Essential Immigration Information
Maintaining Your F-1/J-1 Visa Status
F-1/J-1 visa students must comply with the regulations stipulated by the United States Bureau of Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS). All students are responsible for maintaining their immigration status. Briefly, you must follow these ten regulations:
- Complete the USCIS Intake Form provided at the beginning of the school year and return it to the International Student Advisor within ten (10) days of the start of classes.
- Register for a full course of study each term (except summer term when attendance is optional). A student enrolled for three or more units per semester is considered a full-time student.
- Make normal progress towards completing the degree program as noted on your I-20. Normal progress at Puget Sound is defined as the successful completion of three (3.00) units per semester, and cumulative GPA of 2.00 or above, 3.00 for graduate students.
- Accept on-campus employment only with permission from the Director of International Programs or the International Student Advisor. You must not accept off-campus employment during your first year at Puget Sound, and only with permission from USCIS during subsequent years.
- F-1 visa students must not transfer from one school to another without first securing permission from the Director of International Programs at your old school. If you wish to transfer schools in order to move to the next level of education, you must have the International Student Advisor transfer your SEVIS record to the new institution.
- Attend the school specified on the I-20 for at least one day before initiating any transfer procedures.
- Make certain that all information on the I-20/DS-2019 is current and complete. If anything is incorrect, contact the International Student Advisor immediately.
- Find a safe place for your passport and I-20/DS-2019, since these are your legal identification. Obtain a Washington State ID Card, so that you won't have to carry your passport and I-20/DS-2019 with you.
- Report any change of address to International Student Advisor and to USCIS within 10 days of the change.
- *Keep your passport valid at all times.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
All F1 and J1 visa students at the University of Puget Sound are enrolled in the USCIS’ Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an electronic reporting system that is required by the U.S. government. The university is required to report information about international and exchange students and scholars to the USCIS on a regular basis, including, but not limited to:
- information as listed on the current I-20 or DS-2019;
- U.S. and foreign address of the student or exchange visitor;
- visa classification and date of visa issuance;
- date and place of entry into the U.S.;
- data generated by standard procedures (e.g. extension of stay, school transfer, practical training);
- academic information for the student, including enrollment information, number of units completed per semester, grade point average, and failure to enroll;
- other failures to maintain status;
- graduation or completion of a program;
- disciplinary action as a result of a student who is convicted of a crime.
For more details about the SEVIS system and a complete list of information that the university is required to report to the USCIS, please contact the International Student Advisor.
If you have questions about immigration matters, please make sure you follow the advice below.
- Never go to the USCIS office or contact the USCIS without first consulting the International Student Advisor.
- The International Student Advisor is the first person to contact when you have any problem with your immigration status. In fact, the International Student Advisor attempts to help students who have immigration problems. It is true that International Programs is required to report students to USCIS who fail to maintain their F-1 status at Puget Sound. This is required in order to retain the university’s permit to admit F-1 students. It is very important to note, however, that International Programs only informs USCIS when necessary and has no power to enforce its laws.
- Do not rely on friends as a source of advice on immigration matters when faced with serious problems.
- Do talk with the International Student Advisor about the possibility of consulting an attorney who specializes in immigration law.
Length of Study Programs for Students in F-1 Status
This information will provide you with a basic understanding of (1) the limitations placed by regulations of the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) upon the length of time you may be enrolled in a program of study and (2) the procedures you must follow if you require additional time to complete program requirements. Consult with the International Student Advisor if you believe the time limitations placed upon your study are insufficient to allow you to complete your current program.
Duration of Status
Most international students at Puget Sound have been admitted to the U.S. for "duration of status," which is defined as:
- The time during which you are pursuing a full course of study and making normal progress toward completing that course;
- The time you may be working in authorized "practical training" after you complete studies (if you qualify and are so authorized);
- 60 days to depart the country after program completion.
The USCIS grants duration of status to F-1 students by entering the notation "D/S" in the upper right corners of both the "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status" (USCIS Form I-20) and the "Departure Record" (USCIS Form I-94).
Limitations on Duration of Status
The "completion of studies" date in item #5 on the most recent USCIS Form I-20 you were issued is the date by which the USCIS expects you to complete requirements for your current program. If you are unable to complete your program of study by that date, consult with the International Student Advisor at least 30 days before reaching the I-20 completion date. If you are eligible for an extension of your time limit, the Advisor will assist you to comply with extension requirements.
You may apply for an extension of your study program if:
- You have not yet exceeded the time limitation placed upon your study by the expected completion of studies date in item #5 on your I-20;
- You have continuously maintained lawful F-1 status;
- The delay in completing program requirements has been caused by compelling academic reasons (such as changes of major field or research topics, or unexpected research problems), or compelling and documented medical reasons. Delays in completing program requirements which are caused by academic probation or suspension are not acceptable reasons for extension of a program of study.
If your completion of studies date has expired or if you do not meet the eligibility requirements to apply for program extension, you may need to apply for "reinstatement" to lawful F-1 status. In this case, immediate consultation with the International Student Advisor is necessary.
Application Deadline for Program Extension
You must apply for an extension within the 30-day period before the completion date on your I-20. You should contact the International Student Advisor at least 30 days before your I-20 completion date so that you will have sufficient time to prepare your application. If your completion date has already passed, please contact the International Student Advisor immediately.
For information on application procedures, contact the International Student Advisor to make an appointment.
Failure to Comply with Program Extension Regulations
It is your responsibility to comply with all immigration regulations which apply to F-1 students, including the extension of study program regulations. The Office of International Programs will assist you to do this. If you fail to comply with your responsibilities, you may not be eligible to continue your studies in the U.S., or apply for benefits provided to F-1 students (on-campus employment, scholarships, assistantships, school transfer, practical training, etc.). In some situations, you may be subject to deportation.
Additional information on your permission to remain in the U.S., as well as counseling and assistance, is available from the Office of International Programs. The International Student Advisor and the Director of International Programs will be pleased to offer information, counseling and assistance on all federal regulations related to maintaining your student status.
It is important that you have valid immigration paperwork at all times during your stay in the U.S. The USCIS requires you to carry you passport, I-94 and visa with you at all times. You will be fined if the USCIS discovers you do not have the documents with you. Some students are not comfortable carrying their passport with them, but rather prefer to keep it in a secure place at home. These students carry a photocopy of their immigration paperwork in their wallet. They may still be fined if they are stopped, but they weigh that risk against the risk losing their passport, or having it stolen.
With certain exceptions, any alien applying for a U.S. visa or seeking admission at a U.S. port of entry must have a passport. The most common exceptions encountered in educational institutions are Canadian nationals who are entering the U.S. from within the Western Hemisphere, and natives and residents of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands who have proceeded in direct and continuous transit from the Trust Territory to the U.S.
The passports of all non-immigrants must be kept valid at all times.
Foreign passports may be renewed in the U.S. by the designated representatives of a foreign government's embassy in Washington, D.C., or by officials of the consulates located in various U.S. cities. If you need to revalidate your passport, you should consult your embassy or consulate to determine what procedures are required to secure validation. Among other things, you may need a letter from an official of your educational institution, certifying your status. The Office of International Programs or the Registrars can provide this for you.
Visa Requirements for Non-Immigrants
With certain exceptions, all aliens applying for admission to the U.S. must hold valid visas. The exceptions to this requirement are generally the same as the exceptions to the passport requirement.
A person's visa need not remain valid once he or she has used it to gain admission to the U.S. As long as you have "Duration of Status" and your I-20 is still valid, you can remain in the U.S. with an expired Visa. Travel to Canada and Mexico with an expired visa is permitted, however if you travel internationally outside of North America, you will be required to renew your visa before re-entry.
Note: Canadian nationals entering the U.S. from outside the Western Hemisphere must have a passport, but not a visa.
If you need to renew your visa, do it at home! You cannot renew it in the U.S. While it may be possible for you to renew it in Canada or Mexico, you may have a difficult time if you try to renew it in a country other than your own. In addition to proving your eligibility for an F-1 visa, you may have to convince the consul that you have a legitimate reason for making your renewal application outside your own country. In many instances the consul in the third country will find it necessary to check with the consular office in your place of residence and home country, this can be costly in terms of time and charges if information is requested by cable rather than by diplomatic mail. If your visa renewal request is denied, you may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S.
Renew your visa at home!
The documents needed for visa renewal are a valid passport, a current photograph, a valid I-20 signed by a Designated School Official, and proof you are able to finance your education. It is also suggested that you carry a copy of your academic transcript and proof of English proficiency. Contact the International Student Advisor if you have questions.
For easier replacement in case of loss or theft, make copies of all immigration paperwork upon arrival at Puget Sound.
Automatic Revalidation of Visas
The holder of an expired F-1 or J-1 visa may be allowed to re-enter the U.S. provided he:
- is applying for re-admission to the U.S. after an absence not exceeding 30 days solely in contiguous territory or adjacent islands other than Cuba;
- has maintained and intends to resume his status as an F-1 student and is re-entering the U.S. prior to the expiration of the previously authorized stay;
- presents either a currently valid Form I-94 or a currently valid Form I-20/DS-2019 issued by the school he is authorized to attend and which contains the expiration date of his previously authorized stay;
- is in possession of a valid passport;
- does not require the authorization of the temporary admission to the U.S. under Section 212(d) (3) of the Act (a provision for waiver of excludability).
- is not a citizen of a "state sponsor of terrorism," as that term is defined by U.S. government.
Furthermore, a person who entered the U.S. in a classification other than F-1 student, but whose status was subsequently changed to F-1 student, may be considered to have his previous visa automatically revalidated and converted to an F-1 visa if he meets the conditions stated above.
Under these circumstances an F-1 student whose visa has expired not need to apply for a new or renewed visa at a consular post outside the U.S. Contact the International Student Advisor if your visa has expired but you would like to travel to Canada, Mexico, or territories contiguous to the U.S.
Arrival-departure Record (I-94)
Every alien entering the U.S. temporarily (with a few exceptions, such as Canadian tourists and some Mexican nationals with U.S. border crossing cards) is issued a white card that is called an Arrival-Departure Record, or Form I-94. It is usually stapled into the alien's passport on the same page as the one on which the visa has been stamped. Some ports of entry now issue I-94s which can be read electronically, and may not be on the standard white 3x5 paper.
The Form I-94 shows the alien's immigration classification and endorsements made by immigration officers indicating the place and date of admission to the U.S., the initial period of stay authorized, and any extensions of stay authorized. The I-94 is an important document that should be kept with your passport at all times.
Replacement of Lost Form I-94
To replace a Form I-94 which has been lost or mutilated, apply to USCIS/INS on Form I-102. This is subject to a fee. Check with the International Student Advisor for an application and the most recent application fee. (Some USCIS/INS officials will accept a photocopy of your lost I-94 submitted with Form I-102, which may make the replacement quicker.)
Important Immigration Procedures for International Students
School Transfer Procedures
It is not uncommon in the United States for college students to transfer from one school to another, either to pursue a new level of study (for example, a master's degree after completion of a bachelor's degree) or perhaps just to complete the same degree at another institution. If you transfer to another school, or even remain at your present school but change your level of study, you must request a transfer of your SEVIS record. Please visit the Office of International Programs for details.
Reinstatement to Student Status
An F-1 student who has overstayed the authorized period of stay granted by the USCIS/INS, or who has otherwise failed to maintain F-1 student status, may, at the discretion of the USCIS, be reinstated to lawful F-1 student status only if the student:
- is currently pursuing a full course of study at an approved school,
- has not been employed without authorization, and
- is not deportable on any grounds other than failure to maintain status.
The student must establish that failure to maintain status resulted from circumstances beyond his or her control or that failure to receive reinstatement to lawful status would result in considerable hardship to the student. The International Student Advisor can provide F-1 students with reinstatement applications and information.
J-1 students who are out of status must contact the International Student Advisor for more information on reinstatement procedures.
Traveling Outside the U.S.
To re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico after a temporary absence of less than 30 days, you must have:
- A valid I-94 card (the white card in your passport). Except for brief visits to Canada or Mexico, you must surrender your form I-94 (the white card in your passport) when you leave the U.S. You will receive a new I-94 when you re-enter this country.
- A valid passport.
- A valid SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 endorsed by the Office of International Programs. If the information on your I-20 is current, you simply need the signature of the Designated School Official (the International Student Advisor or the Director of the Office of International Programs). If the information on the original I-20 is no longer correct, you must request a new I-20 from the International Student Advisor. You should have your I-20 signed annually. J-1 students need the DS-2019 signed when they arrive at Puget Sound for travel.
- A proof of enrollment at Puget Sound (available from the Registrar's Office.).
To re-enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico after a temporary absence of more than 30 days, or to re-enter the U.S. from any other country, you must have:
- A valid passport;
- A properly endorsed, SEVIS I-20 form or DS-2019 (see above);
- A financial statement or a letter showing the source of your financial support;
- A valid U.S. visa. If the visa stamp in your passport has expired or will expire while you are outside the U.S., you must renew the expired visa at an American consulate or embassy abroad. See the related section Visa Renewal above.
For travel to or transit through Canada you may need to obtain a Canadian Visitor's Visa. Visit the Canadian Visitor Visa webpage for information. The Canadian Consulate is located at 412 Plaza 600, Sixth & Stewart, Seattle. Phone: 206.443.1777.
International students in F-1 or J-1 status can work up to 20 hours a week on campus with the approval of the Office of International Programs. Employment off-campus is only possible if authorized if authorized by the Office of International Programs & USCIS. Contact the International Student Advisor if you are interested in working. For more detailed information concerning off campus employment through CPT or OPT, visit this webpage.
Obeying Laws in the U.S.
As a condition of their admission in the U.S., international students are required to obey all federal, state and local laws. Your visa status does not protect you from prosecution under the law. Ignorance of the laws does not protect you from prosecution. It is to your benefit to know the local, state and federal laws, since being convicted of a misdemeanor may result in deportation. Students who regard their stay in the U.S. as a "vacation" from the rules of their home country will not do well academically, nor will they serve as good ambassadors of their home countries.
Alcohol and Drugs
Laws relating to purchasing, consumption and sale of alcohol differ from country to country and, in the U.S., from state to state. Since most of your time will be spent in the state of Washington, you need to know that the legal age to buy or drink alcohol is 21. If you are under 21 (a "minor"), it is illegal for you to drink alcohol. If you are 21 or over, it is illegal for you to furnish alcohol to those under 21. Establishments selling alcohol will require valid photo identification with your date of birth. Accepted identifications include: an International Driver's License, Department of Motor Vehicles Identification (if you do not drive) or a Washington State Driver's License would be accepted. Your university identification will not be accepted.
The university policy governing alcohol use on campus is posted in The Logger. In general, those who are of legal drinking age may consume alcohol in areas which are defined as private, such as the interior of Union Avenue residences and inside university-owned homes. A student's assigned room and some specifically designated lounges are private. Public areas where no drinking may occur are defined as the main lounges near a building entrance, hallways and foyers. The sale of alcohol on university property - public or private - is prohibited.
Possession, use or sale of illegal drugs (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hashish) is prohibited anywhere in the U.S. Penalties generally include: fines, jail sentences, and possibly deportation.
Drinking and Driving
Do not drink and drive!
Washington State has strict laws to punish drunk drivers. If your blood-alcohol level exceeds .08 you are considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (referred to as "DUI"). If you are convicted of a DUI, you face mandatory fines, mandatory jail time, and possible deportation. Depending on your height and weight, your blood alcohol can be .08 after as little as one glass of wine or one shot of hard alcohol. Your international student status does not protect or exempt you from American laws.
If you are going to drink, please do it responsibly. Either get a designated driver (someone who decides not to drink that evening) or take a taxi or bus to get home. For your own safety, never get into the car with someone who has been drinking.
Americans are known to rely heavily on having individual transportation, and many new international students quickly decide that they, too, would like to have a car. Before buying a car, please consider the following points:
All drivers must have a valid driver's license. You may drive with an international driver's license obtained prior to your arrival, or a Washington State Driver's License. You are expected to be familiar with the laws for driving in the state of Washington. A Driver's Guide may be picked up from the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL). (See Appendix IV.)
If you apply for a Washington Driver's License, remember to take your identification (passport, I-20 or DS -2019, home country driver's license, university identification card) with you. You must also take a copy of your SEVIS registration page in a sealed envelope. Three tests are required: vision, knowledge of laws, and driving. The knowledge (or written) test costs $20.00 and issuance of the license will have additional costs (verify prices with the DOL). Currently you do not need a Social Security Number (SSN) to obtain a driver's license, however, you may need to complete a "Social Security Declaration Form", in which you declare you have no social security number. If you receive a SSN at a later date, you will need to inform the DOL immediately.
If you need to learn to drive, you will need a learner's permit. Study the driving handbook and pass the written test first. You can then be issued a learner's permit. This enables you to drive with anyone who has had more than five years of driving experience. The learner's permit is good for one year from the day of issue, and should give you enough time to prepare for your driving test.
Purchasing a Car
You may purchase a car from a recognized dealer who sells new and used cars or buy from an individual advertising through the newspaper. It is best to take an international student who has had the experience of buying a car, or an American friend with you!
If buying a used car it is best to take it to a reputable mechanic and pay to have the car checked. He can usually tell whether the price that is being asked is reasonable, whether the car needs repairs and, approximately what the repairs will cost. It is possible to check on-line to determine whether a car was previously in an accident. Having this information, you are better prepared to decide whether or not this is a reasonable deal for you.
Vehicle insurance in our state is required by law. The cost of insurance varies based on the year of the car, its make and model, and the driver's age, gender, and driving history. Sports cars are always the most expensive to insure. Unmarried males under the age of 25 in the U.S. also pay more because statistically they have the highest accident rate. When deciding on a car, keep these factors in mind.