The following information answers many of the common questions current international students ask about immigration issues.
- What is SEVIS?
- How Do Schools Use SEVIS?
- What Should I Know About My Immigration Paperwork?
- Can You Tell Me About the Diversity Visa Lottery?
- How Can I Bring My Family With Me?
- When Must I Leave the U.S. After I Complete My Visit?
- What are Some Immigration Options after Graduation?
SEVIS stands for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a database used by the U.S. government to record information about all students and exchange visitors in the United States.
After a new international student is admitted to a U.S. school, a school employee will enter data about that student into SEVIS. The data includes:
- Student's name
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Proficiency in English
The school employee will also enter data about what the student plans to study:
- Student's major
- Student's level of study (i.e., undergraduate, graduate, professional)
- Start and end dates for the student's academic program
- Cost of the first year of study
The school employee will also inform the government about the financial resources the student has on hand to pay for their first year of study, and provide information on any dependents who will be accompanying the student.
After all this information is provided, the school can print an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for an F-1 Student or a DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for a J-1 Exchange Visitor. This certificate will allow the prospective student or exchange visitor to apply for a student or exchange visitor visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy.
After the student or exchange visitor enters the United States, the school will use SEVIS to report the following information to the U.S. government.
- Student's initial reporting to school after first entry
- Student's physical address
- Student's full-time enrollment
- Student’s unauthorized course load reduction
- Change of major
- Early graduation of a student
- Early departure of a student (for example, due to transfer)
- Disciplinary action taken due to criminal conviction
- Special off-campus employment authorizations
- Program extension
- Failure to make normal progress or complete program of study
All students and exchange visitors seeking entry or reentry to the United States must have a valid passport or travel document valid for at least six months after the date of reentry.
If the passport used is from a country with a passport validity agreement, the passport must be valid at least until the day of reentry.
I-94 Arrival and Departure Record
An I-94 is used by the U.S. government to track an international visitor's entries to and exits from the United States. When you first enter the U.S., you will be asked to complete an I-94 form, and the bottom section of the form will be torn off and stapled to your passport. When you leave the United States you will turn in that bottom section at the airport or land border crossing point. It will be sent to a processing center, and matched with the half of the form you completed when you first arrived.
Both F-1 international students and J-1 exchange visitors need to use white I-94 cards. If given a green card, do not complete it, and request a white card instead.
When completing the I-94, please write your name exactly as it is written in your passport. Mistakes or discrepancies can cause serious problems later! If you make a mistake, please request a new form.
When completing the I-94, please write your birth date in the format the form requests. Mistakes or discrepancies can cause serious problems later on! If you make a mistake, please request a new form.
Multiple Entry I-94 Cards
Some Canadian citizens will have their I-94 card stamped "multiple entry." This will allow you to make multiple departures and re-entries without having to complete a new I-94 form each trip.
If a Customs and Border Officer asks you to surrender your multiple entry I-94 and complete a new one, please comply. It will not cause you any harm to be issued with a new I-94 card.
I-20 or DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility
A Certificate of Eligibility shows government officials that you are entering or residing in the United States under the sponsorship of Pacific University. This is a very important document, and you need to be very careful with it. You will be required to show this form each and every time you enter the United States.
If, for some reason, you are not asked to show this form when you enter the United States, take action! It may be that the Customs and Border Officer is making a mistake, and is planning to admit you as a tourist instead of as a student or exchange visitor! This is a very serious mistake, and it can result in problems later on.
If, for some reason, you have lost or forgotten your I-20/DS-2019 when you arrive at the border, do not enter as a tourist. Immediately contact the Office of International Programs for assistance. In the worst-case scenario, you can be allowed to enter with a Form I-515.
International students and exchange visitors who attempt entry to the United States without their I-20/DS-2019 may be admitted for a period of 30 days with a Form I-515.
Within those 30 days, the student and exchange visitor is required to send the U.S. government:
- The completed Form I-515 or I-515A
- An original, signed SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 signed by an official from the school or program
- The original I-94 Arrival/Departure Record given at time of entry
If the required materials are sent to the government in a timely manner, a DHS official will review the material and, if the individual is otherwise admissible, will return the SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019, the Form I-94 and a short letter of confirmation to the school or program sponsor as appropriate. Therefore, students and exchange visitors must obtain these documents from the school or program official.
All international students and exchange visitors who are not Canadian citizens must have a valid student or exchange visitor visa sticker in their passport when attempting to enter the United States.
Canadian citizens are visa-exempt, and do not need a visa sticker. They are still required to have a valid passport, I-20/DS-2019, and to complete a white I-94 (or have a previously issued multiple entry I-94) when attempting to enter the United States.
Automatic Revalidation of Visa
International students and exchange visitors from most countries (other than Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba) may use an expired visa to re-enter the United States after a short visit (less than 30 days) to a country adjoining the United States. This is called the Automatic Revalidation of Visa provision.
The acceptable places to visit under this program include:
- Saint Pierre
- Dominican Republic
- The Bahamas
- Windward and Leeward Islands
- Other British, French, and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea
NOTE: Cuba is not included on this list.
Please request a letter from the Office of International Programs about this provision before departing the United States. It may be helpful to have an explanation of the details of the Automatic Revalidation of Visa provision on hand when you return.
The U.S. government holds an annual lottery where it distributes 50,000 visas to applicants around the world in order to encourage diversity. Applicants are selected randomly, and there is never a fee to participate in the lottery.
Official government information about this program can be found on the U.S. State Department website.
Recently, Pacific students have been charged applicant fees to participate in this lottery process by dishonest businesses. Please keep the following points in mind:
- There's no charge to enter the green card lottery
- Your chance of being chosen is the same if you apply by yourself or if you pay someone to apply for you
- Submit only one entry; if you submit more than one, you will be disqualified
- Selection of entries is random
- Be careful about giving other people your personal information
- Be skeptical of websites posing as U.S. government sites
The F-1 grace period is a 60-day period of time given to F-1 students after the completion of a program of study or an authorized period of post-completion OPT allowing the student time to prepare for departure from the United States, apply for a transfer to another SEVP-certified school, request a change of level to continue at the current school, or take steps to otherwise maintain legal status.
Students who have completed their program of study or period of post-completion OPT need to depart the U.S. by the end of this grace period.
J-1 exchange visitors have their own J-1 grace period of 30 days after the end date of their exchange program. During that time they can prepare to depart the United States, apply for a change of immigration status to another category, or transfer to another SEVP-certified exchange sponsor. The exchange visitor will need to depart the United States by the end of this grace period.
Many students have questions about working in the United States after graduation. Here is a general introduction to the H-1B, which is often used after student work programs like OPT end.
The H-1B is a program for temporary employment in a specialty occupation. It is commonly called the “working visa” because it is the most commonly used work visa.
A student must find a prospective employer who will apply for the H-1B for the student. It is not possible to request it yourself.
You can hire an immigration lawyer to provide guidance on the H-1B process and to review an H-1B application that an employer files on his or her behalf.
There are two ways to apply for the H-1B:
1) The national H-1B lottery
2) Cap-exempt employment
The H-1B Lottery
Every year, the U.S. government offers 65,000 new H-1B visas for people with a BA/BS plus an additional 20,000 visas for those who have earned advanced degrees (i.e., MA, PhD) in the U.S. The majority of the H-1Bs become active on Oct.1 each year.
Employers who want to sponsor a worker for one of these H-1Bs (Oct. 1 start) file paperwork showing the employer, job and worker meet all H-1B eligibility requirements on April 1 or shortly after. Many more applications will be filed than there are available H-1Bs, and the government randomly selects 65,000 applications from all those that are submitted during the April application period to be approved. The applications that aren't selected in the lottery are rejected.
If an application is approved and the employee is already in the United States, a change of status from F-1 to H-1B within the United States may be possible. If outside the United States, the employee applies for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate and enters the United States in H-1B status.
Certain employers including U.S. institutions of higher education, university-affiliated nonprofit entities, and nonprofit or governmental research organizations are able to sponsor a worker for an H-1B outside the lottery process. Employers exempt from the cap can submit applications any time and, for first-time H-1Bs, H-1B status becomes effective when the application is approved.
Employment when Moving from OPT to H-1B
If you are working after graduation on OPT, your authorized OPT work period may end before the October 1st H-1B become active. You may be eligible for an extension of your work authorization to cover the gap between your OPT's end date and the typical October 1st H-1B start date.
You can then wait for the acceptance or denial of your H-1B application while continuing to work. If your H-1B application is rejected, denied, or revoked, the extension automatically terminates and you will have to leave the United States.
1. Start exploring your H-1B options early! Most H-1B applications go through the H-1B lottery, and the time to file is very limited. It is important to discuss this option with your employer at least six months before April 1 of the year your OPT expires. Be involved with the process and make educated decisions. Remember that the ultimate responsibility for maintaining your status rests with you, not your employer or your OPT-sponsoring school.
2. It is illegal for an employer to file an H-1B on your behalf for a position that you have no intention of taking, and which the employer has no intention of offering you, just so that you can increase your chances of being counted under the cap. In fact, if you knowingly let an employer do this, it could be considered fraud and may bar you from any future immigration benefits in the United States and even subject you to potential criminal prosecution! Some employers may offer to file an H-1B for you if you pay them — this is not advised.