F-1 and J-1 students are required by federal immigration regulations to be engaged in a “full-course of study,” which means12 semester hours each fall/spring semester for undergraduates, and 9 semester hours each fall/spring for graduate students. You must obtain authorization from an ISSS adviser to be enrolled less than full-time during any fall or spring semester. The ISSS adviser must indicate the authorization in the SEVIS system in order to make it official.
- Enrollment below full-time for medical reasons cannot exceed a total of 12 months.
- If the condition prevents full-time enrollment beyond one fall or spring semester, new documentation must be provided from your physician and authorization must be granted from an ISSS adviser each subsequent fall or spring semester.
- If a student later moves to a higher degree level (such as from MS to PhD), the student receives an additional 12 month limit permitting part-time enrollment due to medical reasons.
- If after 12 months the student is still unable to resume full-time studies, the student must either leave the U.S. and reapply when he/she is able to handle full-time studies again, or apply to change to another nonimmigrant status appropriate for continuing medical treatment in the U.S.
Caution: When applying for part-time enrollment authorization, please consider how it will affect your plan to graduate. While program extensions can be granted for compelling medical reasons, if you miss a course that is required for your degree program, and it is only offered every other year or semester, this will present you with some registration problems in the future. In such instances you risk being viewed as delaying graduation and potentially violating your immigration status. Talk to your academic advisor and plan accordingly.
- Complete Reduced Course Load for Medical Reason
- Obtain a letter from your U.S. physician (Medical Doctor, Doctor of Osteopathy, or Licensed Clinical Psychologist only).
- The letter must be typed, dated, and signed by the physician on the physician’s letterhead, and
- Must indicate that you have a medical condition which prevents you from registering full-time during a specific semester, and
- Must specify the number of semester hours for which you can register, and
- Must specify the date by which you will be expected to return to full-time studies.
Send this letter to the ISSS as soon as possible. You may choose any of the following ways to submit the letter:
- in person
- as an email attachment
- by mail
Sample Letter: Your physician might use this as a template for writing the letter. The sample includes all information required to receive an authorization.
Student First/Last Name Date of Birth Today’s Date
Ms. XX is a patient currently under my care, who has a medical condition which prevents her from pursuing full-time studies for the Fall 20?? semester. As her physician, it is my recommendation she be allowed to register for only 3 semester hours during the semester. It is expected that she will be able to resume full-time studies during the Spring 20?? semester.
Physician Name and Signature
A Note to Pregnant Students or Students Who Have Recently Had a Baby:
Most people understand how difficult and challenging it is to be pregnant and recover from childbirth. However, aside from such things that threaten the health or life of baby or mother, or complications experienced during delivery the USCIS may take a different point of view. While ISSS will not second-guess any recommendations provided by a qualified physician, we urge students to use caution when requesting authorization for a medical condition that relates to pregnancy or childbirth. Such things as breastfeeding and getting no sleep, or even a “normal” pregnancy, may present challenges, but it is not clear that the USCIS will really view these as “medical conditions” should they ever have reason to review the situation of a student who has received such authorization. It may be helpful as a guide to remember that U.S. law, through the Family Medical Leave Act, protects American workers’ jobs only up to 12 weeks maximum. To be safe, you may want to use 12 weeks as your guide, unless you have a real medical condition that prevents you from enrolling full-time. If you wish to be granted authorization based on pregnancy or childbirth, you are strongly advised to discuss your situation with an ISSS adviser first.