As international students studying in the US, you will be required to follow various rules and regulations, both academic and governmental. This section will outline for you the basic US immigration regulations affecting international students during the course of their stay. We urge you to abide by these regulations; failure to do so could result in your deportation or leave you unable to achieve your ultimate degree objective.
The USCIS and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are assigned the task of monitoring all foreign nationals present in the US and enforcing US immigration laws, regulations, and policies. The staff of the OGE can be of great help in explaining immigration regulations and in assisting you to file the appropriate documents. However, only the USCIS can authorize certain types of petitions. One of the services which the USCIS cannot render is the issuance of new visa stamps. Only US embassies and consulates abroad have that authority.
Please keep in mind that immigration laws are constantly being updated and changed and it is YOUR responsibility to stay abreast of changes. Please report your current email address to the OGE - You will receive notifications of important changes in immigration regulations and procedures from the OGE by email.
IMPORTANT IMMIGRATION DOCUMENTS
We recommend that you keep copies of the following documents in a safe place: passport, I-94, SEVIS I-20 or DS 2019, and other immigration documents including all application forms which you turn in to the USCIS. Should you lose any of these documents, they will be easier to replace if you have a copy available.
- Passports. A passport is the legal document issued by your home country granting you permission to travel abroad and to return home. It is required that foreign nationals seeking to enter the US have in their possession a valid passport. It is also mandatory that this passport be valid at all times during your stay in the US. Normally, your passport must be valid for at least six months into the future when you seek admission to the US. In order to have your passport renewed, contact the San Francisco or Los Angeles consulates for your country (if one is available) or your embassy in Washington D.C. If the US and your government do not presently maintain diplomatic relations, inquire at the OGE for the location and address of the organization which represents your interests. Do not wait until the last minute to renew your passport.
- Visa. The United States entry visa is the stamp placed in your passport by an American consular officer permitting you to request entry into the US within a specified time period. A valid visa by itself is not sufficient for you to gain entry into the US. It must be accompanied by other documents such as a form SEVIS I-20 (F-1 students) or form SEVIS DS 2019 (J-1 Students / Scholars). Regardless of visa classification, the final determination on your actual admission will be made by an immigration officer at the US Port of Entry. It is important to remember that the visa stamp affects only your entry into the US it need not remain valid while you reside in the US. The actual length of time you may remain in the US and your visa classification are cited on your Departure Record (I-94) and your SEVIS I-20 or DS 2019. However, if planning a trip outside the US, check if your visa will be valid at the time of your re-entry. If not, you will need to apply for a new visa at the US embassy / consulate in your country (it is not advisable to obtain a student visa in a country other than your own). Lengthy visa processing delays in certain countries may affect your decision to travel, especially during short vacation periods such as the winter break.
- Departure Record. The Departure Record, commonly referred to as an I-94, is the small piece of paper stapled into your passport by an Immigration officer during your entry into the US. It specifies the exact amount of time you will be permitted to remain in the US and what immigration status you will have during your stay. F-1 and J-1 visa students are admitted to the US for Duration of Status (D/S). Please refer to the section of this chapter entitled Duration of Status for additional details. In addition, current procedures dictate that a new I-94 number be issued upon each reentry to the US.
- SEVIS I-20. The SEVIS I-20 is a document issued by an USCIS approved school certifying that you have been admitted as a non-immigrant F-1 visa student. At Sacramento State, this document is issued by the Office of Global Education to all newly-admitted, degree-seeking international students. This document will include your SEVIS Number and will reflect all notations regarding extensions, school transfers, work authorization, or practical training. You will be required to produce the SEVIS I-20 when applying for an F-1 visa and when entering the US. Please make certain that you keep it in a safe place.
- SEVIS DS 2019 - Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status. The SEVIS DS 2019 serves basically the same purpose for J-1 visa students as the SEVIS I-20 does for the F-1 visa students (see above). It can be issued by an international organization whose exchange program has been approved by the US Department of State. Although the SEVIS DS 2019 encompasses a much broader group of visitors than the SEVIS I-20, for the majority of you reading this booklet it will allow you to enter the country as an exchange / non-degree student or a scholar. It is important to note USCIS regulations affecting J-1 visa students differ from those affecting F-1 visa students. For Sacramento State students/scholars SEVIS DS 2019's are issued by the OGE.
Visitor for Pleasure (B-2)
If you plan on having your international friends or family visit you during your studies, this is most likely the visa they will require. This visa is intended for those coming as tourists to the US. It should not be used by foreign nationals coming to do formal study programs in this country. It has become extremely difficult for tourist visa holders to change status to F-1 or J-1 within the US. Please note that students entering the US as Visitors (B-2) under the Visa Waiver program have never been allowed to petition for change of status to another non-immigrant category. Furthermore, non-immigrants with B visa status can no longer enroll in a course of study (even short term) at US Institutions.
No special documentation is needed for this visa other than clear evidence that the foreign national will have sufficient funding to cover their length of stay and intends to return home after their visit in the US. It is important for the B-2 to know that he or she will be asked by the USCIS inspector at the US Port of Entry how long he or she plans to remain. The length of stay will be partly determined by what the B-2 states his/her plans are for their visit. B-2 status may now be requested for up to six months, although the approved period of stay may be much shorter. B-2s can apply to extend their stay in the US; however this requires the submission of an application to USCIS. Therefore, they should make certain they inform the USCIS inspector upon entry of their longest possible desired stay in the US.
This is the most common visa issued to foreign students. Spouses and children under 21 may apply for the F-2 visa. A foreign national wishing to secure an F-1 visa must present to the American consul a valid passport, a form SEVIS I-20, an affidavit of financial support (or other documentation verifying sufficient financial support will be available), visa application forms/photos, and proof of SEVIS fee payment. In addition, the visa office could request copies of standardized test scores, transcripts, and other documents they feel necessary to adjudicate the application.
F-1 visa students are entering the US temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study at the school named on page 1 of the SEVIS I-20. Students should use the SEVIS I-20 from the school they plan to attend for their visa application.
F-1 visa students must be able to present proof they are financially able to support themselves for the entire period of study in the US. American consuls have been instructed to ask detailed questions as to the adequacy of funding for the entire degree program planned; thus, if you are coming for a four-year program, you will have to show that resources will clearly be available to you for all four years.
Exchange Visitors (J-1)
This visa is often used by faculty and researchers but can be used by international students if there is a special sponsorship relationship with an American or foreign governmental agency, private institute, or university. This visa is normally used for students only when there is a very specific academic objective involved and when there are fairly definite plans for the student’s applying his US education in his home country. Students on the J-1 may be subject to a two year “foreign residence requirement.”
In order to obtain this visa, the foreign national must present to the American consul a valid passport, form SEVIS DS-2019 (obtainable only from US organizations and institutions specifically authorized by the State Department as qualified to engage in educational objectives under the Exchange Visitor Program), evidence of Financial Support, visa application / photos, and proof of SEVIS fee payment. After the visa has been issued, the SEVIS DS-2019 will be returned to the foreign national to present at the US Port of Entry after he/she has completed and signed the form. This signature represents agreement to certain conditions such as:
- The purpose is to remain temporarily here to pursue an academic degree or other clear educational objective.
- The foreign national may engage only in those activities described on the SEVIS DS-2019 unless there are valid reasons to modify the nature of the original program. (A change of category must be consistent with and related to the participant’s original exchange objective and necessary due to unusual or exceptional circumstances - such requests are rarely approved). If the Exchange Visitor wishes to pursue the educational objective at another educational institution, a well defined transfer procedure involving both the initial institution and the one to which the exchange visitor wishes to transfer must be followed.
- While the initial period of stay cannot exceed the estimated date of completion of the academic program, the Exchange Visitor may seek extensions of stay to complete the academic objectives from the program sponsor as long as the visitor is making good progress toward those objectives. The exchange visitor will be asked to justify this request to the OGE Advisor when requesting an extension. It is important to note that a J-visa student who studies for an undergraduate degree and completes it may not then apply for a graduate degree without the approval of the sponsoring agent.
- The Exchange Visitor, whose travel or stay is financed in whole or in part, directly or indirectly by an agency of the US Government, the foreign national’s government, or an international organization, may not change J-visa status to another non-immigrant category (except to A or G at the request of an interested foreign government). Nor may the visitor adjust status to that of permanent resident without first returning to his or her country of citizenship or permanent residence for two years. Waivers of the “foreign residence requirement” are difficult to obtain. Also, if the Exchange Visitor has been a citizen or permanent resident of a country which the US Secretary of State has designated as requiring the services of those engaged in certain specialized fields (skills list), such a foreign national is also subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement with the same conditions as described earlier in this paragraph.
There are a number of other visas which foreign nationals may obtain under special circumstances. Information on immigrant visas, permanent residence and other employment based visa categories (i.e. H, E, L) is available on the USCIS website www.uscis.gov or US Consulate websites.
ENTERING THE UNITED STATES
You should arrive at your US Port of Entry with the following documents:
- A valid visa stamp (in your passport) issued by a US consular officer.
- The form SEVIS I-20 or SEVIS DS-2019 issued by Sacramento State (properly endorsed for travel if you are not an “Initial” student).
- A valid passport.
- opies of the financial documentation which you provided to the US Consulate Office in order to obtain your US Visa.
- If you have attended an educational institution in the US, it is recommended you also have a copy of your academic record.
An immigration officer will review these documents and determine whether you can be admitted to the US. If the immigration officer approves your entry, he will issue you an I-94, stamp your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 and return it to you.
NOTE: Continuing students who are planning to temporarily leave the US for a vacation MUST visit the Office of Global Education prior to departure, so they can obtain the required signatures and be advised about immigration documents required for re-entry.
PREVENTING IMMIGRATION PROBLEMS
In order to maintain your status as an F-1 or J-1 visa student, it is important that you remember the following:
- You should plan on attending the school listed on the I-20 you present to immigration during your initial entry into the US. There are specific guidelines about transferring to a different institution after your arrival in the US - please see your OGE advisor if you have questions.
- You must maintain “full-time” student status during each of the regular academic semesters (September-December and January-May). You do not have to attend school during summer vacation or winter intersession. Please contact your advisor at the OGE if you are unable to meet these requirements. Pre-approval of a reduced load request is mandatory. In order to be considered a “full-time” student, you must be enrolled in:
- Undergraduates - at least 12 units of resident course work each semester at the school which issued your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019, unless you are graduating and have less than 12 units remaining. In this case, you must register for all remaining courses in your final term.
- Graduates - at least 9 units of resident course work each semester while working on a second bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or seeking a special credential. This applies unless you are graduating and have either completed all course work and are working on your thesis (in which case you must enroll for at least one unit of course work), or have less than 9 units remaining (in which case you must register for the remaining units you need in order to graduate).
- Courses taken through Open University do not earn resident credits and will not count toward meeting your minimum required unit loads. Audited courses also will not count toward the minimum required unit loads.
- You are expected to make normal academic progress towards your degree objectives. Failure to do so could affect other procedures such as program extensions and work-related benefits.
- You may not work off-campus unless authorized to do so by the USCIS or the Sacramento State Designated School Official (please refer to “Employment Regulations” chapter). Part-time employment on campus is permitted for full-time international students in good academic and immigration standing. Full-time employment is permitted when school is not in session. ALL on and off campus employment must be pre-approved each semester by your OGE advisor before you begin employment.
- You may not transfer to another school without obtaining prior approval. Please review the section of this chapter entitled “Transferring from One School to Another” for details.
- Your passport must be valid at all times.
- You must apply for a program extension prior to the expiration date of your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019.
- Visit your international student advisor before each and every trip outside the US or before each contact with a USCIS Immigration Officer.
- Provide an accurate address to the OGE and report any subsequent change of address within 10 days of moving. OGE Staff will notify USCIS of the address change.
- Carry with you at all times the I-94 issued to you by the USCIS at the US Port of Entry.
- Keep OGE staff informed of any changes in your academic program (change of level, major, graduation date etc.).
- The OGE will send periodic email updates regarding important university and immigration announcements. Please read all emails and other correspondence from our office carefully.
- F-2 spouses may not engage in degree seeking programs on either a part time or full time basic. A minor F-2 child can enroll in kindergarten through 12 th grade study.
- If you must terminate your studies prior to graduation, please notify your advisor in the OGE. Students terminating their studies prior to graduation are given a 15-day grace period to depart the US ( if the student has notified their international advisor).
- Depart the US within 60 days of program completion unless you have applied for either OPT or an extension to complete another academic program.
DURATION OF STATUS (D/S)
F-1 Visa Students
All F-1 visa students entering the US are granted Duration of Status (D/S). Duration of Status is defined by the USCIS as the period during which the student is pursuing a full course of studies in any educational program (e.g. elementary or high school, bachelor’s or master’s degree, doctoral or post-doctoral program) and any periods of authorized practical training, plus sixty days within which to depart the United States. An F-1 student who continues from one educational level to another is considered to remain in status, provided that the transition to the new educational level is accomplished according to appropriate transfer procedure.
Thus, (D/S) implies that as long as you remain in good standing with USCIS (are a full-time student, do not work without a permit, remain within the time restrictions for each degree stipulated by USCIS and listed on your SEVIS I-20), and follow the appropriate USCIS transfer procedures, you may continue your studies. Please consult the section below if you are required to file for a Program Extension.
J-1 Visa Exchange Visitors
J-1 Visa Exchange Visitors are also admitted to the US for Duration of Status (D/S) (see F-1 Visa students above). Those unable to achieve their educational objectives within the time period listed on their California State University, Sacramento DS-2019 will be required to file for a Program Extension and should follow the notification procedures described in the section below. It is important to remember that your passport must be valid at all times.
F-1 Visa Students and F-2 Spouse/Child(ren)
Since you are authorized to remain in the US as long as you maintain your immigration status and continue to make normal progress toward your degree objectives, you will be required to petition for a Program Extension only if you cannot complete your program of study before the estimated completion date on your SEVIS I-20. In order to apply for a “Program Extension,” you must:
- Contact your OGE advisor at least thirty days before the expiration date on your SEVIS I-20 to discuss the reason for the delay in your graduation.
- Obtain a letter from your department academic advisor stating that you are making good progress towards your degree objective, explaining the reason for the delay in your graduation, and estimating your date of program completion.
- Bring the letter to your OGE advisor to complete the program extension immigration process.
J-1 Exchange Visitors and J-2 Spouse/Child(ren)
In order to process a program extension, an Exchange Visitor with D/S status should visit his/her OGE advisor 30-60 days before the expiration date on the SEVIS DS-2019. As long as the extension requested is within the limit of the permissible participation period, the OGE advisor should be able to issue a new SEVIS DS-2019 and process a simple SEVIS based extension of stay for you. Extensions for your J-2 spouse and children should be discussed with your OGE Advisor when making your request.
TRANSFERRING FROM ONESCHOOL TO ANOTHER
In order to be eligible for transfer from one school to another, students are generally required to complete at least one academic term at the institution USCIS authorized them to attend (for exceptions to this, please contact your OGE advisor). Students need to have maintained full-time student status at the school from which he/she is transferring. In addition, the student must not have exceeded the time constraints set forth by USCIS.
In order to finalize your transfer from one school to another, you must complete the following procedures:
- Request that your advisor at your current school electronically transfers your SEVIS immigration record to the new school you want to attend
- Obtain a SEVIS I-20 from the new school to which you wish to transfer.
- Submit your SEVIS I-20, passport, I-94 and previous SEVIS I-20 to the foreign student advisor of the new school within 15 days of the program start date.
- Finalize your registration at the new school.
- The international student advisor at the new school will process the final SEVIS registration. This completes the transfer process.
J-1 Exchange Visitors
- Processing a transfer of schools during reentry to the US after a temporary absence.
- Notify the International Student Advisor at the school which you are attending of your intent to transfer. Be prepared to give the advisor the exact name of the institution to which you are planning to transfer.
- Obtain a SEVIS DS-2019 from the institution to which you are transferring. (This process includes the issuance of a release from the school which you are attending.)
- Present to the USCIS officer at your US Port of Entry the following documents;
(1) Your passport
(2) Valid visa stamp
(3) SEVIS DS-2019 issued to you by the institution to which you wish to transfer.
(4) If requested, your copy of your previous DS-2019 and/or financial documents.
- The USCIS officer will review these documents, re-admit you to the US, and endorse the SEVIS DS-2019 issued to you by your new school.
- In order to process a transfer of schools within the United States:
- Notify the international student advisor at the school which you are currently attending of your intent to transfer. Be prepared to give the advisor the exact name of the institution to which you plan to transfer.
- Obtain a SEVIS DS-2019 from the school to which you are transferring (This process includes the issuance of a release from the school which you are attending).
Note: Only a small sample of USCIS regulations have been presented here. Should you have further questions or need clarification of these regulations please contact the Office of Global Education. Please consult an OGE advisor prior to any USCIS transaction.