Immigration Documents and Terminology
The Department of Homeland Security and three of its agencies (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection) are involved with matters of immigration and visas.
A database called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is used to track and store data and to communicate between the Department of Homeland Security agencies and educational institutions. Each student has a SEVIS number which identifies him/her in the database. The International Student Advisors enter information such as students’ current addresses, work authorization, and full-time enrollment status into the database as required by law.
Your passport must be valid at all times during your stay in the U.S. For most countries, it is required that your passport be valid for at least six months from today into the future. Passport renewal or extension of passports may be done in the US by either your embassy or consulate.
Visa (F-1 Student Status or J-1 Exchange Student Visitor Status)
Your visa status is indicated by the multi-colored stamp entered on a visa page in your passport at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The visa is your authorization to seek permission to enter the U.S. a specific number of times (SINGLE or MULTIPLE) until a particular date. F-1 visas are generally for students who will complete an entire degree in the United States. J-1 visas are generally for students who will spend a semester or year in the United States.
This visa stamp needs to be valid only on the day you enter or re-enter the U.S. If the visa date expires while you are in the US, it is not a concern as long as you are in Student Status. However, if you leave the U.S. when the visa stamp has expired, it must be renewed at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad before you can return except in the special cases of travel to Canada, Mexico or the contiguous islands. Visa renewal cannot be done in the U.S.
I-94 Departure/Arrival Record
This is a small white card stapled into your passport, usually on the same page as your visa stamp, by the Immigration Inspector at the port of entry into the US. The Immigration Inspector will mark on the I-94 the type of visa you have, the date you entered and how long you may stay in the United States.The I-94 is usually surrendered when a student leaves the United States and a new one is issued upon re-entry in the United States. (The exception is entry into Canada, Mexico or the contiguous islands with an expired US visa; in such case the I-94 should not be removed from the passport.)
If the notation "D/S" is made on the I-94 and the I-20, it indicates that the bearer may stay in the United States for "as long as a student is pursuing a full course of study in an educational program and any periods of authorized practical training, plus 60 days." J-1 Students with a DS-2019 may also have "D/S" noted on their documents.
I-20 or DS-2019
This document bears the student’s SEVIS number, all records of school transfer, employment authorization, practical training and any other important immigration information. This document is to be kept with your passport in a safe place. If you lose it and request a new one from our office you may be required to produce new financial guarantees before the replacement I-20 can be issued.
You are expected to complete your studies on or by the date indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019. If there are reasons why you cannot complete your program in that time, you must provide a recommendation from your department and request an extension well before this date.