F-1 Student Status Exceptions (Unlawful Presence)

Although school is out for the summer, it is important for foreign nationals studying in the United States to remain updated on important rules regarding their status. Studying in the U.S. can mean a long period of time between semesters and training programs. Students who have recently graduated from a U.S. college or university may wonder when their lawful status ends. The following outlines the numerous rules regarding the accrual of unlawful presence for F-status students during the summer and during other transition periods. 

Students will NOT Accrue Unlawful Status

Per 8 CFR 214.2 (f), students (F-1 nonimmigrants) will not accrue unlawful status under the following circumstances:

  • Up to 30 days before the start date listed on the student’s Form I-20;
  • During the period the student is pursuing a full course of study at an institution approved by DHS or completing pre- or post-completion practical training (including permitted OPT periods of unemployment);
  • During a transition in education levels given that the F-1 nonimmigrant adheres to transfer procedures outlined here;
  • While the student is in a cap gap period, an automatic extension of the F-1 nonimmigrant’s duration of stay and employment authorization provided for beneficiaries of an H-1B petition and request for change of status that has been timely filed and indicates that the start date for the nonimmigrant is October 1st of the following fiscal year;
  • While the student’s application for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is pending;
  • While the nonimmigrant student pursues a transfer to another DHS approved institution given that the student follows transfer procedures outlined in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(8);
  • The period of time a student was out of status if they have a pending application for reinstatement (Form I-539 & Form I-20) and if certain conditions are met. If the request is denied, however, the F-1 student will begin to accrue unlawful presence;
  • During annual vacation (i.e. summer and winter break) given that the student intends to register for the next semester or term.

In addition to the list above, F-1 students are allowed grace periods for special circumstances. F-1 nonimmigrants will retain lawful status while preparing for departure following the competition of study or OPT or other authorized termination of study.

Reduced Course Load

Other special circumstances include situations in which students are required to reduce their full-time course load to accommodate on-campus or off-campus employment approved by the DSO due to “emergent circumstances.” F-1 students will also remain in lawful status, even with a reduced course load, if the student gets approval from their designated school officer following academic difficulties, illness, or circumstances related to completing final credits.