Visa Compliance and Requirements
Federal regulations require all international students to maintain their F-1 or J-1 status while residing in the U.S.
Learn About Regulations
Maintain I-20/DS-2019 Accuracy
Any changes to the information that appears on your I-20 or DS-2019 must be up-to-date. This information includes:
- Academic updates or changes (including change in academic level/program)
- Financial information
- Personal information
If any of the above changes, please request an update to your I-20/ DS-2019 through the OISS Portal.
Understanding your Immigration Document provides additional information about your immigration document.
Academic Updates or Changes
- If you need to change the degree-completion date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019, you must apply for an I-20 or DS-2019 extension prior to the expiration date listed. Request your extension at the OISS Portal.
- Report any changes to your academic major/program.
- Report a change in your academic level, such as a change from Master's to PhD or PhD to Master’s.
Report any financial support/funding changes, such as a change from scholarship funds to family funding. Contact your OISS Advisor if you need to update your financial information.
Report changes such as name, dependent name, or immigration status:
- Report a change of legal (passport) name to your OISS Advisor. You must submit a copy of your new passport before OISS can update your immigration documents and SEVIS record.
- Report any name changes for your dependents.
- Notify the Office of International Student and Scholar Services if you obtain another immigration status. You will also need to submit a copy of your USCIS Approval Notice, Green Card, etc.
- At this time, OISS is unable to process any changes in gender that are not along the gender binary of male/female. The SEVIS system only allows for one of two genders in the system. If your gender changes along the gender binary M/F, you will need to submit a copy of your updated passport before we can change that in SEVIS and on your immigration documents.
- Always maintain a valid passport while you are in the U.S. You do not need to send a copy of your new passport to OISS unless you are requesting a personal information update.
Full-time Enrollment Requirement
Federal immigration regulations require nonimmigrant students in F-1 or J-1 status to be enrolled in a full-time course load each term to maintain nonimmigrant visa status. Students who are not enrolled full time by the end of each add/drop period or who drop below full-time without approval by the OISS violate their student immigration status.
OISS is committed to working closely with NU schools, departments, students, and the Office of the Registrar to ensure all students are enrolled in a full course load each term.
Full-time enrollment is required in the summer term only if it is a student's first or last term of enrollment.
Students must be physically present on Northwestern's campus during every quarter of enrollment unless otherwise approved for study or research abroad.
Defining Full-time Enrollment
- Undergraduates are considered to be full time when they enroll in 3.00 units of credit or more per quarter
- Pritzker School of Law:
LLM and MSL programs define full-time enrollment as 8 or more credits per semester.
JD programs (including JDMBA) define full-time enrollment as 9 or more credits per semester
- All other graduate students are considered to be full time when they enroll in 3.00 units of credit or more per quarter.
What happens if I am not fully enrolled?
OISS is required to report in the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) whether a student is enrolled full-time at Northwestern University, received an authorized reduced course load, dropped below a full course of study without prior authorization by a Designated School Official (OISS Advisor), or failed to enroll.
Failure to meet the full-time enrollment requirement without an approved authorized reduced course load may result in your SEVIS record being terminated.
Online coursework and on-campus presence
Do online classes count toward full-time enrollment?
For both graduate and undergraduate F-1 and J-1 students, only one unit or 1 credit of online/remote course may count toward the full-time enrollment requirement. The one unit/credit limit is for every academic term when students are expected to be enrolled full-time.
If F-1 or J-1 students enroll in more than their minimum unit requirement, they MAY enroll in more than one unit of online/remote courses.
Hybrid courses with required on-campus components do not count towards this limitation.
Students on an approved reduced course load (see below) cannot be enrolled in only online/remote coursework.
What does "on-campus presence" mean?
On-campus presence refers to the regulatory requirement for international students in F-1 or J-1 status to enroll in coursework that "requires the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to the completion of the class." Students must register for a certain number of credit hours that are taught using an instruction mode that requires in-person attendance. Students must be physically present on campus during every quarter of enrollment unless otherwise approved for study or research abroad.
Exceptions to the Full-Time Enrollment Requirement
Under certain circumstances, F-1 students may receive approval from OISS to enroll in a reduced course load and maintain their student status.
If you need a reduced course load for medical reasons or academic difficulties, talk with your OISS Advisor as soon as possible. You cannot drop below a full course of study unless your OISS Advisor approves the reduced course load and updates your student record in SEVIS.
More information about exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement
- Reduced Course Load (RCL) for Specific Academic Reasons - see below
- Reduced Course Load (RCL) for a Documented Medical Condition - see below
- Reduced Course Load (RCL) for final term
- Annual Vacation Quarter – most students will use the summer quarter as their annual vacation. Unless the summer quarter is your program's first or last term, you are not required to be enrolled. If you enroll full-time in the summer quarter, you may be eligible to use a different quarter (fall, winter, spring) as your annual vacation. Contact your OISS Advisor for more information on this possible exception.
Online courses and RCL
Students cannot be enrolled in only online coursework, even if approved for a reduced course load by OISS. See below for more information on reduced course load (RCL).
Reduced Course Load (RCL) for Academic Reasons
In certain situations, students may be authorized for less than full-time enrollment for specific academic reasons.
Academic Reduced Course Load
A reduced course load for specific academic reasons requires recommendation of student’s academic or major advisor. There are three types of academic reduced course loads available to international students:
- A final-term student completing their course of study who does not require a full course load to complete.
- Academic difficulties due to initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements, unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods, or improper course level placement. This is only applicable during the first quarter; student must resume a full course load at the next academic term.
- Concurrent enrollment at another approved institution. Between both schools, enrollment equates to a full course of study. Please note:
- More than half of the units must be at Northwestern.
- The student must have prior approval from their department and the Registrar's Office verifying the courses taken at another institution will be counted toward the degree program.
Students cannot be enrolled in only online coursework, even if approved for a reduced course load by OISS.
How to Apply for a Reduced Course Load
If you qualify for Reduced Course Load, please submit your request at the OISS Portal. If you request a reduced course load for academic difficulties or concurrent enrollment, please email or schedule an appointment with your OISS Advisor.
Reduced Course Load (RCL) for Medical Reasons
Medical Reduced Course Load
Students may apply for RCL due to a medical condition diagnosed and documented by a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, licensed psychologist, or licensed psychiatrist. Please note:
- A reduced course load for medical reasons may be recommended for more than one term but cannot exceed 12-months. Students must reapply for a medical reduced course load each term.
- For students not working with Student Assistance and Support Services (SASS), additional documentation may be required. A letter may be needed which must specify and include recommendations from the physician or psychologist on whether the student should have part-time or no enrollment, as well as indicating the term for which the reduced course load is applicable.
- Students cannot be enrolled in only online coursework in their first or last semester, even if approved for a reduced course load by OISS.
- Students on approved medical RCLs are not eligible for CPT employment authorization.
How to Apply for a Medical Reduced Course Load
If you qualify for Reduced Course Load, please submit your request at the OISS Portal.
Abide by Employment and Internship Regulations
Federal regulations limit F-1 and J-1 student employment options.
Regulations for On-Campus Work
- You may work up to 20 hours a week at an on-campus job while school is in session.
- You may work full-time at an on-campus job during holiday breaks and the summer vacation.
- On-campus authorization ends with the end date of your I-20 or DS-2019. After this, you will need additional authorization such as OPT or AT.
Regulations for Off-Campus Work
Regulations vary depending on your visa status
Off-campus work requires prior authorization
You my not work off-campus without prior approval and authorization from OISS.
To attain authorization, please review our student employment information and then meet with an advisor if you have questions.
Maintain Personal Information Accuracy
Maintain Address Information
U.S. federal immigration regulations require all international students to maintain a permanent foreign address and current U.S. address. These are maintained as your Permanent (non-U.S. address) and Current (U.S. address) Address in CAESAR, and these are automatically reported to SEVIS.
Failure to correctly maintain these addresses may result in a delay in processing any requests.
How to Update your Addresses in CAESAR
- Use CAESAR's instructions to navigate to My Addresses.
- Select the Edit button next to the address type you would like to edit, or select the Add a New Address button if the address type you are adding has not yet been created.
- Your Current Address must be a U.S. address. Change the country type using the Change Country hyperlink.
- Your Permanent Address must be a non-U.S. address. Change the country type using the Change Country hyperlink.
- Select the OK button when finished, and then select Save to save your changes.
Maintain Emergency Information
All NU students are required to maintain accurate emergency information in their CAESAR account, which includes listing your emergency contacts phone number and address.
How to update your emergency contact in CAESAR
- Use CAESAR's instructions to navigate to Emergency Contact
- Select the Edit button next to the contact you would like to edit, or select the Add Emergency Contacts button if the contact has not yet been created.
- If your emergency contact's phone number is in the United States, be sure to first select the USA checkbox.
- If your emergency contact's phone number is in the United States, be sure to first select the Int checkbox.
- Select the Save button to save your changes.
Abide by Travel Restrictions
International students in F-1 or J-1 status may travel within the U.S. or abroad during their tenure at Northwestern, but they must follow certain travel restrictions.
Visit the Student Travel webpage to learn about these requirements.
Purchase Health Insurance
All new and returning full-time international students are required to purchase the Northwestern Aetna Student Plan; no exceptions or waivers will be granted. Learn more about this requirement.
Please note that additional regulations may impact compliance. Consult your OISS Advisor for questions and additional guidance.
- DHS Study in the States Full Course of Study:
- NU course load policies: