MAINTAINING LEGAL NONIMMIGRANT STATUS
A GUIDE FOR F-1 STUDENTS
SUNY Geneseo students who are not United States citizens or permanent residents of the United States are expected to show evidence of a legal status that is appropriate for enrollment. This memorandum is designed to inform students with F-1 (student) nonimmigrant status of specific U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regulations and other United States laws they need to know to maintain lawful status while studying in the United States.
USCIS/ICE requires all schools in the USA who admit international students to be part of SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). SEVIS is a web-based data collection and monitoring system that creates an interface between institutions of higher learning, USCIS/ICE, consulates and embassies abroad, ports of entry and other U. S. government agencies. All international students must be registered on this system and each school is required to report the continued full-time attendance of its students, their current local addresses, any changes in majors, school transfers and any deviation from the full-time attendance requirements. Specific SEVIS regulations and requirements are printed at the end of this guide. It is essential that you read them thoroughly and that you comply with them in the time frames required.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (which is called IIRIRA) may impose severe restrictions on individuals who do not maintain their legal status while in the United States.
College and university students are expected to be enrolled for full-time study each semester of the academic year to maintain their legal status. At SUNY Geneseo, this means being enrolled for a minimum of twelve (12) credit hours for each semester as an undergraduate student or for a minimum of nine (9) credit hours for each semester as a graduate student. Courses that are “audited” (courses attended but for which a student does not receive any credit or recognition of attendance) do not count toward the 12 credit hours for undergraduate students or the 9 credit hours for graduate students, nor do courses from which you “withdraw”. You MUST be enrolled for full-time classes by the end of the “add/drop” period during the first week of each semester.
There are few exceptions to the full-time credit hour requirement. If you plan to complete fewer than twelve (12) credit hours in any semester, you must contact the Director or Assistant Director of International Student & Scholar Services at the International Student & Scholar Services Office IMMEDIATELY AND BEFORE the end of “add/drop” or BEFORE you withdraw from courses. The Director or Assistant Director will determine if any of the allowable exceptions are appropriate for you. If none of the exceptions apply to you and you still choose to be enrolled for fewer than twelve (12) credit hours, you will violate your lawful student status and your failure to enroll as a full time student will be reported to USCIS/ICE through the SEVIS system. You will become ineligible for any of the benefits allowable to F-1 students, for example, on-campus employment, and you will need to apply to USCIS for reinstatement.
LENGTH OF STAY IN THE UNITED STATES
Students with F-1 status are authorized to remain in the United States for a period of time called “Duration of Status.” This period of time is abbreviated as “D/S” and should have been noted upon your entry into the United States on your I-94 Departure Card or on the stamp in your passport. If you meet all of your F-1 status obligations, you may remain in the United States for whatever period of time is necessary to complete your educational objective. There are specific time limits for each student and each student’s time limit or completion date is noted in section #5 of the I-20 issued by the college or university the student attends in the United States. If additional time is required to complete your educational objective, you must apply for a program extension at the International Student & Scholar Services office before the completion date on your current I-20. SEVIS notifies the International Student & Scholar Services office of all students within forty-five (45) days of their completion date and the office will notify you that you must meet with the Director or Assistant Director immediately to discuss your situation. If you fail to apply for an extension before your I-20 expires (e.g. Before the completion date on your I-20) you will fail to maintain your student status and will have to apply for reinstatement.
Your duration of status will be extended when you receive authorization for practical training upon completion of your degree requirements, when you receive authorization to continue your studies at a different degree level, or when you complete the F-1 transfer procedure to attend another school. If you inform the Director or the Assistant Director of International Student & Scholar Services of your intention to terminate your studies before you complete your degree, you are required to leave the USA within fifteen (15) days. If you terminate your studies without informing the International Student & Scholar Services staff, you will be required to leave the country immediately. It is your responsibility to know these requirements and comply with them.
When you have completed all of your authorized studies or your practical training, you are allowed sixty (60) additional days to prepare for your departure from the United States. At the end of that time, you must depart from the United States unless you have made other legal arrangements to remain here. The restrictions of IIRIRA apply to all nonimmigrants who overstay their legal time limit here and can result in the nonimmigrant being forbidden to return to the United States for anywhere from three (3) to ten (10) years.
Nonimmigrant students are required by United States regulations to maintain a valid passport at all times. The procedures for passport renewal differ from country to country. Information about passport renewal can be obtained from each country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. or from consulate offices throughout the United States. The United States has agreements with some countries to consider passports valid for reentry to the home country for six (6) months beyond the date of expiration. Each student’s embassy or consulate will provide this information. Unexpired United States visas in expired passports can be used until the visas expire; both the expired passport, which contains the valid visa and the new valid passport must be presented at the time of entry. Students should retain all expired passports for their records.
A student who is transferring from one educational institution to another without leaving the United States and who has maintained his or her legal status must notify his or her current school’s International Student & Scholar Services office of the intent to transfer and provide a copy of his or her admission letter from the school to which he or she has been admitted and to which he or she will be transferring. Upon notification, the international student office at the student’s current school will update the student’s SEVIS record to show the intent to “transfer out”, the name of the school to which the student intends to transfer and a release date. The current school will retain control of the student’s SEVIS record until the release date is reached. When this date is reached the new school may issue an I-20 to the student. The student must report to the designated school official at the new school within 15 days of the program start date on the new school’s I-20 to complete the transfer process.
Students who choose to leave the United States between school transfers will follow the same procedure above and must use their new I-20 form from their new school to obtain a new F-1 visa (if necessary). The student must reenter the United States using the new school’s I-20. This reentry will automatically notify USCIS/ICE of the school transfer.
CHANGE OF DEGREE LEVEL
Students who continue studies at the same college or university but who change levels; for example, Bachelor’s degree to Master’s degree or Master’s degree to Ph.D., and who remain in the United States between the completion of the first degree and start of the second must complete a process much like the school transfer process. Students who have maintained legal status throughout the first degree must report to the International Student & Scholar Services office within fifteen (15) days of the program start date on the new I-20 with the following documents: (1) passport, (2) I-94 Departure Card, (3) SEVIS I-20 for completed degree, (4) SEVIS I-20 for new degree.
Students who plan to leave the United States between the end of one-degree program and the beginning of the new level program should follow the same process and obtain a new visa (if necessary) and reenter the United States using the new I-20 for the new program of study.
FORMS OF EMPLOYMENT
As a benefit of F-1 Status students may accept on-campus employment for no more than twenty (20) hours per week while school is in session. They may work full-time during school vacations, 40 hours per week. Students will need to obtain a United States Social Security number before beginning on-campus employment and will need an offer of employment from an on campus employer and a letter from the International Student & Scholar Services office addressed to the Social Security Administration verifying employment eligibility. At the beginning of each fall the ISSS Office will bring students to the Social Secrurity Office in Batavia, NY to apply for Social Security Numbers. Anyone who does not apply at this time must apply in person at the Social Security Administration office in Batavia without transportation from ISSS.
- STUDENTS MAY NEVER WORK OFF-CAMPUS WITHOUT PRIOR AUTHORIZATION FROM THE DIRECTOR OR ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL STUDENT& SCHOLAR SERVICES OFFICE OR THE U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICE.
Practical training work authorization allows students with F-1 status to accept part-time or full-time employment that is directly related to their fields of study and which requires the student’s level of education. Students must have completed one academic year (2 semesters) of full-time study in F/1 status to be eligible for this benefit.
There are two (2) categories of practical training. They are:
CURRICULAR PRACTICAL TRAINING: This category allows for employment, which is part of the curriculum or program of study. PAID or UNPAID internships for which the student is registered and will receive university credit are considered to be “Curricular Practical Training.” Application for Curricular Practical Training is made through the Director or Assistant Director of International Student & Scholar Services. If the application is approved, a new SEVIS I-20 is created showing the length of time for which the employment is authorized, the employer’s name, the place of employment and the field of study on the third page. There is no limit to the amount of Curricular Practical Training a student may have but Optional Practical Training is not allowed to any student who has had more than one year of full-time Curricular Practical Training. If you are applying for any type of internship you must come to the ISSS office before completing the internship application!
OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING: The three (3) most commonly used types of optional practical training available are:
Pre-completion OPT (meaning before completion of your degree)
- Part-time while school is in session
- Part-time OR Full-time during school vacations
Post-completion OPT (meaning after completion of your degree)
- Full-time and must begin within 60 days after program end date
17-Month Extension OPT
- Full-time ONLY for graduates of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) degree who are currently participating in post-completion OPT. The student must have an offer of employment from an employer who is registered in the E-Verify Program. Ideally, the application should be made 90 days before the completion of the 12 month Post-completion OPT to allow adequate time for the STEM OPT to be approved but application MUST be made before the Post-completion OPT work authorization expires.
A total of twelve (12) months of Full-time Optional Practical Training is allowed to F-1 students for each degree level. A student who completes OPT during or at the end of a Bachelor’s degree will be eligible for another 12 months of OPT when he or she changes to a higher educational level (e.g. changes to a Master’s degree level). An additional 17 months may be granted for students who have completed certain “STEM” degrees, but further paperwork must be initiated and completed by the student.
Optional Practical training is granted by the USCIS through a written application that is mailed to a USCIS processing center. If the application is approved, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) containing the approved dates of employment is mailed to the applicant. A recommendation for OPT by the Director or Assistant Director of the International Student & Scholar Services Office through the SEVIS system is required before the application can be mailed. The waiting period for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card from the time of the application is received by the USCIS Service Center is generally about three (3) months and applications should be made well in advance of the time that employment is to begin. Students may apply for work authorization up to 90 days before the requested employment start date or 90 days before their program end date and may not begin working until the card arrives. Students must apply before 60 days after their program end date, which is noted on #5 of the student’s I-20. An offer of employment is not necessary to apply for Optional Practical Training (except for the 17-month extension) but the employment must be in the student’s field of study. Students must update the ISSS office with any change in employment information or contact information.
Please make an appointment with the Director or Assistant Director of International Student & Scholar Services to inquire more about these employment benefits.
TRAVELING OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES
Students who are planning to depart the United States temporarily, for example, during school vacations, should meet with the Director or Assistant Director of the International Student & Scholar Services Office at least two weeks prior to departure to assure that the documents needed for reentry are valid. A valid SEVIS I-20 endorsed on page three each academic year by a Designated School Official (DSO), a valid F-1 visa (except for Canadians) and a valid passport are required for reentry into the United States. A student who is planning to visit a country other than the home country or country of permanent residence should contact the embassy of the country to be visited to see if a visitor or transit visa or any other document is required for entry.
Students who are maintaining status who wish to travel to countries contiguous to the U.S. (Canada or Mexico) or certain islands in the Caribbean for thirty (30) or fewer days are not required to have a valid (unexpired) U.S. nonimmigrant visa to reenter the United States. They must present their valid, endorsed 1-20s and valid 1-94 cards with their passports at the border to re-enter the United States.
Some students will be required to obtain a visitor visa to enter the country they wish to visit. Applications for visitor visas for Canada and a list of countries whose citizens are required to have a Canadian visitor visa to enter Canada are available at the International Student & Scholar Services office.
MAINTAINING LEGAL RECORDS AT SUNY GENESEO
USCIS and ICE require SUNY Geneseo to maintain certain records on all F-1 students. Much of that information is collected as part of the application and admission process but some of the information is collected after students arrive. We must keep photocopies of:
- The picture page of the passport
- The page showing your F-1 visa
- The passport page with the entry stamp received at the U.S. border or at the U.S. airport
- The I-94 Departure Card
- All I-20s.
Each time a new document is secured during a student’s course of study it must be photocopied as well. All original documents are returned to students as soon as they are copied.
Any change of local address, permanent home address, or phone number must be reported to the International Student & Scholar Services office within ten (10) days as well as any change in name, nationality, emergency contacts or other basic data so the “Visa Student Permanent Record Sheet” may be updated immediately. The SEVIS system requires that we report the full-time study status and current address of each student within the first thirty (30) days of each new semester. Address changes reported on SEVIS fulfill the USCIS address change notification requirement.
IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT
*** SEVIS *** INFORMATION
SEVIS, which is the acronym for the STUDENT AND EXCHANGE VISITOR INFORMATION SYSTEM, has been designated under the U. S. Patriot Act as an essential part of homeland security. It is operated by the United States Department of Homeland Security and it has two (2) areas of implementation responsibility:
1) Creation and publication of the specific benefits and limitations of F, J and M visas
2) An electronic database for the collection, monitoring and reporting of information regarding holders of F, J and M visas.
SEVIS AND REGULATION REQUIREMENTS:
SEVIS requires educational institutions, i.e. SUNY Geneseo, to monitor and electronically report changes and updates in “Personal Events” or “Academic Events” for ALL international students. You are required by SEVIS to report to the International Student & Scholar Services office within ten (10) days and the International Student & Scholar Services office is required to report to SEVIS within twenty-one (21) days any changes in these events:
SEVIS requires new students who are transferring from another SEVIS approved school to report to the International Student Services & Scholar Office within fifteen (15) days of the program start date, and requires ALL students to report to the ISSS Office within thirty (30) days of the first day of classes. The ISSS office must report registration for ALL new and continuing students within 30 days of the start of classes.
There are only a few exceptions to the full-time study requirement. The U.S. Government limits the reasons and duration of time allowed for dropping below a full-time course load. You must consult with the Director or Assistant Director BEFORE dropping below twelve (12) hours and must be able to provide legitimate documentation to support your request. These are the acceptable reasons: