To remain lawfully in the United States during your studies, you must adhere to the regulations that govern F-1 students and J-1 Exchange visitors and scholars; guidelines for doing so are below. Although we strive to provide the most up-to-date information, the Department of Homeland Security considers it your responsibility to ensure that you do not do anything that violates the terms of your status. The United States government will not accept ignorance of the law for any violation.
Information you can find on this page:
- Academic Regulations for F-1 Students
- Information for J-1 Exchange Students and Visiting Scholars
- Travel Requirements
- Leave of Absence Procedure
- Applying for a Driver's License
Full Course of Study
You are required by law to register for and complete a full course of study each fall and spring semester at Bentley. Dropping below full-time without prior authorization by CISS is a violation of your F-1 status. A full-time undergraduate student carries at least 12 credits each semester. A full-time graduate student carries at least nine credits each semester.
Distance Learning & Online Course Policy
International students attending Bentley University on F-1 visa have special regulations for online and hybrid classes. The Department of Homeland Security requires F-1 students to maintain a full course of study. A full course of study is defined as a minimum of: 12 credit hours for undergraduate and 9 credit hours for graduate students. F-1 students can count only one 100% online/distance learning class or three credits of online/distance learning course per semester toward the full course of study requirement [8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)].
For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted if taken on-line or through distance education in a course that does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An on-line or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing. If the F-1 student's course of study is in a language study program, no on-line or distance education classes may be considered to count toward classroom hours or credit.
[8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)]
For students enrolled in CPT internships, the accompanying internship course can be counted as an “in-person” course provided that the place of employment is within 100 miles of Bentley University (otherwise, the course will count as a distance education course and will satisfy the one course per semester limit for F-1 students). CPT taken during a student’s last semester much be accompanied by other required “in person” course work. In other words, CPT at Bentley can never be the only course taken in a final semester.
For hybrid courses, international students are required to maintain physical presence by attending at least 50% of the class sessions in person. *Please note that any hybrid course in which physical attendance in class totals less than 50% will count as your one allowed online/distance learning course. Failure to comply with the regulation [8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G)] will be a violation of a student’s F-1 status.
Below is the actual immigration regulation regarding online / distance learning courses:
No more than the equivalent of one on-line/distance education class or 3 credits per session may count towards the "full course of study" requirement, if the course "does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class.” If the student's course of study is in a language study program, no on-line or distance education classes may be counted toward the full course of study requirement.
Below is the attendance policy for all students as defined by Academic Services:
Students are expected to attend all class meetings; there is a no “cut allowance.” Students must be registered and in class prior to the start of the second week of classes. If a student has not been in attendance by the first class of the second week, the student will need faculty and department chair approval to enter the class. Instructors retain the right to deny admission to a course to any student who wishes to enroll after the first week of classes.
After the second week, students may not register for a class and may not attend classes for which they are already registered (if they have not attended before that time). The full attendance policy is described in the Bentley University Undergraduate Student Handbook.
The above excerpt about attendance can be found HERE.
Reduced Course Load
To reduce your course load below full-time status, you must request authorization in advance from our office. A staff member will guide you in completing the necessary paperwork.
You must resume a full course of study in the semester immediately following your permitted period of reduced course load (if you will not be completing your program in the reduced course-load semester).
The following are the only exceptions to the full-course-of-study requirement:
- Illness or medical condition
- Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements
- Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods
- Improper course-level placement
- To complete course of study in current term
During the summer, you are not required to register for courses and may remain in the United States if you intend to register for a full course load during the subsequent fall semester. If you have particular questions about the summer course work, please contact us.
You must complete all work and receive a final grade for any incomplete courses by the end of your final semester of study in order to maintain your F-1 student status.
Completion of Study
U.S. immigration regulations state that your lawful F-1 status automatically ends 60 days after you complete your program, unless you take some action to remain lawfully in the country. Therefore, it is very important for you to be aware of the official date of completion of your program of study as indicated on your Form I-20.
* The 60-day grace period described above is not available to students who do not complete their program of study (e.g. are suspended or withdraw from Bentley, or otherwise do not complete their program objective as stated on their Form I-20.)
The Form DS-2019 is the principal document that verifies your legal status within the United States. The form contains a machine-readable section that will be used for visa applications at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad and while entering or exiting the United States. CISS issues the Form DS-2019 to exchange visitors who wish to obtain the J-1 visa. This visa differs from the F-1 student visa with regard to its purpose and eligibility criteria. The primary purpose of the J-1 visa is an exchange relationship between the visitors' home country and the United States.
Mandatory Check-In for All Exchange Visitors
Incoming J-1 exchange students and visiting research scholars are required to report to CISS upon arrival to campus. New J-1 exchange students are required to participate a mandatory student orientation. New J-1 visiting scholars must complete the J-1 Exchange Visitor Data Form.
CISS prepares J-1 immigration documents for students studying on exchange. If you are interested in attending Bentley through one of our exchange programs, please visit the Cronin Office of International Education for more information.
Eligibility Criteria for Visiting Scholars
Visiting scholars must be invited by an academic department or faculty member at Bentley. Once your visit is approved by the department, CISS staff will review your eligibility for the J-1 visa and work with you to prepare your DS-2019.
The following documents are required to enter the US in F-1 status:
- Passport, valid for at least 6 months into the future
- Valid F-1 visa*
- Most recent I-20, signed for travel on page 2 within the last 12 months
*Citizens of Canada or the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda do not need an F-1 visa stamp; admission is granted based on the student’s valid I-20.
Before you step away from the immigration official at the port-of-entry:
- Check the entry stamp in your passport — be sure that the officer has written F1/DS in the stamp. This is the official record of your entry into the US; this information is also recorded in the US Customs and Border Protection database as your I-94 information. You can check your I-94 information online by clicking HERE.
- Make sure that your I-20 and passport have been returned to you. A paper I-94 card may be issued if you enter the US via a land border.
Renewing Your Visa
If you maintain F-1 student status and have a valid I-20, you may remain in the United States after your F-1 visa has expired. However, if you are returning home or traveling to a country where automatic visa revalidation does not occur (i.e. Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island) you must apply for a valid visa to re-enter the United States. Click here to access the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more information about re-entry into the United States.
Visit the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website to learn more about how to apply for a visa.
What if I am Sent to Secondary Inspection when Arriving at a US Airport?
If, when presenting yourself at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) desk, the officer is not able to verify your immigration status or if you do not have all of the requisite immigration documents, you may be sent to "secondary inspection." You will be directed to a room where you will need to wait to speak with a CBP officer who will probe more deeply in to your case. In some cases, you may be delayed for up to an additional 2 to 3 hours. If you are delayed, remain calm, do not panic and answer any questions to the best of your ability. Remember to be respectful when speaking to the officer(s). It is advisable to travel with proof of your current or future class registration. Often the officer requests to speak with your Designated School Official (DSO) at your university. At Bentley, this would be a CISS staff member.
You may not have access to your phone while being held in secondary inspection. It may be helpful to write down the phone number of the CISS (781) 891-2829 and the names of several CISS advisors to provide to the officer. If you arrive in the U.S. outside of normal CISS office hours (evenings, weekends or holidays), remember to bring an emergency phone number with you. The number for the Bentley Police is (781) 891-2201, and they will contact a CISS advisor in an emergency.
If you have forgotten to bring your I-20 or if it has not been signed for travel within the past year, you may be issued a Form I-515A "Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor" which allows temporary admission to the U.S. for up to 30 days. If you receive an I-515A, you must make an appointment to meet with a CISS advisor immediately. If you receive an I-515A and fail to obtain a new I-20 and submit it to the U.S. government, it could result in the termination of your immigration status.
Family and Friends Visiting the U.S.
Family members and friends who are planning to visit you in the U.S. for a period of less than 6 months should apply for a tourist visa (B1/B2 visa). Applicants must apply for a B-1/B-2 visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. For more information on how to apply for a visa, please visit the U.S. Department of State website.
The U.S. Consulate or Embassy will expect the visa applicant to provide the following documents:
1. An invitation letter written by you.
Your invitation letter should specify the duration of the visitor's planned stay in the United States. The letter must list the purpose of the visit (for example, if the visa applicant is traveling to the U.S. to attend your commencement ceremonies). Please note that the CISS no longer issues invitation letters as the United States Consulates or Embassies Officials will only acknowledge invitation letters from you. Download the CISS Invitation Letter template for help writing your letter: CISS Sample Invitation Letter.docx
2. An Enrollment Verification Letter to confirm your student status.
To request an Enrollment Verification, visit the Registrar's website HERE.
3. A bank statement or other documentation
As proof of sufficient funds to support themselves while visiting the U.S. , you are going to provide any financial support for the visit, you need to furnish your relatives with appropriate documentation. This could be a letter verifying employment or a bank statement. You may also need to submit Form I-134 Affidavit of Support. If your visitors will pay for their expenses themselves though, you are not required to complete Form I-134.
4. The visa applicant needs to prove their intent to return home.
Documents that support the intent to return home inclued evidence of a job, property, business ownership, immediate family members who remain back home, or any strong ties to their home country. Copies of the return airline ticket or reservation will also be helpful.
Leaves of Absence (taking time away from your studies) have implications for your F-1 status.
Your F-1 status is tied to your studies in the U.S. When you take a Leave of Absence from studying, you are no longer permitted to stay in the country. Once you have submitted all necessary documentation and your Leave of Absence becomes official, the Center for International Students and Scholars will terminate your F-1 immigration record and you will have 15 days to depart the country. If you choose to transfer to another U.S. school during your Leave of Absence, CISS will transfer your immigration record to the school to which you will be transferring and you may remain in the country to study at your new school with that school’s I-20.
*Note: Any Bentley-authorized work (CPT/OPT/on campus) will end when your record is terminated or released. Also, Leaves of Absence will re-start the clock for your one-year in-status requirement for CPT and OPT authorization. If you will not be returning for a full academic year after your LOA, please know that you will likely be ineligible for post-completion Optional Practical Training.
Returning to Bentley in F-1 Status
As an F-1 student, you can only be readmitted at the start of a fall or spring term. Prior to the semester you decide to resume studies at Bentley, you will need to be officially readmitted by completing a Return/Readmit Form to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once you have received notice that you been officially approved to be readmitted, you will need to send to GA_CISS@bentley.edu:
- Copies of updated sponsor letters and/or bank statements showing ability to pay for the re-admit year
- A copy of your passport biographical page
CISS will then create a new I-20 for you and:
- If you have been out of the country for less than five months, you are permitted to enter on your previously issued unexpired F-1 visa and your new Bentley I-20 or;
- If you have been out of the country for more than five months, you will be given a new, initial attendance Form I-20 and must re-apply for an F-1 visa or;
- If you have been studying in the U.S. at another school as an F-1 student during your Leave of Absence, you must complete a Bentley SEVIS Record Transfer In Form with your current school and return it to GA_CISS@bentley.edu. You do not need to obtain a new F-1 visa in order to transfer schools within the U.S., but will need a new Bentley I-20 in order to resume your studies at Bentley.
*Note: If you are a graduate student and wish to take time away from your graduate program, you must complete a separate process (not Leave of Absence).
Contact Graduate Student Programs and Engagement for more information:
Office: Student Center Suite 320
Notaries and Apostilles
For certain documents, and to obtain visas to other countries, you may require official notarization or an apostille. Click HERE to access the Registrar's page regarding obtaining a notarized document or an apostille.
After living one year in the U.S., you will not be able to drive with an international driver’s license. You are required to obtain a Massachusetts Driver’s License. To apply for a Massachusetts Driver’s License, you need to take the following steps:
1. Complete an application for a driver's license.
You can apply online or find the application on the MassDOT RMV Website.
You may also visit the Registry of Motorvehicles (RMV) in person (see below for closest RMV):
Registry of Motor Vehicles – Watertown, MA
550 Arsenal Street
(857) 368-8000 or (800) 858-3926
For more information, visit the Bentley University Police Parking and Driving page.
2. All applicants are asked to show proof of a Social Security Number.
If you do not have a Social Security Number you must obtain a "Denial Letter". A "Denial Letter" can be obtained by visiting any Social Security Office with your passport, I-94 card and I-20 (or DS-2019) and submitting an application. A representative should issue your "Denial Letter" immediately. You must apply for a driver's license within 10 days of receiving this letter. The closest Social Security Office is located at the following address:
135 Beaver Street Suite 120
Waltham, Massachusetts 02452
3. Take your Application and the following documents with you to the RMV:
- I-20 or DS-2019
- I-94 Arrival Departure document (you can print from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Website).
- Social Security card or denial letter
- Proof of Residence Address (e.g. utility bill or bank statement received in the mail with your address printed on it). If you live on campus the Residence Life Office can issue you a letter stating your address.
Buying a Car
The purchase and maintenance of a car in Massachusetts can be quite expensive. In addition to the cost of the car, you are required to pay insurance, as well as sales and excise taxes. Used cars are sold through dealers and privately through the classified section of newspapers. One great online source for car reviews and average prices is Edmunds.com. We recommend that you have used cars examined by a mechanic before you buy it, and ensure that you receive a certificate of ownership along with the bill of sale. A good way to decrease the price of insurance is to bring a letter of recommendation from your insurance back home. There are some insurance companies that will even give you a discount if you provide them with a transcript of good grades. Available parking can also be scarce and/or expensive, depending on where you live. In order to be able to park your car at Bentley, you will need parking sticker from University Police. For more information, call the Bentley Card Office (781) 781-2292.