Visa and Immigration Information

VISA and Immigration Information


Maintaining Your Immigration Status

While you are in the United States as an international student you must follow all state and federal laws. It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the basic immigration regulations that you must follow.  While the ISSS Office at SUNY Geneseo is here to advise you, ultimately it is your responsibility to maintain your status.  

Important Terms

SEVIS:  Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.  The internet-based system that holds up to date information on SEVP and DoS certified schools, F1, and J1 visa holders.  SEVIS is how Universities communicate up-to-date information to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Department of State (DoS).

SEVP:  The Student and Exchange Visitor Program.  SEVP manages SEVIS on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.

I-20: The immigration document issued after you are admitted to Geneseo.  This document proves that you are eligible to be issued an F1 visa.

DS-2019:  Similar to an I-20, the document issued to short-term exchange students and visiting scholars that proves eligibility for a J1 visa.

I-94: An electronic record of your entry in to the U.S. as well as your departure.  Your I-94 can be viewed or printed by entering your passport information at

PDSO / DSO:  Primary Designated School Official and Designated School Official;  The school officials that are authorized to enter information in SEVIS for F1 visa holders.  At SUNY Geneseo, the staff members in the ISSS Office are PDSO and DSOs and can assist you with any questions you have about your immigration status.

RO / ARO:  Responsible Officer / Alternate Responsible Officer; Similar to the PDSO / DSO, the RO / ARO are the school officials authorized to enter information in SEVIS for J1 visa holders.  There are several staff members in ISSS and Study Abroad that are RO or AROs.

Visa:  A document that you obtain at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy that is stamped in your passport and tells the Port of Entry that you are eligible to enter the United States as a student in F1 or J1 status.  The visa must be valid at the time you enter the U.S., but can expire during your studies as long as your passport and I-20 or DS-2019 are valid.  Canadian students do not receive visa stamps, although they are still considered F1 visa holders. 

I-901 Fee/SEVIS Fee:  Currently, $350 paid to SEVP ( before applying for your visa.  It is strongly recommended that you print and keep a copy of your I-901 fee receipt with your I-20.  This receipt is needed for your visa interview.

D/S:  Duration of Stay; D/S means that you may remain in the U.S. as long as you maintain F1 status by pursuing a full course of study and making normal progress toward degree completion. 

USCIS:  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.  The government office that reviews certain applications including work authorization. 

Basics Rules to Maintain Status

1.  Pursue a full course of study

International students must enroll full-time in fall and spring semesters.  Full-time is considered at least 12 credit hours for undergraduate students and 9 credit hours for graduate students.  Students are not required to enroll during school vacation periods including summer and winter vacation.  Students that are in their final semester are not required to enroll in 12 credit hours if fewer than 12 credits are required to graduate.

You must attend class!  Registering for 12 credit hours is not enough.  Excessive amounts of absences can negatively impact your status the same as if you are under-enrolled.

Always consult the ISSS Office before dropping a class.  Professors and other staff may not be familiar with immigration regulations.  Dropping below 12 credit hours can be approved in specific circumstances, but doing so without approval can result in a loss of your student visa status.

2.  Make normal progress toward degree completion

International students should only take courses that count toward a degree requirement (major, general education, elective, etc.).  Classes that don’t meet any degree requirement should not be taken.  If you are not sure, check DegreeWorks or ask your adviser.  The time of study cannot be extended due to an excessive number of failed or repeated courses.

3.  Never work without proper work authorization

International Students MUST have authorization from the ISSS Office (and in some cases, USCIS) before working on- or off-campus.  This includes internships, practicums, and student teaching.  There are NO exceptions!  Working without authorization will result in termination of your visa status, deportation, and potentially a permanent bar on returning to the United States.  Never work in the U.S. without legal authorization.

4.  Keep your passport valid at least 6 months into the future

In many cases you can renew your passport while you are in the U.S.  Be sure to plan ahead!  If your passport will expire in 6 months, it is time to start the process by contacting your local Embassy or Consulate.

5.  Keep your I-20 or DS-2019 up-to-date and valid at all times

Your I-20 / DS-2019 should not expire before you have completed your degree.  Be sure to know your "Program End Date" (listed on your I-20 or DS-2019).  If you will not graduate or complete your program by the Program End Date, you must request an extension before that date. 

The I-20 / DS-2019 should always reflect the correct information (name, major, school, etc.)  Report any changes of name, major, minor, address, and program dates to ISSS no more than 10 days after the change.

6.  Do not overstay your visa

F1 students may stay in the U.S. up to 60 days after graduation.  During this "grace period" you may travel around the U.S., but if you leave the U.S. you will not be able to re-enter on your F1 visa.  If you plan to apply for OPT, the application must be submitted before the end of your 60 day grace period.  Students that plan to begin a new program must also request transfer of their I-20 or change of level before the end of the 60 day grace period.

J1 students may stay in the U.S. up to 30 days after completion of their program.  

7.  Have your I-20 or DS-2019 signed prior to traveling outside the U.S.

The ISSS Office must sign your I-20/DS-2019 before you travel outside the U.S.  In order to receive a signature for travel, you should be enrolled in the current semester, or if traveling during a break, you should be pre-enrolled for the next semester.  The I-20 travel signature is valid for one year from the date of signing.  DS-2019 travel signatures are valid for six months.  

8.  All documents should match

Your name should be the same on your Passport, I-20 or DS-2019, I-94, Visa, Geneseo ID, SSN, credit card, etc. 

Travel Outside the U.S. 

F1 and J1 Students may travel outside the U.S. during vacation periods if they carry the following documents:

  1. Valid Passport
  2. Valid Visa 
  3. F1 Students:  Valid I-20 with signature on the 2nd page from a DSO in the ISSS office.
  4. J1 Students:  DS-2019 with signature in the travel section from an ARO in the ISSS office.

Valid Passport:  Your passport must be valid at least 6 months in the future beyond the time that you plan to return to the U.S.  If your passport will expire soon, take steps to renew it before or after your travels.

Valid Visa:  Those with Multiple Entry visas may enter the U.S. anytime before the Visa Expiration Date.  Your visa stamp must be valid at the time that you enter the U.S.  Your visa may expire during your studies, and this will not cause any issue if you remain in the U.S.  However, if you plan to travel outside the U.S. and your visa has expired it must be renewed before you return to the U.S.  Visas cannot be renewed from within the U.S.  They must be renewed at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. 

Valid I-20 or DS-2019 with a travel signature:  A valid I-20 or DS-2019 has not expired (be sure to check your Program End Date!) and is current and up-to-date.  F1 Students: The I-20 should be signed on the 2nd page by a DSO. The signature must be less than 12 months old.  J1 Students: The DS-2019 must be signed in the travel section on the first page.  The signature must be less than 6 months old.

In addition to these documents we recommend that you also carry the following when traveling:  Geneseo student ID card, a "Good Standing Letter", a current financial statement, and enrollment verification or an unofficial transcript for good measure.  If you will be renewing your visa during your travels you must carry a current financial statement and an official transcript.

Tips and Reminders

  1. Register for at least 12 credits each semester.  Attend class and complete your courses.  Do not drop courses without consulting ISSS first!
  2. Get your I-20 signed (if needed) before leaving the U.S.
  3. NEVER work without authorization.
  4. Update ISSS with any changes to your address, name, major, minor, or program dates within ten days of a change.
  5. Keep copies of your important immigration documents including your passport, visa, I-94, I-20 or DS-2019, and SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.  The ISSS Office also keeps copies of these documents.
  6. Keep the ISSS Office contact information with you when you travel.  If you have an issue at the Port of Entry, CBP will often call us. / 585-245-5404 
  7. If you are not sure ask ISSS!  We are here to help.

Never Assume

While you are in the U.S. on an F1 or J1 visa, your immigration status is your responsibility.  Each person is different and may have specific circumstances that are different from their friends or fellow students.  Never assume that other students, faculty, non-ISSS staff, or the internet understand your specific immigration situation.  While others may be well-intentioned, it is not their job to know the many specific and constantly changing immigration regulations. 

Don’t get yourself in to trouble because “my friend said….”!  Always ask an advisor in ISSS if there is something you do not understand or are not sure about.  We are here to help you!

Helpful Documents and Websites

F1 Visa Immigration Basics.docx (78 KB)

J1 Visa Immigration Basics.docx (78 KB)

Study in the States : DHS website for F1 students

J1 Vistior and Exchange Program : DoS website for exchange students