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IMMIGRATION BASICS, DEFINITIONS AND TERMS

As with all countries, the United States has laws and regulations governing foreigners who are temporarily within its borders. The immigration regulations are administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Immigration regulations can change frequently and are difficult to interpret. It is important for international students to understand the rules as they apply to student status. The DHS does not consider ignorance of the law a legitimate reason for failing to obey it.  

Questions should be directed to the International Student Advisor, who will be able to assist with legal regulations and can sign your immigration documents. 

DHS requires that a copy of your passport, I-94 and other immigration documents be kept on file by the International Student Advisor, as well as your local address and telephone number.

Passport

Be sure to keep your passport in a safe place. It is your most important document.  Most passports are good for a limited period of time. Your passport must be valid at all times while you are in the United States.

The expiration date of your passport should be valid six months beyond the date you enter the U.S. If your passport expiration date is close to the date you will begin classes, obtain a new passport before leaving home.

It is your responsibility to remember when your passport will expire and to contact the nearest consulate or embassy for your country. To find the nearest consulate or US embassy check http://usembassy.state.gov/.

Your passport can only be extended by your government and it usually takes several weeks for a passport to be renewed, so be sure to allow enough time. You may extend your passport in the U.S. at your home country’s embassy or consulate. You are in this country illegally if your passport expires and are subject to deportation. 

Visas

The visa stamped in your passport at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is for permission to enter the United States for a specific purpose and period of time. Students are usually given an F-1 visa. Spouses and children of F-1 visa holders are assigned an F-2 visa. J-1 visas are given to researchers, scholars and students who are sponsored by agencies or universities.  Spouses and children of these visitors are assigned J-2 visas.

Since the visa stamp is only important for entry and re-entry to the United States, there is no need to worry if it expires while you are here if you are maintaining your student status. If you need to leave the U.S. temporarily and your visa has expired, a DSO or the International Student Advisor will counsel you on how to obtain a new visa. Because a visa is only a permit to apply for entry into a country, it is not possible to obtain a U.S. visa while you are in the U.S. To apply for a visa, you must go to a U.S. consulate or embassy in a country other than the United States, usually your home country. 
A student may hold more than one type of visa in his/her passport. 

I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) 

Form I-94, also called the Arrival/Departure Record of Stay Permit, is the small white card given to you at the port of entry to the U.S.  This form is very important since it officially determines how long an international student can remain in the U.S. 

Students on the F-1 and J-1 visas usually have their I-94 stamped “D/S” (Duration of Status), which means that the student can remain in this country for the length of time required to complete his/her studies as long as the student follows all of the regulations of the student visa. The eleven-digit number written on your I-94 is your DHS admission number, which is used by the DHS to monitor entry into and departure from the U.S. The I-94 cards are turned in when leaving the U.S. and a new I-94 is completed with each subsequent entry. 

If you are on a visa other than a F or J, or if you have a specific date stamped on your I-94 card instead of the “D/S” designation, you must apply for an extension, a Change of Status, or exit the U.S before the expiration date or you will be considered out of status and a visa overstay, which can have serious DHS consequences. 

SEVIS

SEVIS is an acronym for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.  It is a data collection and monitoring system that creates an interface between institutions of higher education, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), consulates and embassies abroad, and ports of entry.  Schools are required to make regular electronic updates in SEVIS throughout each semester on the records of their enrolled students in F-1 and J-1 status and their dependents and their researchers and faculty on J-1 status.  This includes, but is not limited to enrollment status, changes in address, changes in level of study, employment recommendations and school transfers.

Form I-20

When Hobart and William Smith Colleges accepts an international student for full-time study, the student is sent a Form I-20 A-B as proof of acceptance and to use when applying for an F-1 Student Visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. The student presents the I-20 with their passport and visa at the Port of Entry and the I-20 is stamped and given back to the student.  This is your Certificate of Eligibility, and it must be signed by a DSO/ International Student Advisor before you leave the United States. Students should keep copies of all I-20 issued to them.

Immigration Status

This is often confused with “visa” but your immigration status, e.g., F-1 , J-1,etc. is determined at the time of your entry into the U.S. by an immigration official and is noted on the Form I-94.  You may have many visa stamps in your passport but, upon entry into the U.S., an immigration inspector will admit you in only one immigration status which is noted on the I-94 card.