstance.

*Note: These other categories are found at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(C)-(F)

Distance Education

Only one class or 3 credit hours of distance education can count toward the full course of study requirement. Other courses must be traditional, campus-based courses. A student is eligible to enroll in more than one distance education course. However only One course or 3 credit hours can count towards maintaining a full course of study.

*Note: 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)

Annual Vacation Exemption

The regulations consider an F-1 student to be maintaining status even though he or she is not registered for classes during the “annual vacation” (or summer) as long as the student is eligible and intends to enroll for the next semester. For schools on a traditional calendar (Fall and Spring semesters), the summer is considered the break between one academic year and the next. DSOs of schools with short-term programs and those on non-traditional semester programs (e.g. trimesters or quartered-based programs) must clearly define the equivalent of an “academic year”. A student enrolled in a program which does not follow a traditional calendar, must be enrolled for at least one academic in order to be eligible for a vacation.