Designated School Officials (DSOs) of college and universities have the important task of updating student records and helping students maintain their status while attending school on an F visas. One common pitfall can be maintaining the proper course load for the program of study.
Ideally, DSOs will work students proactively to make sure they stay in compliance with Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requirements. Successful international student programs assist with course registration, monitor academic progress, and communicate with professors to stay ahead of compliance issues.
But sometimes, scenarios beyond the control of the DSO and student arise, and the student falls below the full course load required by SEVP. Fortunately, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) allows DSOs to authorize a reduced course load for specific exceptions.
How to Authorize a Reduced Course Load for Foreign Students
SEVIS allows DCOs to authorize a reduced course loads (RCL) for F students for three reasons – academic difficulties, medical conditions, or completion of studies. Students on an M visa (vocational training) can only receive authorization for medical reasons, and the RCL cannot exceed five months.
RCL for Academic Difficulty
An RCL for academic difficulties can be issued in the event a foreign student has a hard time acclimating to their studies in the United States. The RCL can only be authorized once per program level, and only for the initial academic term. An RCL can be issued for the following reasons:
- Initial difficulty with the English language – Even for students with English proficiency, immersion into American classrooms can require a period of adjustment. RCLs can be issued for difficulties with spoken or written English.
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods – The term “culture shock” can apply to students in and out of classrooms. Foreign students might find themselves unable to acclimate to certain teaching styles, and can be issued an RCL.
- Improper course level placement – Placing foreign students for their initial semester in a U.S. school can be difficult, especially when foreign equivalencies aren’t “apples to apples” comparisons.
Obtaining an RCL for academic difficulties can help ease the transition to living and learning in the United States. After their initial term, students and DSOs should have a clear picture of the academic rigor and learning environment, and can work together to make sure students don’t fall behind. For that reason, RCLs for academic difficulties are only available during the initial academic term.
RCL for Medical Conditions
If a medical condition arises that necessitates a reduced course load, it is important to maintain meticulous documentation of the condition during each session the RCL is applied. DCOs can authorize a total of 12 months of reduced course load at the same program level, with the following conditions:
- DCOs must keep medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, D.O., or clinical psychologist on file for the student. The medical documentation should be provided by the student for each new session.
- The RCL must be reissued for each new session.
- An RCL my be authorized for multiple sessions, but cannot be more than 12 months at the same program level.
Completion of Course Study
Lastly, a DCO can authorize a reduced course load for a foreign student who is in the final session of their program of study and does not the full course load to complete the program.
While issuing an RCL can be a useful tool to help students get settled in, or overcome unforeseen obstacles, careful planning and constant communication are the best tools for keeping your students in status and keeping your program SEVP certified. If you need help with SEVP certification, or SEVIS compliance, contact us today for a free consultation, or download our free Guide: How to Admit Foreign Students.