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To enter and remain in the United States as a student on a non-immigrant visa, you must comply with a variety of laws and regulations mandated by the U.S. government. A major responsibility of the Office of Global Education is to advise you on these regulations and assist students in maintaining their legal status in the United States.
The following information summarizes some of the basic points relating to immigration requirements for international students, but should not be relied upon as legal advice. Immigration laws undergo almost constant revision and interpretation, and each case presents unique circumstances. If you have any questions about your immigration status, please come to the Office of Global Education for the latest information.
Important Terms and Forms
Passport - This document is issued by the government of your country and is required to depart and re-enter your country as well as the United States. Your passport must be valid at all times during your stay in the United States.
U.S. Visa - Stamped in your passport by the U.S. Consulate. It enables you to enter the U.S. for the time of its validity. Normally, students in the U.S. have either an F-1 or J-1 visa.
Immigration Status - This refers to your visa category, such as F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, B-2, etc.
I-20 Form - When you are admitted to the University, you are sent an I-20 form. You must present this form to the U.S. Consulate to receive an F-1 visa. The SEVIS Form I-20 consists of three pages (page 2 contains instructions and page 3 is for signatures). The expiration date in item #5 of the I-20 is the expected date of completion for your academic program. Each F-1 student must retain his/her Form I-20 to establish legal status in the U.S.
DS-2019 Form - If you are accepted as an exchange student or come as an exchange scholar, the Office of Global Education will send you this form. You must present this form to the U.S. Consulate to receive a J-1 visa. The DS-2019 form shows the authorized program participation dates and a description of the exchange program.
I-94 Card - You will be given a white colored I-94 card either on the plane en route to the U.S. or at your point of arrival. It is also known as an Arrival/Departure Record. The I-94 card will be completed by immigration authorities when you arrive at the airport and will state how long you are authorized to stay in the U.S. It will also have your admission number.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - The U.S. government agency which enforces U.S. immigration laws at ports of entry (formerly the INS).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) - The U.S. government agency that provides support services to visa students and other noncitizens in the U.S. (formerly the INS).
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - The U.S. government agency that maintains and monitors the SEVIS system and enforces immigration regulations.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD) - Small plastic card issued by the Department of Homeland Security to show authorization for employment. The EAD is also called Form I-688B.
Passport Verification - The University is required by law to maintain records for each non-immigrant student at CSU San Marcos. All international students must participate in passport verification prior to their initial enrollment (this is typically done during International Student Orientation).
Change of Status (COS) - Under certain circumstances, persons who enter the U.S. in one visa status are permitted to petition for a change of status when conditions change.
- Duration of Status
F-1 students are admitted to the U.S. for "duration of status" (D/S), which is defined as:
- The time during which the student is pursuing a full course of study and making normal progress toward completing a degree; plus the time the student may be working in authorized "practical training" after completion of studies; plus a 60 day period to depart the country upon completion of an academic program or practical training.
Full Course of Study
CSU San Marcos defines a full course of study as a minimum of 12 credit units for undergraduate students, and 9 credit units for graduate students.
The law does not require a student to take all credit units each semester at CSU San Marcos. However, campus policy requires undergraduate international students to enroll for a minimum of 12 credit units at CSU San Marcos each semester, allowing concurrent enrollment at another institution for additional credits. Under special circumstances, and only for academic reasons, continuing undergraduate students may petition to take a minimum of 9 credit units at CSU San Marcos and additional units at another institution. An exception to this minimum credit requirement may also be made for new students who arrive too late to enroll in required courses and must take these courses at another institution to satisfy the full-time requirement.
All requests to take fewer than the minimum number of credit units must be submitted to the International Student Advisor on a form provided for that purpose. The form can be obtained from the Office of Global Education.
A student may not drop below a full course of study during a semester without prior approval from the International Student Advisor. Failure to obtain approval to drop below a full course of study will put a student out of status and will require formal reinstatement.
Limitations on Duration of Status
The "completion of studies" date in item #5 on the most recent I-20 Form that was issued is the date by which USCIS expects you to complete requirements for the current program. If you are unable to complete the program of study by that date, you should come to the Office of Global Education at least 30 days before reaching the I-20 completion date. If you are eligible for an extension of time, the Office of Global Education will advise you on how to receive an extension and comply with its requirements.
"Out of Status"/"Reinstatement"
If the date for completion of studies on the I-20 has expired and you have not applied for an extension of stay, or if you have not maintained a full course of study,or you have done something else to violate your F-1 status, you may be "out of status." You should contact the Office of Global Education immediately to find out about the possibility of reinstating your status with USCIS.
Travel Abroad and Re-entry
Before you make a trip outside the U.S., you must have page 3 of the SEVIS Form I-20 form endorsed (signed) by a DSO (Designated School Officer). The DSO's signature verifies that you are maintaining a full course of study and are eligible to continue as a student at CSU San Marcos when you return to the U.S. This signature is required for all trips outside the U.S., including day trips to Tijuana, Mexico. Please allow time for the DSO to process the I-20 before the expected date of departure.
You should also check to be sure that the F-1 visa stamped in your passport has not expired. It is legal to remain in the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa as long as you are in status and have a valid I-20, but if you leave the country with an expired F-1 you will not be able to re-enter the U.S., except for trips of less than 30 days to Mexico and Canada.
Normally, you can only renew your F-1 through the U.S. Consulate in your home country. You must provide all the documentation you supplied when you applied for your original F-1 visa and plan for the appropriate time needed for the consulate processing.
Employment for F-1 Students
Normally, F-1 students are not permitted to work off-campus. However, there are situations in which students may be permitted to work, especially after their first year as students. The following information explains how "employment" is defined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and describes the types of employment authorization that may be available to F-1 students.
Eligibility and Application Requirements
The requirements for different types of F-1 employment authorization vary. For example, a basic requirement for all types of student employment is that the student has maintained F-1 status continuously. Students on an F-1 visa are limited to 20 hours per week of employment when the school is in session. If you decide to seek employment consult with the Office of Global Education to ensure proper procedures are followed. The application process and the waiting time to obtain employment authorization can be quite long. Therefore it is recommended that the student file an application as early as possible. Written information which further describes the different types of employment for F-1 students and how to apply for authorization is available from the Office of Global Education.
Work on campus is permissible for F-1 students in lawful status for up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and fulltime when school is not in session. International students should notify the International Student Advisor when they accept on-campus employment for assistance with obtaining a Social Security number. The Social Security number is used for tax purposes.
Off-Campus Employment Based on Economic Necessity
After being in F-1 status for at least one full academic year, an F-1 student may be eligible to apply for employment based on economic necessity. The requirements for this category of employment are very strict. Because one of the conditions for entering the U.S. was that you had sufficient resources to support yourself while a student, you must be able to prove that an unforeseen change in financial circumstances has arisen since you acquired F-1 status. If approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Without an EAD, it is illegal to work off campus.
Employment for F-2 Dependents
Immigration regulations prohibit all employment for F-2 dependents (spouses and children of F-1 students).
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is sponsored by the United States State Department. The purpose of the program is to give students and scholars the opportunity to study or work in the United States, thereby experiencing American culture first-hand. Generally speaking, the program is not intended for self-supporting students who wish to come to the United States to earn a degree, nor for scholars interested in permanent academic positions.
CSU San Marcos is a designated sponsor of the Exchange Visitor Program. This means that students and scholars wishing to come to CSU San Marcos for the purposes designated by the program can receive a DS-2019 from the Office of Global Education, which will enable them to apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate.
There are a number of restrictions that apply to the J-1 visa that you should be aware of before applying. These include:
- Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
Some Exchange Visitors are subject to the "Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement." The requirement is intended to ensure that, after completing the specific objective of the exchange program, the Exchange Visitor will spend at least two years in the home country before coming back to the U.S. for a long-term stay. This restriction most often applies to scholars who may be on the "skills list" of their home country and to J-1 visitors who are sponsored by either the U.S. or their home government.
- Three Year Time Limit and Twelve Month Bar
The total stay in the United States for Exchange visitors in the Professor or Research Scholar categories is limited to three years. Extensions beyond that time are virtually impossible to obtain. A Scholar who has been in the U.S. on a J-1 program is also required to complete a year of stay outside the U.S. before qualifying for a new DS-2019. However, scholars may be eligible to re-enter the U.S. in less than 12 months if they qualify as a short-term (less than six months) visitor.
- J-1 Health Insurance Requirement
The U.S. government requires that all J-1 Exchange Visitors and accompanying dependents be covered by adequate health and accident insurance while in this country. Failure to carry adequate insurance may lead to termination of your exchange visitor status. CSU San Marcos will not accept an exchange visitor without verification of adequate insurance.
Duration of Status/Extension of Stay
J-1 students are granted a Duration of Status (D/S) which allows them to stay in the U.S. until the date shown in item #3 of the DS-2019 Form. If an extension of stay is required, the student must contact the J-1 Responsible Officer at least two months before the expiration.
Short Trips Out of the United States
To enter the U.S. in J-1 status, an exchange visitor is required to have the DS-2019 endorsed by the J-1 "Responsible Officer" (Dr. Peter Zwick) or the "Alternate Responsible Officer" (Danielle McMartin) confirming either enrollment or affiliation with CSU San Marcos and the continuing availability of financial support. In addition, J-1 holders need a valid visa stamp to reenter the U.S. If the visa stamp has expired, you will be required to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.
As a J-1 Exchange Visitor, the student may be eligible for a variety of work opportunities in the United States, but employment without proper authorization is a serious violation of the immigration status. Employment is defined as any type of work performed or services provided in exchange for money, tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, or for any other benefit. The J-1 student must obtain approval in writing before commencing any type of employment in the U.S. Before approval, the Responsible Officer is obligated to evaluate the proposed employment in the context of the program and the student's personal circumstances, and then decide whether it would be appropriate or not to recommend employment.
J-1 "Student Employment" is limited to 20 hours per week except during holidays and annual vacation. The J-1 Responsible Officer can approve Student Employment for up to one year at a time. Examples of this type of employment include on-campus assistantships, other on-campus jobs, and off-campus jobs which are necessary because of serious, urgent and unforeseen economic circumstances.
Work Permission for J-2 Dependents
J-2 dependents may apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for authorization to work. The dependents may not work to support the principal.