F-1 and J-1 students are required by federal immigration regulations to be engaged in a “full course of study,” which means 12 semester hours each fall/spring semester for undergraduates, and 9 semester hours each fall/spring for graduate students. You must obtain authorization from an ISSS adviser to be enrolled less than full-time during any fall or spring semester. The ISSS advisor must indicate such authorization in the SEVIS system as required by the federal regulations.


  • Enrollment below full-time for medical reasons cannot exceed a total of 3 semesters.
  • New documentation must be provided from your physician and authorization must be granted from an ISSS adviser each fall or spring semester in which medical authorization is sought.
  • If a student later moves to a higher degree level (such as from MA to PhD), the student receives an additional 3 semester limit permitting part-time enrollment due to medical reasons.
  • If after 3 semesters the student is still unable to resume full-time studies, the student must either leave the U.S. and reapply when he/she is able to handle full-time studies again, or apply to change to another nonimmigrant status appropriate for continuing medical treatment in the U.S.

Caution: When applying for part-time enrollment authorization, please consider how it will affect your plan to graduate. While program extensions can be granted for compelling medical reasons, if you miss a course that is required for your degree program, and it is only offered every other year or semester, this will present you with some registration problems in the future. In such instances you risk being viewed as delaying graduation and potentially violating your immigration status. Talk to your academic advisor and plan accordingly.


Note that this procedure is used for both (1) dropping below full-time based on medical condition and (2) complete withdrawal based on medical condition.

  1. Obtain a letter from your physician (Medical Doctor, Doctor of Osteopathy, or Licensed Clinical Psychologist only). A letter that does not meet these criteria will be rejected. See the sample letter below - you can print this and give to your health care provider.
    1. The letter must be printed on the physician’s letterhead, and include the name of the health facility and address, and
    2. The letter must be dated, and
    3. Must indicate that you have a medical condition which prevents you from registering full-time during a specific semester, and
    4. Must specify the number of semester hours for which you can register, and
    5. Must specify the date by which you will be expected to return to full-time studies, and
    6. Must show the physicians printed name, professional title/degree, include a signature and include their email address.
  2. Send this letter to the ISSS as soon as possible by submitting an e-form in iHawk (click the blue login button and log in with your HawkID and password). Go to "Other Services" list for "illness/ medical condition."

Medical Letter Template

A printable version to give your provider may be found here. ISSS strongly discourages including specific diagnostic information in these letters; it is not necessary, and the letters may be reviewed by federal authorities.

Forged Medical Letters and Other Documents

ISSS is aware that services exist to provide faked/forged medical letters, or that some people may try to create them on their own. Please be aware that we do verify the legitimacy of all medical letters submitted to us. If we discover that a student has submitted a forged medical letter, it will result in termination of the F-1 or J-1 status, which means immediate loss of legal status in the U.S. It is also reported to the home college (Liberal Arts, Engineering, Business, etc.) as an academic misconduct violation. There may be further sanctions from the University of Iowa as well. We also reserve the right to inform any medical provider if their name/company name is used in a forged medical document. This is a serious violation.

A Note to Pregnant Students or Students Who Have Recently Had a Baby

Most people understand how difficult and challenging it is to be pregnant and recover from childbirth. However, aside from such things that threaten the health or life of baby or mother, or complications experienced during delivery, U.S. immigration may take a different point of view. While ISSS will not second-guess any recommendations provided by a qualified physician, we urge students to use caution when requesting authorization for a medical condition that relates to pregnancy or childbirth. Such things as breastfeeding and getting no sleep, or even a “normal” pregnancy, may present challenges, but it is not clear that SEVP will really view these as “medical conditions” should they ever have reason to review the situation of a student who has received such authorization. It may be helpful as a guide to remember that U.S. law, through the Family Medical Leave Act, protects American workers’ jobs only up to 12 weeks maximum.