Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of blog posts guest-written by Laurie Woog. Laurie is an immigration attorney based in New Jersey and has a lot of insight into what international students will face when they come to the U.S. for their college education. Each of her posts will be dedicated to a different immigration issue unique to international students.
Current or potential international students not only have to deal with homework, class schedules, social life and career planning, but also have to navigate many confusing immigration regulations and laws in order to enter the United States and remain in valid student status. While international or foreign student advisers willingly assist with this process, it is helpful for international students to understand several basic immigration terms and concepts before coming to the U.S.
Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility
This is the document that an educational institution issues to show United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) that an international student has been admitted and is expected to enroll. A student should keep this form when travelling to and from the U.S. The I-20 must be signed by the student and the Designated School Official (DSO).
Designated School Official (DSO)
The DSO is the staff member on campus who advises students on immigration matters, maintains the F-1 status record, performs SEVIS database entry work, and interacts with USCIS on students’ behalf. It is important for foreign students to become acquainted with staff or faculty members in the international student services office on campus.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
Foreign students are not generally allowed to work off campus without authorization from USCIS. An EAD, or work permit, authorizes students, under certain circumstances, to work legally in the U.S. for a period of time (usually one year of “optional practical training,” OPT, after completion of a degree). The form I-765 is used to apply for an EAD. International students must comply with all immigration regulations regarding employment or risk losing their student status.
F-1 Visa and status
International students coming to the U.S. to study must usually obtain status in a nonimmigrant, or temporary, category called F-1. After receiving a Form I-20 from the college or university in the U.S., students will need to apply and interview for an F-1 visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home countries. If approved, the consular official will place a special stamp or document in the passport, a visa, indicating student status. One must have a valid visa stamp to enter the United States.
I-94 Arrival / Departure Card
The I-94 is a small white card that a nonimmigrant visitor completes upon entering the U.S. This card is usually stapled into the student’s passport at the port of entry. The I-94 indicates the length of time one is permitted to stay in the U.S. and should be kept in the passport. The I-94 for F-1 students usually does not have a specific end date on it, but says “D/S,” which stands for duration of status. This means the student remains in valid nonimmigrant status as long as he or she is maintaining a full load of classes and complying with all applicable regulations related to the course of study and presence in the U.S.
A person who is not a citizen or legal permanent resident, and holds a temporary status with the intent to leave the United States and return home upon completion of his/her purpose for being in the U.S., such as someone in F-1, J-1, or B-2 status, is a nonimmigrant. A nonimmigrant must usually demonstrate significant ties to his or her home country to receive or renew a nonimmigrant visa or status. This status usually has limited duration.
Legal Permanent Resident
A lawful permanent resident (LPR) is an individual who has been granted the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant; a legal permanent resident is someone who has obtained a green card. An LPR can travel and work in the U.S. but cannot vote. One can lose lawful permanent resident status by committing certain crimes or remaining outside the United States for too long.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is the database program for tracking all F-1 international students and J-1 exchange visitors in the United States. SEVIS is administered by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a division of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a bureau in the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS processes many nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions, naturalization applications, and performs several other immigration benefit functions.
Department of State
Through its consulates and embassies abroad, the United States Department of State considers and issues visas for foreign citizens to travel to the U.S. The type of visa one will need is based on the purpose of travel. The Department of State’s website indicates the different types of visas and their criteria, as well as the application process.
The above list will come in handy as a reference for future posts in our International Student Immigration Issues series, so keep it close!