While you are studying in the United States, there will be questions at times related to your immigration status. Very basic information is found here in the handbook, but we encourage you to visit the International Education office to speak with an advisor whenever you are in doubt. Most problems can be handled if you get assistance early, so it is important you keep the office informed and contact whenever you have questions or a decision to make. We are open weekdays, year round (except for one week at Christmas in December).
If you have questions about any immigration issue, please contact an OIE Advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Study in the States website from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has useful information about immigration aspects of studying in the U.S.
Schools in the United States are part of SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. You will have a unique 11-digit SEVIS number. You can find it at the top right of the I-20 or DS-2019 form from the university. It is a number starting with N + 10 numbers (example: N0000123456). This is an important number for you to know.
In addition to fees associated with applying for your student visa, all students entering the U.S. after September 1, 2004 are required to pay a SEVIS fee. This amount is in addition to the visa application fees. This fee is collected only when you apply for your initial visa, and it must be paid before your visa application will be considered. Read here for additional SEVIS information.
Entering the United States
The visa in your passport allows you to enter the United States in a specific immigration category (status). Your F-1 or J-1 visa notifies the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that you wish to enter in the category of F-1 or J-1 student. When you enter the U.S., you will present the I-20 or DS-2019 along with your passport and visa to an immigration officer at your point of entry to the U.S. This Port of Entry (POE) officer will stamp your I-20/DS-2019 with an entry date. Your I-94 Departure Record card will also be stamped. Keep your I-20 or DS-2019 and I-94 form with your passport. Together, they are your proof of your status and you will need them for re-entry to the US after temporary trips abroad during the period of validity. Keep all immigration documents permanently.
In addition, you will have filled out a small white form known as the Arrival-Departure Document, Form I-94. On the I-94 is an 11-digit number. It will be stamped indicating the date you enter the U.S., the port of entry, the INS category, and indicate how long you may remain in the U.S. in the INS category. When you leave the country and return home, INS will take the I-94. When you re-enter the U.S., you will receive a new I-94. The I-94 should be stapled in your passport, opposite your visa stamp page. If you have family members entering with you (F-2 or J-2 dependents), they will receive their own I-94s.
Duration of Status
On the I-94, you will notice the red stamp shows date and place you entered the U.S., and a notation that reads "D/S". This stands for Duration of Status. This means that as long as you follow the rules INS has established for the F-1 or J-1 student, you may remain in the U.S. legally.
Maintaining F-1 or J-1 Status: In order to maintain F-1 or J-1 student status (remain in the U.S. legally) it is your responsibility to:
- Attend the school whose I-20 was used to enter the U.S. Exception: transferring between U.S. schools while remaining in the U.S.
- Take a full course load (3 credits- undergraduate; 12 credits- graduate) and make satisfactory progress toward completing your program of study
- Keep immigration documents current
- Exception: U.S. F-1 visa stamp can expire while remaining in the U.S or visiting Canada, Mexico and some of the neighboring U.S. islands for 30 days or less. Keep your address updated through USCIS
- Obtain signature on the back of your I-20/DS-2019 for travel outside of the U.S.
- Do not accept off-campus employment in the U.S. without permission from INS
- Leave the U.S. within 60 days (F-1) or 30 days (J-1) of completion of program of study unless you:
- Receive a new I-20/DS-2019 and change schools or levels of study
- Apply and receive permission from INS for practical training (referred to as "academic training" for J-1 students)
- Change to another immigration status (e.g., tourist B1/2 visa)
Benefits Given to F-1 Students
As long as you follow the rules set forth above by INS, you are entitled to certain benefits:
- Transfer to WU from another U.S. college or university or transfer to another U.S. college or university from WU while remaining in the U.S. in your F-1/J-1 immigration status
- Change your major degree program of study from that listed on your I-20 (e.g., from English to Chemistry)
- Extend your stay if you need longer to complete your program of study
- Change levels of study (e.g., from undergraduate to graduate program)
- Work with permission of immigration
- Travel outside the U.S. and return to resume program of study
- Have spouse or children enter the U.S. as your dependents
- Change to another immigration status (e.g., from F-1 student to B1/2 tourist, or F-1 to H-1b, temporary working immigration status)
Benefits Given to J-1 Students
As long as you follow the rules set forth above by INS, you are eligible, based on sponsor guidelines and approval, for certain benefits:
- Possibly extend your stay if you need longer to complete your program of study (see your sponsor to discuss eligibility)
- Work with permission of sponsor (Academic Training)
- Travel outside the U.S. and return to resume program of study (need sponsor's endorsement on back of DS-2019)
- Have spouse or children enter the U.S. as your dependents (see sponsor to discuss eligibility)