Reinstating Your F-1 Student Status

Here's what to do if you have fallen out of F-1 status, but wish to return to your studies and remain in the U.S. lawfully.

By , Attorney · Temple University Beasley School of Law

Many students come to the United States to pursue a course of studies, usually at a college or university. However, under the terms of the F-1 student visa, a student who fails to comply with the visa terms is no longer in valid status, and can be removed from the United States.

Common ways that students violate the terms of the F-1 visa include failing to pursue a full course of studies, forgetting to renew their passport and keep it with them, or failing to notify the appropriate school official of their arrival and any changes of address.

If you have fallen out of F-1 status, but wish to return to your studies, you'll need to apply first for what's called reinstatement, as described here.

Act Quickly to Apply for Reinstatement of F-1 Student Status

Don't wait, there's a deadline on applying for reinstatement. You'll need to get your application submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within five months of when you fell out of status (unless exceptional circumstances stopped you from filing for reinstatement sooner).

The exception is if you were working without authorization. If you lose F-1 status on this basis, you cannot apply for reinstatement.

If you're out of status, but wish to stay permanently, you might have some other options.

Whether You Are Eligible for Reinstatement of F-1 Student Status

Your chances of being reinstated as an F-1 student are highest if you do not have a history of repeatedly or willfully violating USCIS rules. You must be pursuing, or plan to pursue, a full course of study at your school. You also must not have been engaged in unauthorized work or become deportable under the U.S immigration laws.

Most importantly, you will need to establish that this violation was either:

  • beyond your control, perhaps due to a serious injury or illness, school closure, a natural disaster, or a mistake or neglect on the part of your school's international student adviser (ISO), often called a designated student officer (DSO), or
  • was related to a reduction in your course load that would have been within the ISO's power to authorize in the first place, and that failure to approve your reinstatement would result in extreme hardship to you.

As discussed below, you'll be expected to prove the grounds upon which are asking for reinstatement, such as with letters from doctors or school officials.

Reinstatement Application Process

Assess your eligibility for reinstatement with the help of your school's international student adviser. If the ISO feels that you have a valid case, then the following need to be provided to USCIS:

  • USCIS Form I-539. This form is used for multiple purposes, so it can be confusing. When filling it out, in Part 2, Application type, choose item 1. In Part 3, Question 1, write "D/S" (which stands for duration of status, meaning you want to be authorized to remain in the U.S. until you've completed your studies). It's also wise to print REINSTATEMENT in red ink at the top of the form.
  • The appropriate fee, starting April 1, 2024, is $420 for online filings and $470 for paper filings. You may pay by check, money order, or if filing at a USCIS Lockbox, by credit card, using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
  • A cover letter detailing the circumstances that led to your loss of F-1 status and why these were either beyond your control, or were due to your ISO and you'd suffer extreme hardship if you weren't reinstated.
  • Proof of any reasons that you've stated for why the circumstances were beyond your control, such as a notice from your school describing closure after a natural disaster, or a letter from your doctor and hospital records if you were sick or injured.
  • A newly issue I-20 form from your school.
  • A photocopy of your old I-20.
  • A photocopy of financial support papers to prove that you can pay for your continued schooling.
  • A photocopy of your currently valid passport photo page as well as the page showing your latest visa entry stamp.
  • A photocopy of your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
  • A photocopy of your latest transcript and upcoming course registration.

After making a complete photocopy for your records, mail the entire application to USCIS, at the address stated on the I-539 page of its website.

Waiting for an Answer From USCIS

You can check the USCIS website for the status of your application, using your receipt number.

While you wait, you cannot work on campus. You also cannot leave the United States without prior approval.

If the application is approved, your new I-20 will be mailed to your address. If your application is denied, you will be expected to leave the U.S., and might be barred from reentering for three or ten years (depending on whether your overstay was more than six months but less than a year or more than a year).

Getting a New F-1 Visa When Next You Travel

If you leave the U.S., your reinstatement alone might not be enough to let you back in. Particularly if you overstayed your permitted time under your visa, you might need to visit a U.S. consulate for a new visa. Talk to your ISO before departing.

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