F-1 Immigration Regulations and Legal Matters
You should keep your passport valid at all times. Your passport is your own government's permit for you to leave and re-enter your own country. Most passports contain an expiration date.
Renewing your passport:
Contact your own consulate or embassy in the U.S. to renew your passport. The officials there will tell you what forms and fees, if any, are required. You can find out the contact information for your embassy by going to: http://www.embassy.org/embassies/
The visa stamp put in your passport by the U.S. Consulate is to enter the U.S. It does not show how long you can stay here. It can expire while you are in the US, but must be valid to enter the US! To determine how long you can stay in the US, see your I-20.
Renewing your U.S. visa for re-entry:
It is not possible to renew an F-1 visa while you are within the borders of the U.S. If the visa in your passport has expired and you are planning totravel outside theUnited States of America, it is necessary to renew your visa. You may renew your visa by visiting the U.S. Consulate in the country that you are traveling to.
Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)
The I-94 shows that you have been admitted to the U.S. The I-94 is usually stapled onto the U.S. visa page of your passport. It contains an eleven-digit identifying number (called your departure number) the USCIS uses to keep track of your arrival and departure from the United States. The USCIS sometimes refers to the "departure" number as the "admission" number.There should be a date stamped on the I-94 indicating the date that you arrived in the U.S. You should also see that "D/S" is written below the date stamp. This "D/S" indicates "duration of status" which means that you are admitted for the length of your program of study, plus any period of Optional Practical Training, plus 60 days.
The I-20 is issued for the program and level of study you are presently pursuing. If you graduate before the completion date indicated on your I-20 you are considered to have completed your program of study and your I-20 is no longer valid. The third page of the I-20 contains spaces for information about your employment authorization and travel signatures by a Designated School Official (DSO) at Florida Gulf Coast University as well as notations by a USCIS official.
All international students on the F-1 visa are required to maintain legal status while enrolled in an academic program in the US. You must comply with, and not violate, certain regulations in order to maintain your status. Violating your status can result in complications which may prevent you from continuing as a student, may disqualify you from certain benefits of your F-1 status, and may require the filing of immigration forms and paying immigration fees. Before you make any changes to your plan of academic study, employment, travel out of the US, etc., be certain you will not violate your immigrationstatus.
Florida Gulf Coast University must comply with USCIS regulations that ensure proper processing of international student admission and activities. Because we are responsible for compliance, we may ask students for certain information and if requested, provide certain information to the USCIS. We must:
1 Ensure international students meet all admission requirements
2 Verify the accuracy of documents
3 Process and authorize documents
4 Maintain records on international students
5 Maintain current information on international students: address, enrollment status, visa,
employment, practical training, change of status, etc.
6 Sign I-20’s, authorize all international student activities and verify student as “in status”
As an international student you have certain responsibilities with USCIS and the university. Meeting these requirements should prevent unexpected problems. During your stay in the U.S. in F-1 status, you are subject to many complex immigration law and regulations that relate to your legal status here. Designated School Officials at ISO are available to assist you and answer your questions about your immigration status, but it is your responsibility to know and abide by the law in order to maintain valid legal status. It is to your benefit to make sure to maintain legal status throughout the duration of your stay in the U.S.
Plan ahead and allow adequate time to process documents. Generally, ISO may need days or several weeks to process paperwork and immigration forms related to your immigration status, change of status, extension to your visa expiration dates, practical training, travel out of country, etc.
IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO PREPARE YOUR DOCUMENTS AND CONTACT OUR OFFICE WELL IN ADVANCE WHEN YOU NEED AUTHORIZATIONS BY THE DSO.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a software program that tracks and monitors all international students enrolled and assures their compliance with USCIS rules and regulationsduring their studies in the U.S. SEVIS has very specific and very strict requirements for updating the data it contains. The guidelines below are for maintaining your status while in the US. Failure to follow these guidelines could result in your F-1 status being cancelled. We don’t want you to lose your F-1 status, so please help the International Services Office to keep your information updated.
Reduced Course Load is only available for:
Changing Your Major
Many students, both U.S. and international, discover that they are not happy with, or not interested in, their current major. After careful consideration and consultation with your professors, academic advisor and possibly family members, you may decide to change your major. If so, you should consult ISO. International students are permitted to change majors and you may require a new I-20 or other immigration processing as a result. Do not change your major without notifying ISO.
Concurrent Enrollment in Courses at another School
You may desire, or need, to enroll in a course at another school. There are several other colleges in the Fort Myers area at which you may need to take a course. You might also want to enroll for a course during the summer at another institution, elsewhere in the US. In most cases, this is permitted. However, you must consult with ISO and receive DSO authorization prior to enrolling at another institution. You should also consult with your academic advisor to be certain that the course is suitable for transfer credit to FGCU.
In some unforeseen cases, an international student may find that he or she will not complete the degree on schedule. Sometimes this happens due to difficulty in transferring credit, medical emergencies or other factors. If you think you will not be completing your degree by the date shown on your I-20 (# 5), consult ISO and your academic advisor immediately. You must apply to the USCIS for Program Extension no less than 45 days prior to your expected program completion date.
You must maintain your visa status (i.e.: comply with all USCIS requirements of your specific visa category). If you "fall out of status" (i.e.: fail to comply with USCIS requirements) you will need to see the DSO right away. You may be required to file additional USCIS forms and documents, pay immigration processing fees, suspend studies or leave the US. You will be advised according to your situation.
If you have immigration related problems you absolutely must see us. It is important to keep us informed about your situations well in advance so that we can advise you and assist in resolving any concerns. Immigration does not process documents quickly and your case will not receive priority because it is last minute notice! We will assist you in every way possible however, the DSO and FGCU cannot dictate Immigration law or policy, and cannot control the activities and decisions of US Embassies, Consulates and Visa Offices abroad.
All students in F-1 status must have a signature/endorsement on page 3 of their I-20 from Designated School Official (DSO) at the Office of International Services before leaving the United States if they intend to re-enter the United States. The signature is valid for up to twelve months and multiple entries.
Inside the U.S.
Travel anywhere in the US is permitted without DSO authorization. The US is a very large and diverse country with many historical, cultural and memorable things to see and do. You should consider including some US travel in your time as a student in order to take full advantage of experiencing US people and culture. Travel can be expensive and require some planning. Some students make their own travel plans, with friends or family. Others may want to use the services of a travel agent. If you do plan to travel, let someone know your plans. Take care of any personal business, especially with FGCU or Immigration, so you don't miss deadlines. It is helpful to inform ISO of your plans, and provide a forwarding address if you will be out of the area for some time. If you need assistance and or information on how to make your travel plans, ISO can refer you to good sources. You may want to take advantage of international student travel discount cards and services. The International Club is also another source for short, local travel opportunities.
Outside the U.S.
You may want to, or need to, leave the US during vacations or holidays. If you are an F-1 student you should not leave the US without being authorized to travel and re-enter by the DSO. Please schedule an appointment to see the DSO, bring your current, original FGCU I-20 to ISO for authorization. You must be maintaining your F-1 status to be authorized for travel. We recommend you have the DSO authorize your I-20 each time you travel. Travel authorization is valid for one year only, so remember to update this authorization every 3 months (due to changes after September 11). Do not wait until the day before you leave the US to contact ISO for travel authorization. Plan ahead and allow at least 2 weeks for DSO authorization. A student who attempts to return to the US without an authorized I-20 may be denied admission to the country at the Port of Entry.
If the visa is valid for only one entry, or has expired, a new visa can be obtained from the U.S. Consulate in the country you are visiting by presenting evidence of financial support and either your current I-20 or a new one as appropriate. ISO suggests that students take official transcripts with them. You should allow enough time to obtain a new visa.
You should go to http://www.travel.state.gov/ for requirements to obtain a new visa at a specific consulate or embassy. If you have further questions about visa renewal, contact ISO. Exceptions to this rule are for visits to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands. For such trips you will need only a passport, your I-20 with travel signature, and a current Form I-94. This does not apply to nationals of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria.You should consult the embassy of the country you are visiting to see if you need a visitor's visa for that country. You can reach all embassies at: http://www.embassy.org/embassies/
Florida Gulf Coast University is approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to admit and enroll international students. The Designated School Official (DSO) is a university official who has been authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to admit, enroll and monitor all activities of international students. The DSO is responsible for ensuring that FGCU complies with all immigration regulations. The DSO works with the Office of Admissions to recruit and admit international students to FGCU, and is responsible for all international student affairs once the student has been admitted and enrolled in the university. The DSO signs all I-20's for admission and authorizes international students for such things as: employment, travel outside of the U.S., re-entry, practical training, school transfer, etc. throughout the time you are an F-1 student in the US. Remember that many of the opportunities you may want to participate in will require approval and authorization by the DSO. The DSO’s are located in the International Services Office. The DSO’s for FGCU are located at the ISO (Reed Hall 122).
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is a branch of the US Federal Government, under the Department of Homeland Security, that administers all Congressional laws regarding immigration and temporary entrance into the US by nationals of other countries.
Generally there is no need for you to contact the USCIS on your own, unless we advise you to. However, you may want to contact them for information, especially if it is not a matter that FGCU would handle. The local USCIS office that you would contact in Tampa is:
U.S. Citizenship and ImmigrationService
*Office hours are from Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. More detailed information can be found at: http://www.uscis.gov/
Some students may needto change their visa status (depending on the type of visa you have). If you are not on an F-1 visa, or have been advised that before turning 21 years old you must change your non-immigrant status in order to study in the U.S., you may need to change status from your current visa to F-1. We will advise you of any situation that requires you to change your status.
Change of Status (COS) may be restricted by certain deadlines so contact us early for advice, at least 2 weeks before any designated expiration date. An application for change of status includes completing certain immigration documents and a fee of: ($300 for I-539form to change yor status from one non-immigrant category to another non-immigrant status)with the USCIS. The DSO must process and sign your application. There is a waiting period, generally no more than 4 months, for USCIS to process your application. You will be notified by USCIS when they have received your application and also will be notified of the decision on your application. Pending USCIS final decision you may be restricted from participating in certain activities. ISO will again advise you of your responsibilities related to your change of status.
Each student may have special circumstances that either require certain immigration processing or are regulated by immigration laws. Therefore, in order to learn more about the process of changing your status to the F-1 student category, please schedule an appointment with the Assistant Director of ISO. FGCU does not provide legal advice, only advice related to a student’s educational status as it relates to immigration. Students may be advised by our office to consult with immigration attorneys if necessary. You may consult with us first to determine if we can provide the appropriate immigration documents and processing before you proceed to contact either USCIS directly or an immigration attorney.
You have maintained your non-immigrant status and have a valid I-94 and passport, if passport is required.
Proof of financial support for the first year of studies and for any dependents in the U.S.
Cover letter addressed to USCIS requesting the change of status, explaining your immigration history and why you entered the U.S. with a different status, why the change is needed, and why it is important to study at GT and what you will do with the degree in the future
Copy of I-94 (front and back)
Proof of current legal status (if on dependent visa, provide photocopies of primary visa holder's legal status) such as (a) I-94; and (b) I-797, DS-2019, or I-20
Photocopies of I-94's (front and back) for any dependents who will be changing status with you
Receipt for $200 SEVIS fee - payable by credit card at: http://www.fmjfee.com/
If you are currently in a status that does not permit employment, you may not be employed as an F-1 until you have received notification from the USCIS that your change of status is approved. Since this process can take several months, it is essential that you apply for the change of status as soon as possible. You will not be able to receive funds from the school until your status is changed to F-1.
Outlined below are some of the more common situations students may experience.
Renewal of Expired Visa
Know the date your visa expires. We recommend you keep your visa valid at least 6 months into the future. While you can remain in the US with an expired visa if you are on a current I-20, have a valid I-94 card, and are maintaining your F-1 status. However there may be a reason in the future for you to leave the US and return. If your visa is expired, you generally will not be able to return to the US without a new visa. (F-1 students may actually travel to Canada, Mexico and island countries contiguous to the US for no less than 30 days with a current I-20, under the Automatic Visa Renewal program with an expired visa). Visas cannot be renewed from within the US. Visas may be renewed at US Embassies abroad. If you plan to travel home at some point in the future and your visa will be expiring soon, you may need to apply for a new visa at the US Embassy in your home country. Another option is to travel to a third country (country other than your home country which has a US Embassy) to apply for a new visa. This option is referred to as Third Country National applying at Border Posts. While a border post embassy may renew your visa, they may also to refuse to process your application based on their lack of knowledge of the circumstances in your home country. In all cases, to renew your visa you will need a new I-20 issued by FGCU. And you will need to provide FGCU with an updated Financial Statement before we can issue you a new I-20.
Replacing Lost or Stolen Immigration Documents
Treat all of your official immigration documents with care; they are your most important evidence of your permission to be in the US. If you lose your passport, I-20, I-94 card or other immigration documents, contact ISO. You can replace your passport through your home government’s embassy in the US. US immigration forms can usually be replaced also by filing the appropriate forms and application fees. Without all proper documents you may be restricted from certain activities (i.e.: employment, travel and re-entry to US, admission to another school, etc.).
Reinstatement to student status is needed when the student has not maintained his/her immigration status. Failing to maintain status can happen in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
Please make an appointment with theInternational Services. The Assistant Director of International Services will assist the student with the following:
Travel and Re-entry
It is very important to note that if you are out of status and travel, there is no guarantee that you will be permitted to reenter the US. The decision on whether or not you are able to reenter is made by the USCIS officer at the port of entry. ISO will prepare you as best as we can, but we cannot guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter.
The Department of Homeland Security has just published regulations implementing a $100 SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) fee for international students and Exchange visitors (visiting scholars). The US government [DHS] is imposing this fee in order to help fund SEVIS, as authorized by the 1996 legislation establishing the SEVIS program. Florida Gulf Coast Universitylike all U.S. colleges and universities authorized to admit F-1 and J-1 students and J-1 Exchange Visitors, has been required to participate in the SEVIS system since January, 2003.
All new international students and exchange visitors will have to pay the fee before obtaining an F-1 or J-1 visa. The fee does not affect people applying for other types of visas (H1-B, etc.) The fee only affects students and exchange visitors whose I-20 or DS-2019 forms for "initial attendance" or "begin a new program" are issued after September 1, 2004.
Continuing students and continuing Exchange Visitors, in general, are not subject to the SEVIS fee. Students and exchange visitors will be able to pay the fee by submitting Form I-901 (Fee Remittance for Certain F, M and J Non-immigrants) either through the internet using a credit card (http://www.fmjfee.com/) or through the mail using a check or money order.
For more information, please contact the International Servicesat (239) 590-7925.
SEVIS is the Student and Exchange Visitors Information System. SEVIS is an Internet-based database system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security that is designed to provide users with access to accurate and current information on nonimmigrant foreign students, exchange visitors and their dependents. SEVIS-approved schools and exchange visitor programs will use SEVIS to issue visas and track extensions, transfers, authorized employment, reduced course loads and other reportable information. SEVIS simply requires that the federal government maintain this information in a Internet-based computer system rather than in paper files by individual exchange visitor programs, schools, colleges and universities. SEVIS applies only to those nonimmigrant aliens who are in the country on either a F, J or M visa.
SEVIS database system has links to all US embassies and consulates, all ports of entry in this country, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, authorized employees of exchange visitor programs and authorized employees of every academic institution that sponsors international students and scholars. At Florida Gulf Coast University, the Designated School Officials (DSO), who have access to SEVIS, are located in the Office of International Services.
The information that the University provides to the federal government through SEVIS is information that the Florida Gulf Coast University is required to maintain and report to the federal government regarding foreign students and visitors. At the beginning of each term, the University is required to report to SEVIS the academic status of all F and J visa holders at the University, including whether (a) the student/visitor is enrolled, dropped below a full course of study without prior DSO authorization or failed to enroll; (b) the current physical address where the student/visitor and dependents reside; and (c) the start date of the student's next term.
In addition, it is expected that the University provides updates to the federal government, within 21 days of the following reportable events:
Responsible Officer (RO) and Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO): The term used by the Department of State to refer to the person(s) who administer the "J-1 (Exchange Visitor)" program in the university. The international student advisor usually assumes this role.
B-2 Status: Means that a person is classified and admitted into the U.S. as a "tourist" and his/her principal activity is for pleasure not for educational purposes. The authorized stay is generally given for about 6 months.
F-1 Status: Means that a student is classified and authorized to be in the U.S. for the principal purpose of pursuing a full course of study at an academic or language institution in the U.S. There are sections of the law and regulations that define what F-1 students can and cannot do while in the U.S. and students must abide by them in order to maintain their legal status.
F-2 Status: The nonimmigrant visa classification of dependents (spouse and/or children only) of F-1 students. There are sections of the law and regulations that define what person(s) on F-2 status can and cannot do while in the U.S. and that person(s) must abide by them to maintain legal status in the U.S.
J-1 Status: Means that a person is classified and admitted in the U.S. as an exchange visitor and authorized to pursue his/her principal activity at an academic institution in the U.S. as detailed in his/her DS-2019. There are sections of the law and regulations that define what J-1 exchange visitors can and cannot do while in the U.S. and the exchange visitor(s) must abide by them to maintain legal status.
J-2 Status: The visa classification of dependents (spouse and/or children only) of J-1 students. There are sections of the law and regulations that define what person(s) on J-2 status can and cannot do while in the U.S. and that person(s) must abide by them to maintain legal status in the U.S.
Visa Waiver: A person entering the U.S. under a visa waiver means he/she is admitted into the U.S. as a "tourist" but without any actual visa stamp issued on his/her passport. Persons in this category, who may be issued a green I-94 with "W-T" noted on it, are allowed to remain in the U.S. for no more than three months or 90 days. NOTE: Persons admitted under this classification cannot apply to change status in the U.S.
Duration of Status (D/S): A notation specified on the Form I-94 and refers to the period during which the bearer of the I-94 is authorized to remain in the U.S. until he/she completes his/her program of study in an educational institution, and any periods of authorized practical training, plus 60 days, if still applicable, to depart the U.S.
Change of Status (COS): A Department of Homeland Security/United State Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) procedure through which persons in an eligible non-immigrant visa classification may apply to change to an F-1 visa classification in order to pursue a full course of study in the U.S. and be eligible for F-1 benefits. (NOTE: Persons admitted in C, D, K, and M visa classifications and the Visa Waiver program are NOT eligible to request a change of status to F-1 in the U.S.)