All F and J students are admitted to the U.S. for “duration of status” (D/S), which is represented by the start and finish of the academic program. Program completion is defined by the program end date on the I-20/DS-2019, OR the completion of the academic program, if it is earlier than the date on the I-20/DS-2019. At the time that the I-20/DS-2019 is issued, NC State admissions or OIS provide an estimation of the program completion date. Sometimes, the estimated program completion date will accurately reflect a student’s actual completion. However, for most students the program completion date will eventually be updated (usually shortened) to reflect actual completion of the academic program (this is sometimes done as late as the student’s final semester when he or she is applying for a post-completion benefit such as Optional Practical Training).
For undergraduate and non-thesis master’s students, completion of the academic program is determined by the last day of the final semester in which the student is enrolled.
For Master’s thesis and Ph.D. students, program completion is defined by OIS for non-immigrant status-related benefits purposes as successful defense and the subsequent draft submission, provided that a student is registered at the time of defense. Thesis/dissertation students should be familiar not only with OIS enrollment requirements and policies but also with Graduate School policies regarding full time enrollment and registration requirements.
For the purpose of applying for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), Master’s thesis and PhD students are given the option of using the defense date or the last date of the semester (in which defense takes place) as the program completion date. F students wishing to apply for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) may do so during the grace period (see below). J-1 students wishing to apply for post-completion Academic Training must begin employment within 30 days of program completion.
Please note: Program completion is generally determined by completion of coursework (and successful defense of a thesis/dissertation if applicable). Unnecessary enrollment or on-campus employment for an additional semester beyond completion of program requirements is not permitted and could result in a loss of post-completion visa benefits (such as OPT or Academic Training).
Students are not permitted to enroll exclusively for distance education courses, including in their final semester and even if they qualify for a final semester reduced course load. This enrollment requirement is true whether a student’s final semester is a fall, spring, or summer term.
Students that have maintained valid F or J status for the duration of their academic program are eligible for a grace period following successful completion of an academic program. For F students, the grace period is 60 days. For J students, the grace period is 30 days. The start of a student’s grace period is typically the last day of the last semester of enrollment, unless he or she has otherwise applied for post-completion OPT to begin based on the thesis/dissertation defense date. During the grace period, students cannot work or take courses. The grace period is intended to allow students a period of time in which to wrap up their affairs and prepare to depart the U.S., or to travel within in the U.S. Students that depart the U.S. during the grace period will not be able to re-enter the U.S. using the F/J visa + I-20/DS-2019 (except for OPT students – please see information about travel during OPT.
By the time of program completion or before the end of the permitted grace period, a student must pursue one of the following post-completion options: