U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations require that international (F-1/J-1) students enroll and complete a full course load each semester in order to maintain valid non-immigrant student status. There are only a few exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement for the fall and spring semesters. Each exception (category) has its own criteria, which are outlined below.
Category 1: Final Semester
OIS may authorize a final semester RCL for students who are in their final semester of study and only have a few units remaining to meet academic program requirements. Students may request an RCL due to final semester only once per degree level.
Category 2: Medical Reasons
OIS may authorize a medical RCL due to a temporary health (physical or mental) condition(s) with an appropriate doctor’s letter recommending the RCL for medical reasons. To submit a medical RCL, F-1 students must meet with an OIS Counselor and J-1 students must meet with the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Coordinator at OIS.
Requirements of Medical RCL:
- Letter from licensed medical doctor (MD), doctor of osteopathy (DO), or licensed clinical psychologist that recommends student to take less than the minimum units required for full time enrollment
- Receive prior approval from OIS and academic department before dropping classes
- No more than 12 months (3 semesters) total of Medical RCL is permitted per degree level. The 12 month aggregate total includes semesters in which a student has taken a Leave of Absence (LOA) for medical reasons and remained in the US to receive treatment
If a doctor believes that a student is unable to enroll in any units due to physical or mental health reasons, then the student should consider a Medical Leave of Absence.
Category 3: Academic Difficulty
NOTE: Students must be registered in a minimum of 6 units (undergraduate), 4 units (graduate), 3 units (doctorate).
These reasons can be used only once per degree level. (i.e. Tommy was having a difficult time with the English language requirements in several of his classes. He applied for an RCL and it was approved. Tommy is expected to register full time for the remaining duration of his degree program. He may not apply for another RCL based on an academic difficulty.)
- Initial difficulty with reading requirements—Can be used during first year of program only
- Initial difficulty with the English language—Can be used during first year of program only
- Unfamiliarity with US teaching methods—Can be used during first year of program only
- Improper course level placement
RCL Application Process
- Student completes Student Section of OIS Reduced Course Load form.
- Student contacts advisor in academic department to get RCL recommendation signature on OIS RCL Form. (Graduate engineering students must submit the online Viterbi RCL form instead.)
- Student submits the completed RCL form to OIS for review.
RCL DEADLINE: All RCL forms are due by the first day of classes of each semester. The form must be approved by the student’s academic advisor prior to submission to OIS.
- Submission of RCL Form to OIS does not automatically grant approval. If additional information is needed, OIS advisor will contact student and/or advisor for clarification. Registration and RCL forms are not required in summer semesters, unless it is the student’s first or last semester
- F-1/J-1 students should not drop below full-time enrollment until they have received authorization from OIS. Students who drop below full-time enrollment without the proper authorization from OIS will be considered out of status
- J-1 students not sponsored by USC do not need to submit the RCL request to OIS (For example: IIE, BSMP, etc). The RCL should be submitted directly to your program sponsor
- Students who will have on-campus employment during the semester they wish to be authorized for RCL should review these on-campus employment requirements
- Graduate students who register for thesis, dissertation or qualifying exams (GRSC 800) are considered to be enrolled full time although the number of units enrolled will be below the normal full-time course load. An RCL form is not required for students at these stages in their academic program.