SDSU Faculty & Staff

Understanding International Student Immigration Status

The ISC supports international students maintaining F-1 & J-1 immigration status. Status is the legal standing of a visa holder in the United States. Different statuses allow different purposes for being in the United States. Some allow study, employment, and other benefits, others do not.

Students on F-1 & J-1 status must follow certain U.S. immigration regulations in order to maintain legal status while studying in the U.S. It is the responsibility of each student to be familiar with the immigration requirements related to their status. The following immigration terminology may be helpful in understanding immigration status.

  • F-1 Student: The F-1 immigration category is for students who are pursuing their full degree at SDSU.
  • J-1 Exchange Visitor: The J-1 immigration category is for students who are studying at SDSU for 1 or 2 semesters. These students are here for their study abroad experience through a bilateral agreement signed by their university and SDSU. It is a reciprocal agreement, and therefore SDSU students are sent to study abroad, taking the place the J-1 student held in their home university. Similarly, the J-1 exchange student takes the place of the SDSU student here at SDSU. This group is not to be confused with Global Campu’s ALI, "Semester at SDSU" program.
  • I-20: The I-20 is a multi-purpose immigration document used for a F-1 student to obtain F-1 status, and proves their status while in the United States. The I-20 should always be valid during the student’s course of study.
  • DS-2019:The DS-2019 is a multi-purpose immigration document used for a J-1 exchange visitor to obtain J-1 status, and proves their status while in the United States. The DS-2019 should always be valid during the student’s course of study.

* Both the I-20 and DS-2019 forms contain information related to the student's program that the Department of Homeland Security uses to categorize, evaluate, and take action on student records. It is in no way meant to be used for university business, as it is an immigration document, used for reporting immigration information. University academic processes and actions inform updates/actions that will need to be taken on the I-20 and DS-2019 forms.  

  • Visa: The visa is a sticker placed in the student’s passport at a U.S. Consulate outside of the U.S. The purpose of the visa is to seek entry into the U.S. The visa is presented along with other documents (I-20/DS-2019, passport) to request admissions into the U.S. A visa only needs to be valid at the time of entry/re-entry into the U.S. It does not keep the student in valid “status” in the U.S.

Below is some information that can help you better assist international students.

Adjusting to life at SDSU

International students typically undergo a period of psychological, cultural, and academic adjustment as they settle into their studies at SDSU. ,The ISC offers multiple activities and workshops to assist students during this adjustment period. They help create self-awareness, build community, and engage students in the campus experience. They can be found on our ISC calendar. If you have an international student who would benefit from assistance during this period, please refer your student to the International Student Center. 

Academic Information

When working with International Students it is important for Faculty and Staff to be mindful of the following Academic Requirements for International Students. International students must always maintain full-time enrollment and make academic progress to maintain their immigration status.

U.S. immigration regulations require international students to be enrolled full-time each Fall and Spring semester. The ISC reports to the Department of Homeland Security every semester to validate an international student's compliance with the regulation. Full-time enrollment consists of a minimum of 12 units each semester for undergraduate students, a minimum of 9 units each semester for Master's students, and 6 units for doctoral students.

For exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement, please see the section below on Reduced Course Load Authorization. All drops to less than full-time enrollment must be pre-approved by the ISC to comply with federal immigration reporting requirements.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security allows less than full-time enrollment (called a Reduced Course Load) under certain circumstances. These circumstances are listed on our Application for Reduced Course Load webpage.

For a student to be approved for an authorized reduced course load (RCL) the academic/graduate advisor must be in support of the course load and indicate the appropriate reason (except for medical reasons). The ISC will only authorize a reduced course load with the appropriate approvals from the advisor. Students must turn in an application for reduced course load for every semester they are enrolled in less than full-time.

The ISC is happy to assist any Faculty or Staff member through this process. You can email us at [email protected] for support. 

Undergraduate students may participate in one online class for a maximum of 5 units OR participate in multiple online classes that add up to a maximum of 3 units for full-time enrollment. Graduate students may participate in one online course OR participate in multiple online courses that add up to a max of 3 units for full-time enrollment

International students on academic probation or who are academically disqualified have unique considerations due to their immigration status. The ISC reaches out to these students to assist in navigating these circumstances as Academic Probation/Disqualification could impact an international student’s ability to remain in the U.S.You may refer students to the ISC who fall under these categories in order for us to evaluate how their academic standing can impact their immigration status.

International students may be eligible to enroll at another institution during the Fall and Spring semester in order to meet the international student full-time enrollment requirement. The student must be pre-approved by the ISC to pursue this option and provide proof of enrollment at the other institution to the ISC.  

Students are responsible for communicating with their SDSU academic advisor to confirm that credits earned at the other school will be counted toward their degree at SDSU.

This requirement only applies to fall and spring semesters when full-time enrollment is required, not the summer term.

Read more information about Concurrent Enrollment Authorization

 The I-20 and DS-2019 immigration forms have program end dates. It is not uncommon that a student requires more time to complete their program of study and in turn need an updated I-20/DS-2019 form to extend their immigration status and stay in the U.S. If the student will require more time to complete the program, beyond the time listed on their I-20 or DS-2019 the student will need to apply for an extension with the ISC.

Academic, department, or graduate advisors must approve the extension through the ISC’s Advisor's Signature Form. Extensions are only given up to 1 year at a time, and the student must apply before their status expires. If the extension is requested after the date listed on the I-20/DS-2019, an extension will not be possible.

Students must also show additional proof of funding as outlined on the request form. This is similar to the first time the student requested an I-20/DS-2019 document from SDSU.

Employment Information

F-1 & J-1 students are allowed to work or have an internship in the United States, but only under certain conditions and in accordance with guidelines and restrictions issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

You may also be interested in reading the ISC’s F-1 Employment page & J-1 Employment page

F-1 students are permitted to work part-time on campus, up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session, and full time during school breaks and vacations. No authorization from the ISC is required for this type of on-campus employment. 

J-1 students have the same opportunity but must additionally obtain work authorization from the ISC.

The following employment benefits require Academic Department recommendation or approval in order for the ISC to approve: 

Curricular Practical Training for F-1 students

International students on the F-1 Student visa (or in F-1 status) are allowed to work in an off-campus internship or job during their course of study when the internship or job is integral to their degree program and if they have employment authorization from the ISC. This type of employment authorization is called Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and is required for both paid and unpaid opportunities. Students may qualify for CPT through one of four ways: 

  1. It is required for the degree (special course enrollment is not required).
  2. It is required for the degree via enrollment in a specific course.
  3. It is optional and will be taken for unit credit via enrollment in an internship class.
  4. It is taken as part of enrollment in a thesis, dissertation or research course.

Find information about CPT and the academic department requirement when reviewing and approving a student's CPT request here.

Academic Training for J-1 students

International students on the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa who wish to pursue an internship in their major are required to obtain approval from their Academic Advisor recommending the training. This type of employment authorization is called Academic Training (AT) and is required for both paid and unpaid opportunities. 

The academic advisor is responsible for verifying how the internship/employment opportunity pertains to the student's academic program.  Students must have an offer letter prior to obtaining academic advisor approval and approval from the ISC.

Learn about the required contents here.


The International Student Center is under International Affairs (IA). Each SDSU College has three IA support specialists to assist faculty and staff with questions. If you are associated with a college, please click here to view your ISC liaison with contact information. 

For all other SDSU administrators and staff, please feel free to contact the main International Student Center email or phone number, found here, with any questions or concerns. We're here to help!