International Student Services - Gordon-Conwell — Hamilton

International Student Services

Our Mission

Our mission is to facilitate and manage international educational activities by responding to international students, faculty, administrators, staff, and other members of the seminary community with advice and counseling on administration issues, cross-cultural and personal concerns.

Contact Information

International Student Services is part of the Office of Student Life Services, which is located in Kerr 318. Please contact the International Student Office for more information at (978) 646-4062 or [email protected].

International Student Resources

Post Arrival Information Guide

A guide containing helpful information has been prepared to assist you (and your family) with the transition from your home country to the United States. While it is not comprehensive, it should provide a useful guide to adjusting to student life at Gordon-Conwell, American culture and ways, and life in New England.

Click here to view the Post-Arrival Information Handbook. Please note that you can refer to the table of contents on pages 2-4 to locate various topics. You can click each link in the table of contents to go directly to each section, and easily search for relevant topics such as “clothing,” “food,” or “shopping” using the search feature of your PDF file reader.

Lawfully Maintaining F-1 Visa Status

One of the main functions carried out by Student Life Services is assisting international students with maintaining their non-immigrant F-1 status while in the United States. The information on this site is for this purpose. All information is subject to change without notice. In particular, due to ongoing changes in federal regulations and other matters pertaining to U.S. law, changes may not be immediately reflected in the information provided here. Please see your adviser in Student Life Services for questions and clarification on any matters pertaining to your F-1 visa status.

Under United States law, it is your personal responsibility to maintain lawful F-1 student status. As an F-1 student at Gordon-Conwell, you must lawfully maintain your visa status throughout your entire course of study by complying with all regulations that apply to F-1 visa students (and F-2 dependents). Violation of any laws and/or restrictions will affect your ability to pursue study in the U.S. and at Gordon-Conwell, and in most instances will result in disciplinary and/or legal action.

To ensure that you are lawfully maintaining F-1 status, please ensure that you are in compliance with the following requirements:

  • Maintain full-time enrollment and progress toward your degree program.
  • Abide by all employment restrictions and obtain proper employment authorization before beginning any authorized work. Do not pursue any form of unauthorized off-campus employment.
  • Update your address and/or legal name within 10 days of the change.
  • Receive a valid international student adviser (Designated School Official) signature on page 3 of your I-20 and proper documentation before traveling outside the U.S.
  • Properly transfer your SEVIS record when changing schools.
  • Obtain a program extension if you will continue study beyond the end date on your I-20.
  • Obtain a new I-20 if you begin a new degree program.
  • Do not stay in the U.S. beyond the 60-day grace period given to you following the program end date on your I-20.
  • Obtain permission before requesting a leave of absence or withdrawal from Gordon-Conwell in order to receive an approved 15-day grace period eligibility.
  • Keep your passport valid at all time.
  • Maintain compliance with Massachusetts health insurance requirements.
  • Receive and respond as requested to emails and other notices regularly from Gordon-Conwell and your adviser in Student Life Services.

F-2 dependents may not work or study under any circumstances. To pursue study, F-2 dependents must apply for a Change of Status to F-1.

To understand the rights and restrictions of the F-1 student visa, begin by reading the ?Instructions to Students” on page 2 of your I-20. Follow those instructions carefully! Also, speak with your international adviser to receive further clarification on what is required of you as an F-1 student. Remember, students who observe the restrictions of the F-1 student visa will enjoy the rights associated with it, including authorized on-campus employment and practical training. Students who violate those restrictions run the risk of losing these, and many other rights, and/or legal or disciplinary action.

1) Five-Month Absence Rule

You are not permitted to leave the U.S. for longer than five months and maintain a valid F-1 visa status. U.S. law refers to this as “The 5-Month Rule.” Under this law, absence for a period of more than five months outside the U.S is considered beyond the permitted temporary absence allowance, thus terminating an F-1 (and F-2 visa) status. This means if you are absent from the United States for more than five months, you will no longer possess a valid I-20 and will need to request a new I-20 to return to Gordon-Conwell (or reenter on a new school’s I-20 if the intent is to attend a school other than Gordon-Conwell upon return to the United States). The implications of this rule can be very severe, causing delays in students’ course of study if violated. Gordon-Conwell is required by law to maintain strict adherence to this rule.

2) Name and/or Address Changes

Notify Student Life Services of any changes to your legal name and/or address. Under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) regulations, this requirement is very important. By law, if you change your address and/or legal name (e.g., in the case of marriage), you must notify your adviser of the change immediately. For name changes in the case of marriage, be prepared to show a marriage certificate.

3) Full Course of Study Requirement

F-1 visa students are required to register full-time each Fall and Spring semester. At Gordon-Conwell, full-time enrollment is equal to 7 or more credit hours per semester. However, most classes are 3 credits each, so this generally means you need to take 9 credit hours each semester (typically 3 classes per semester) to lawfully maintain your visa status. Only one Semlink course (Gordon-Conwell’s distance-learning format option) per semester can count toward full-time status. There are no exceptions to this rule. Enrollment through the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) or Gordon-Conwell?s Center for Urban Ministry Education (CUME) is subject to the approval of the Registration Office and your adviser. Audited classes and other non-credit classes (i.e., Mentored Ministry units) do not count towards maintaining full-time status. F-1 students are not required to register for classes in the summer and/or winter semesters.

4) Reduced Course Load

F-1 students must maintain a full course of study/full-time enrollment each Fall and Spring semester. However, unforeseen circumstances can affect your ability to meet this requirement. To pursue a reduced course load, you must first request authorization from your adviser in order to maintain F-1 status. This authorization must be indicated on your most recent I-20.

There are restrictions to keep in mind when requesting a reduced course load. According to U.S. law, you may pursue a reduced course load only under the following circumstances:

  • Initial difficulties with the English language or reading requirements (normally available only during your first semester of study)
  • Unfamiliarity with American teaching methods (normally available only during your first semester of study)
  • Improper course level placement
  • Illness or other medical condition
  • To complete program of study in final term

Illness or medical condition: For a reduced course load due to illness or other medical condition, you must provide medical documentation that verifies a reduced course load is necessary due to illness or medical condition. A letter from the physician who is treating you is acceptable, but must be official and on letterhead. The letter must clearly specify the time period recommended for the reduced course load and cannot exceed one year.

To complete program of study in final term: In most cases, if you are in your final semester of study you can pursue a reduced course load if no other courses are required to complete your degree program. This typically occurs when students have only one or two courses remaining for the completion of their degree program, and do not plan to pursue a second degree at Gordon-Conwell.

Students approved for a reduced course load are required to resume a full course of study in no later than 12 months.

5) Transferring to Another Institution

F-1 students already in the U.S. are permitted to transfer to another SEVP approved institution. Transfer students must complete the necessary I-20/visa certificate application process at the transfer-in school and notify their current institution (or transfer-out school) of their intent to transfer. After the transfer-out date, the student’s record will be transferred electronically through the federal database called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (or SEVIS). Remember that your SEVIS record can be transferred to only one school, so you must plan carefully and decide which school you will attend before requesting a transfer.

If you decide to transfer out of Gordon-Conwell to another school, first see your international student adviser, or Designated School Official (DSO), in Student Life Services. You also will be asked by the school you wish to attend (transfer-in school) to complete a transfer request form that you will submit to your adviser. This form must be completed and sent to the transfer-in school. This form will notify Gordon-Conwell of where to release your SEVIS record/I-20 and will establish a line of communication between the two schools. Once Gordon-Conwell releases your SEVIS record on a date determined, the transfer-in school will receive your record and begin processing your request for a new I-20 and student record.

6) Applying for an I-20 Extension

If your I-20 will expire and you need additional time to complete your current degree program, you must apply for an I-20 extension at least 30 days before the end date (indicated in section 5 of your most recent I-20). To receive an extension, Gordon-Conwell’s Registration Office must first provide written documentation to Student Life Services, at your request, indicating the date you are expected to complete your current program and the number of classes you have remaining. If you do not apply for an extension before your program end date and that date lapses, you will fall out of status and need to apply for reinstatement. If this happens, please see your adviser immediately for details on the reinstatement process. Delays in completing program requirements that are caused by academic probation or poor academic performance are not acceptable reasons for extending your program end date.

7) Grace Period Eligibility

60-Day Grace Period: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) automatically provides a 60-day grace period for F-1 students who complete their program of study. The 60-day grace period eligibility is calculated from the date of completion indicated on your I-20 (line 5). Students authorized for post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) have a 60-day grace period beginning from the date the OPT expires. Students who do not complete a program of study are not eligible for a 60-day grace period. The 60-day grace period cannot be used to re-enter the U.S. after travel abroad. This means if you leave the U.S. after your I-20 end date but before the end of your 60-day grace period, you cannot re-enter the U.S. In this instance, your F-1 visa will  terminate automatically.

15-Day Grace Period: Students who discontinue their program of study are not eligible for a 60-day grace period. However, students who obtain prior approval from Student Life Services are eligible for a 15-day grace period in which to depart the U.S. Students are strongly encouraged to obtain the 15-day grace period approval to avoid problems re-entering the U.S. in the future.

Unapproved Withdrawals or Terminations: Students who fail to lawfully maintain status, withdraw from Gordon-Conwell without notice and prior Student Life Services approval, and/or otherwise terminate or interrupt their course of study are not eligible for any grace period.

8) Employment (including OPT)

Employment Restrictions

Employment is broadly defined by the U.S. Department of State as “any service provided in exchange for financial or material compensation.” Therefore, you must not accept any form of off-campus employment! The only instances when off-campus employment is permitted is if you receive prior authorization for formal practical training from both your international adviser and U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, which will be indicated on page 3 of your most recent I-20. Any unauthorized form of off-campus employment is strictly prohibited, including working for and being paid by your church.

F-2 dependents may not accept employment or engage in business under any circumstances.

On-Campus Employment
F-1 students may apply for authorized on-campus employment. On-campus employment is limited to a total of 20 hours per week while school is in session, though you may work full-time while school is not in session (e.g., January and during the summer months provided you are not also enrolled in classes). Incoming students are eligible to work on-campus 30 days prior to the first day of classes.

Once you have received an offer of on-campus employment from a department, you must receive a Social Security Number and Card. To begin this process, you need to first meet with your adviser in Student Life Services to receive a verification letter required by the Social Security Office. You also will need an on-campus employment offer from your supervisor stating the following:

  • Description of the employment opportunity, including the department name
  • Supervisor’s name, phone number, and e-mail address
  • Number of hours per week you will be expected to work

Take this letter, along with all other required documents, to the Social Security Administration office in Salem, MA to apply for a Social Security Number. The Salem, MA Social Security Administration Office is located at the following address:

10 Federal Street, Suite 406
Salem, MA

Please note that students who have completed their degree program and/or students with an expired I-20 cannot continue to work on-campus. This restriction even applies to students in their 60-day grace period following the completion of their degree or thereafter. The only two instances when you could continue to work on-campus after completing your degree would be if:

  1. You are pursuing a second or subsequent degree at Gordon-Conwell and plan to enroll in the next academic term.
  2. You are transferring to another SEVP approved institution and Gordon-Conwell is still maintaining your SEVIS record/I-20.

F-2 visa holders are not permitted to work on or off-campus under any circumstances. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Social Security Numbers
Any person earning money in the U.S. is required to have a Social Security Number. This means any F-1 student who will be paid for any form of authorized employment (on-campus employment or Optional Practical Training) will need to complete the process for obtaining a Social Security Number and Card.

A Social Security Card does not grant employment authorization. It simply provides a unique identification number to allow employers to pay wages and deduct appropriate taxes on behalf of the U.S. Government. Please note also that Social Security Numbers are only available to those F-1 students who have secured authorized employment. Students pursuing unauthorized employment are not eligible to apply for or receive a Social Security Number and are in serious violation of their F-1 visa status.

The required documents you should take with you include:

  • Passport and F-1 student visa, I-94, and most recent I-20 signed by your adviser in Student Life Services
  • Letter from Student Life Services verifying that you are a full-time F-1 student at Gordon-Conwell
  • Letter from Human Resources verifying employment, including supervisor name and job description
  • Application form for Social Security Card. Click here to view and print this form. We recommend you complete this form prior to going to the Social Security Office. Otherwise, you will need to complete the form once you arrive.

You must apply for a Social Security Number in person. The Salem, MA Social Security Administration Office is located at the following address:

10 Federal Street, Suite 406
Salem, MA

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary permission to work in the United States in order to gain additional knowledge about your field of study. OPT is work authorization available to international students who have been in valid F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters at Gordon-Conwell and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their field of study.  Eligible students may apply for ‘pre-completion OPT’ (before completion of program) and/or ‘post-completion OPT’ (after completion of program).

Important Information about OPT and the OPT Forms:

Starting the OPT Application Process: OPT is recommended by Gordon-Conwell, but final approval is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Applications for OPT first require the recommendation of your International Student Advisor (DSO) at Gordon-Conwell, an updated I-20, payment of a $410 fee (payable to Department of Homeland Security), completed Form I-765, copies of all related documents, two passport photos, and any other items your adviser and/or USCIS request. If you already have secured a job, you also should include your employment offer letter. Please see “B-OPT Application Process and Checklist” for more information.

Eligibility and Duration: F-1 students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT per educational level. This means at the masters degree level (MDiv, ThM), you have 12 months of OPT. Please see “E-OPT Information and FAQs” for more information.

When and How to Apply: The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before the program completion date indicated on your I-20. The latest date USCIS will accept your application is 60 days after your completion date. In addition, OPT applications must be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of receiving an updated I-20 from Gordon-Conwell with your OPT information included on page 3. OPT applications should be submitted to USCIS at the following address. Please note that once your application is submitted, it is difficult to change and/or cancel the application. Please see “A-OPT Request Form” and “B-OPT Application Process and Checklist” for more information.

After you Apply: Once your packet is mailed, USCIS will send you a Form I-797 Notice of Action. This form will indicate that USCIS has received your application and that your case will be decided on within 90 days. DO NOT LOSE THIS FORM! This form will probably come to you in approximately two or three weeks after you submit your application, though you may hear back before that time. It also will have a tracking number for your application, which will look something like “EAC-11-222-3333.” Click here to check the status of your application online at with this tracking number. Enter the EAC# in the appropriate field.

Approval: USCIS reviews your application and, if approved, sends you an authorization card, called an Employment Authorization Document Card (EAD), to the address provided on your I-765. Bring this card to your adviser so that copies can be made and included in your file. If USCIS has a question regarding your application before approval, they will send you a “Request for Evidence.” Contact your adviser before taking any further action so that you may be advised on how best to respond to USCIS’s request.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Students may pursue an authorized employment option, called Curricular Practical Training (CPT), only if they are pursuing a degree program that requires Mentored Ministry (Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Educational Ministries). CPT is a way to pursue employment while also enrolled in courses in order to gain valuable work experience required as an integral component of your program of study. To be approved for CPT, you must be currently enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one academic year (as required for maintaining the F-1 visa) and can only pursue CPT as part of your Mentored Ministry requirements. However, please remember that F-1 students completing Mentored Ministry are not required to pursue CPT. CPT is only an option if desired, particularly if you expect to be paid for your work while completing your Mentored Ministry requirements (F-1 students cannot pursue unauthorized employment and be paid for any work off-campus, including working at a church).

If you are interested in pursuing CPT, first contact the Mentored Ministry office to verify that your position can be pursued for Mentored Ministry credit. If it is determined that your position can be pursued for Mentored Ministry credit, the Mentored Ministry Office will compose a letter on your behalf and send it to your adviser in Student Life Services. At that point, you will then need to meet with your adviser for more information and to complete the application process for CPT. This process will include submitting an application for authorized employment to United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).


9) Travel

International Travel

Many F-1 students and F-2 dependents travel internationally during their time at Gordon-Conwell, usually back to their home country, for vacation (e.g., Canada), or for missions work. While international travel is permitted for F-1 students and F-2 dependents, there are provisions and restrictions that must be followed to avoid travel delays and violations of the F-1 visa restrictions. If you are traveling outside the U.S., please read the information below carefully.

Before You Leave: Prior to your departure from the U.S., please ensure that you do the following:

  • Review the requirements and restrictions for the country that you plan to visit.
  • Verify all your important documents are current and not expired, including passport, visa, and I-20.
  • Make three sets of copies of all your important documents for both you and your dependents (even if some dependents are U.S. citizens). Include copies of identity pages of your passport, such as your picture, birth date, F-1 visa, and I-94 card. Leave one set of copies at home, one in your carry-on luggage, one in your checked baggage. Verify that your adviser has current copies of your passport, F-1 visa, and I-94 card.
  • Meet with your adviser to have your most current I-20 form(s) signed, including I-20s for any dependents traveling with you. Your adviser will endorse your I-20 for travel by signing the bottom of page 3.
  • Meet with the Registration Office to receive a ‘Proof of Enrollment’ letter. This letter will help you prove your enrollment at Gordon-Conwell should a border officer, embassy/consulate official, or any other official request proof you are an F-1 student in the U.S.
  • Bring all official documents used to receive an I-20 with you as you attempt to re-enter the U.S., including your passport and any/all church or family support letters, bank statements, and/or financial aid forms. Financial documents must not be greater than six months old.

Provisions and Restrictions to Consider: Every country has its own rules with regard to who can enter their country, under what restrictions, and for how long. Typically, as an F-1 student, you can enter your own country of citizenship if you hold a valid passport issued by that country with little or no problem. Before entering a country other than your own country of citizenship, however, we advise that you check the embassy of that country to learn about their specific entry rules.

Though travel is permissible for F-1 students and F-2 dependents, there are restrictions that must be followed. For instance, a F1 student with an application pending with the USCIS for change of status or post-completion OPT should not travel outside the U.S. while the application is still “pending.” Travel during this time is considered an abandonment of the application. This restriction includes F-1 students currently in the 60-day grace period after the completion of a program (indicated on line 5 of your I-20) or students in the process of adding a second degree. In these instances, under no circumstances will you be permitted to travel outside the U.S. Attempting to re-enter the U.S during the 60-day grace period automatically terminates the F-1 visa and the student would not be permitted to re-enter. The implications of this rule can be very severe, causing delays in students’ course of study if violated. This restriction includes travel to Mexico and Canada.

Travel Between Transfers: Transfer students must exercise careful consideration with regard to travel during the period between enrollment at both Gordon-Conwell and their respective transfer institution. Thus, you must pay attention to the start and end dates listed on your I-20 to avoid complication when attempting to re-enter the U.S., and consult your adviser at both schools to ensure you have a valid, properly endorsed I-20.

When you Return: When you return and attempt to re-enter the U.S., you will need the following documents to present to a U.S. Customs and Immigration Officer:

  • Valid passport and I-20 endorsed by your adviser (i.e. signed on the back page)
  • Valid visa and previous I-94 card
  • Current financial statements and support letters, as required to create your I-20
  • Letter from the Registration Office (i.e., a Proof of Enrollment Letter) indicating enrollment as a current student

You will be required to speak with border officials and/or other related officers. Remember to remain calm, speak clearly, and most importantly, have all required documents with you. If needed, the official can contact Gordon-Conwell for verification of any needed information, or review your current I-20 available to them in SEVIS. Gordon-Conwell’s 24-hour contact number is (978) 836-6798. This number will connect you with our on-duty officer.

Domestic Travel: Domestic travel within the U.S. is permitted. However, we always recommend you bring your passport, current I-20 form(s), and proof of enrollment at Gordon-Conwell with you to avoid any unnecessary confusion about your identity and/or reason for being in the U.S. No I-20 endorsement is required for domestic travel.


Health Insurance

Massachusetts Law mandates that all full time students (6 or more credit hours) at Gordon-Conwell’s South Hamilton Campus have health insurance coverage. Gordon-Conwell students are, therefore, required either to purchase the Student Health Insurance Plans through Gordon-Conwell or demonstrate proof of sufficient health insurance coverage for each semester enrolled (also referred to as ‘waiving coverage’). Click here for more information about student health insurance. To ensure Gordon-Conwell remains in compliance with all Massachusetts State regulations, students with non-U.S. based health insurance providers are not permitted to waive coverage.

It also is important that students obtain adequate health insurance coverage for each member of their family. While the seminary plan is available to dependents at additional costs, coverage is available through other sources as well. However, we encourage students to determine what other plans cover and whether this coverage will be sufficient for their family. Regardless of the cost, students must ensure that family members are covered under a comprehensive medical plan.

Drivers License

If you own a car, or plan to purchase a car at any time during your time at Gordon-Conwell, you need to acquire a valid Massachusetts drivers license. To receive a drivers license, you must go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and take a written test, a vision test, and a road test.

Click here for maps and directions to local RMV branch offices. Please note that the former RMV office in Beverly, MA has closed. Also, please note that the RMV branch in Danvers, MA does not offer written or road tests. If you need to take a written and/or road text, you will need to visit an RMV that offer written and road tests (Click here to locate a branch that offers these services). The RMV branches that may be most convenient to you are the following

  • Revere: located at 9c Everett Street in Revere, MA
  • Wilmington: 355 Middlesex Avenue in Wilmington, MA

The written test can be taken on a walk-in basis without scheduling an appointment. Other tests, however, may require you to make an appointment. Before you begin this process, make sure you have a reasonable knowledge of Massachusetts driving regulations. Click here to obtain a copy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Drivers Manual. This manual includes Massachusetts driving regulations, as well as information about taking tests in a foreign language. Please note that traffic laws and driver licensing regulations vary from state-to-state in the U.S.

To receive a new Massachusetts drivers license, you will need four original documents to prove your identity. These documents include:

  • Social Security Card or valid, current passport. If you do not have a Social Security Card, see below.
  • Document proving your date of birth
  • Document proving your signature
  • Document proving Massachusetts residency (e.g., a bill sent to you at your Massachusetts address, copy of your lease, or a letter of verification from the Housing Office)
  • Official letter confirming your F-1 visa status and address. Please see the Office of Student Life Services to receive this letter.

Out of items 2, 3 and 4, at least one must be a ‘primary document.’ Your non-U.S. driver license (along with a legally acceptable translation or International Driving Permit, if it is not in English) is a valid ‘secondary document.’

For students and dependents who do not have a Social Security Card, you must receive a denial letter from the Social Security Office at 10 Federal St. in Salem, MA to present to the RMV at the time of your application. Please see Student Life Services for more information about receiving the denial letter. Once you receive your denial letter, you must present this letter to the RMV within 30 days of the date the letter was issued to you by the Social Security Office.

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