F-1 Student Program Extensions: Basic Requirements

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations delineate the reasons for which an F-1 student may seek a program extension. The NYU Oce of Global Services (OGS) considers the following to fall within these DHS parameters:

  • Compelling academic reason:
    • Change or addition of major
    • Addition of minor
    • Change of research topic
    • Unexpected research problems
  • Documented illness or medical condition
    • This includes but is not limited to situations in which no Medical Reduced Course Load had been requested from OGS and/or no Medical Leave of Absence had been requested from NYU previously, but there was nonetheless a documented medical circumstance resulting in this need for a program extension.
    • Note that DHS regulatory wording allows some flexibility in what OGS may accept as documentation of illness or medical condition for program extensions. If you have a question, please contact ogs@nyu.edu for specific information on what we can accept

If none of the above circumstances apply, but an I-20 program extension is nonetheless needed, DHS regulations allow extensions for “other compelling academic reasons” provided these fall within certain restrictions. The OGS has established the guidelines below to help academic departments assess program extension eligibility for F-1 international students they advise.

  • In general, visiting students in University Programs who were admitted for consecutive terms are considered to be eligible for an I-20 program extension if all other requirements have also been met. Please indicate this on the OGS extension form under “Reason for Program Extension Recommendation”.
  • For all other I-20 program extension requests under the category “other compelling academic reasons,” the academic department must clearly explain how the circumstance is both academic and compelling. Note
    • The fact that a student needs a certain course to graduate, while academic, is not on its own compelling.
    • Compelling circumstances generally are unavoidable, unforeseen, and beyond the student’s control.
  • Be sure you address both these concerns if you choose “other compelling academic reasons”

F-1 Student Program Extensions: Some Further Requirements

Even if one of the above academic or medical circumstances exists, DHS regulations also state that, to be eligible for a program extension, F-1 students must be:

  1. Currently maintaining F-1 status, and
  2. Making normal progress toward completing their degree or educational objective

1. Currently Maintaining F-1 Status

Maintaining F-1 status involves a number of non-academic factors. However, the following clarifications may be helpful to academic departments:

  • Failing a single course, or being on academic probation or academic suspension one time would not necessarily constitute a failure to maintain F-1 status.
  • By contrast, dropping a course or courses, or in any way failing to be enrolled full-time during any semester or any required term (except the final semester) would constitute a failure to maintain F-1 status, and therefore would make an F-1 student ineligible for an I-20 program extension.
  • Please advise students wishing to drop a class to speak with an OGS advisor before they do so.
  • Please also advise them to contact OGS immediately if they have already dropped a class or have in any way gone below full-time enrollment.
  • In all cases, OGS will advise students regarding all other immigration options still available to them for continuing their studies and completing their NYU degree or academic program.

2. Making Normal Progress

To be eligible for an I-20 program extension, students must also be making normal progress toward completing their educational objective - their degree, certificate, etc.

  • In general, F-1 students are making normal progress toward their educational objective if they complete their academic program within the time frame listed on their Initial I-20.
    • This includes circumstances in which there has been a “pause” in the program, such as a medical, personal, or military leave, provided the program time in aggregate still falls within the program time frame indicated by the Initial I-20.
    • So, for example, a student in a 2-year masters program who took an approved medical leave of absence (MLOA) in fall of her second year would be eligible for a one semester I-20 program extension from OGS because the total time spent would remain 4 semesters, as originally approved (fall-spring-MLOA-spring-fall).
  • For students who need more time to complete their degree than the time indicated on their original I-20, the question becomes: Is this extension consistent with normal academic progress? You as an academic advisor are best able to make such a judgment; but in general, OGS considers any extension beyond a single semester not to be consistent with “normal progress” unless there were other compelling academic factors to consider, e.g., any of those listed on page 1, or others such as academic misadvisement, etc.
  • Also, if academic probation or suspension has caused the delay in finishing the academic program, no I-20 extension is permitted. Delays caused by academic probation or suspension are not considered part of “normal progress” for F-1 students.
  • The following scenarios and guidelines may assist you further in assessing “normal progress” for F-1 students:
    • The student fails course X in fall of the senior year. However, course X is a prerequisite to course Y, which is required for the degree. In this circumstance, an extension of just one semester would be consistent with making “normal academic progress” if you as the academic advisor support that determination.
    • If a student fails a single course during their final semester and thereby does not complete all necessary coursework by the original program end date listed on their I-20, an extension of just one semester would be consistent with making “normal academic progress” if you as the academic advisor support that determination.
    • In both the above cases, if an extension would be needed beyond just one additional semester, then this would not constitute “normal progress” for an F-1 student unless there were additional compelling academic factors to consider, e.g., any of those listed on page 1, or others such as academic misadvisement, etc.
    • Also, if a student has failed a single course repeatedly, or has failed several courses in consecutive terms, or has been on academic probation in multiple terms, then the student would not be considered to be making normal progress as an F-1 student and thus would not be eligible for an I-20 program extension unless there were other compelling academic factors to consider, e.g., any of those listed on page 1, or others such as academic misadvisement, etc.
    • As described above, compelling circumstances generally are unavoidable, unforeseen, and beyond the student’s control.

J-1 Student Program Extensions

U.S. Department of State (DOS) regulations for J-1 student program extensions are less regimented than those for F-1 students. The NYU Oce of Global Services (OGS) considers the following to fall within DOS parameters:

  1. The program extension must be academically justified, adequately documented, supported by the academic department, and consistent with original intent of the J-1 program.
  2. The extension request and supporting documentation must be filed by the student with OGS before the current program expiration date.
  3. The student is required to have maintained J-1 status throughout their program. This includes, but not limited to:
    1. Full-time enrollment in academic activities consistent with the J-1 program intent;
    2. No work, internship, or volunteer activity, paid or unpaid, on campus or o campus without prior OGS authorization;
    3. Documented adequate health insurance as mandated by DOS;
    4. Documented adequate funding for the program extension period.
  4. For non-degree J-1 students only, the extension must not exceed the DOS 2-year maximum total program duration limit.

A Final Note

In stating that a student is not eligible for an I-20 Program Extension, you are by no means preventing them from continuing to study at NYU or from finishing their degree. Government regulations provide several other options for students facing such circumstances and needing more time to complete their studies. Please advise students to speak with an OGS advisor promptly regarding these other immigration options.

For further assistance regarding program extension guidelines and international student eligibility, please contact Tom Sirinides, OGS Director of International Student Services, 212-998-4125 or ts92@nyu.edu.