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Immigration Basics

International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) is responsible for advising international students and scholars on immigration regulations, but it is often helpful for department personnel to understand the rules and restrictions of common immigration statuses used at the University. If you have any questions about what a student or scholar may do in his or her immigration status, please contact an advisor in our office at .

Immigration Status and Visas

A foreign national must always enter the United States in a particular immigration status. In general, the immigration status must match the purpose or intent of the visit. It is sometimes possible to change immigration status when the original intent has changed. Many students enter in F-1 student status, for example, and later obtain H-1B status in order to work in the United States.

The entry visa is issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, is placed in the passport and is only used to request entry into the United States in a particular immigration status. The expiration date of the visa only limits the date until which it may be used to request entry to the U.S. Although the entry visa is used to enter in a particular immigration status, it may expire after entry into the United States without consequence to the student or scholar.

Administration of Immigration Programs and Benefits

Different government agencies and departments are responsible for managing different areas of the U.S. immigration system. Often these areas of responsibility overlap, creating some confusion about the interpretation and application of federal immigration statutes and regulations. In general, immigration statutes and regulations are the highest authority in immigration matters, next to the U.S. Constitution.

Agency/Department
Abbrev.
Area of Responsibility
Department of State
DOS
Administration of the J-1 exchange visitor program
Department of Homeland Security
DHS
Administration of the F-1 student program and matters of national security
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
USCIS
Most immigration benefits, including change of status petitions and certain off-campus employment authorizations
Student and Exchange Visitor Program
SEVP
SEVIS and interaction with USCIS systems for F-1 and J-1 programs
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
ICE
Investigates violations of immigration status committed by students, scholars, and schools and institutions.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

SEVIS is a database administered by the Department of Homeland Security that is used to collect and maintain information on students and scholars in F-1 and J-1 status during their stay in the United States. Designated School Officials (F-1 program) and Responsible Officers (J-1 program) at each school or institution are required to report certain information about students and scholars until the end of their F-1 or J-1 status. Information reported in SEVIS includes:

  • Biographical details - name, U.S. address, dependents
  • Change of program details - major field of study, length of program
  • Change of funding - source of funding and estimated expenses
  • Off-campus employment authorizations - internship and post-completion practical training
  • Employment details - site of activity and employer contact information
  • Violations of status - failure to enroll full-time, unauthorized employment

At a future date, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program will release SEVIS II. This next version of SEVIS will be almost entirely paperless and will place more of the reporting burden on students.

Common Immigration Terms

Term Meaning
Visa Document issued by U.S. embassy or consulate permitting a foreign national to request entry into the United States in a particular immigration status.
Immigration status Classification of a foreign national while in the United States. Based on purpose and intend of visit and manner of entry.
Port of entry Location of entry into the United States from a foreign destination. Includes airports, sea ports, and land entry points.
I-94 card Arrival/departure document issued to foreign nationals upon entry into the United States. Establishes their legal presence in a particular immigration status.
I-20 Certificate of eligibility permitting a student to apply for an F-1 visa and pursue an academic or vocational program in the United States.
DS-2019 Certificate of eligibility permitting an exchange visitor to apply for a J-1 visa and pursue an academic, research, or training program in the United States.
Exchange visitor Foreign national in J-1 status. May refer to students, scholars, and participants in a study abroad exchange program.
Duration of status Abbreviated "D/S", refers to a foreign national's right to remain in lawful immigration status as long as he or she maintains that status.
Extension of stay Extension of an F-1 or J-1 program as permitted under immigration regulations.
SEVIS ID Unique number that identifies a particular F-1 or J-1 record in SEVIS. Begins with the letter N followed by nine digits.
Designated School Official School representative authorized to access and maintain F-1 student data in SEVIS.
Responsible Officer School representative authorized to access and maintain J-1 exchange visitor data in SEVIS.