Immigration Definitions

It is very important that you become familiar with the following terms, as they are used repeatedly in information you will receive from the International Students Program Coordinator, not just as you prepare to come, but throughout your stay in the United States.

Certificate of Visa Eligibility – Students who (1) have been admitted to the University, (2) need a student visa to enter the United States to study at FVCC (except Canadian citizens who do not require a visa), and (3) have documented their ability to finance their education, will receive a Certificate of Visa Eligibility, either a Form I-20 for F-1 Student status or a Form DS-2019 for J-1 Exchange Visitor Student Category status. The document certifies eligibility for an entry visa, obtained at a U.S. consulate abroad, and must be shown to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official at the time of entry into the U.S. in order to enter in student status. Also known as a Visa Certificate, the I-20 or DS-2019 is processed and issued through SEVIS.

SEVIS – SEVIS is an acronym for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It is a data collection and monitoring system that creates an interface between institutions of higher education, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), consulates and embassies abroad, and ports of entry. Schools are required to make regular electronic updates in SEVIS throughout each semester on the records of their enrolled students in F-1 and J-1 status-and their dependents-and their researchers and faculty in J-1 status. This includes, but is not limited to enrollment status, changes of address, changes in level of study, employment recommendations, and school transfers.

Form I-94 – This small white card is a record of your legal entry into the U.S. and immigration status. You complete it on a flight to the U.S. or at a border crossing, and it is then processed at a port of entry. An immigration inspector usually staples it into your passport. Form I-94 notes name, date of birth, country of citizenship, and the date and port of your arrival in the U.S. It also indicates how long you can stay in the United States. The notation D/S signifies “duration of status” and refers to the completion date on the I-20 .The Form I-94 is also a record of your arrivals and departures. Each time you leave the country you surrender your I-94. Only in the case of short trips to Canada, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean do you keep this form. The I-94 is an important form; we recommend that you make a photocopy of both sides of the form to keep separately in case you need to replace it.

The I-94 paper form is now electronic.  You will be responsible to generate and print your own form prior to your departure/travel outside the US.  Instructions can be found at US Customs and Border Protection.

Form I-20 – The Certificate of Visa Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Student Status is the I-20. This is the document issued by a school through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) for presentation at a U.S. consulate abroad to apply for an F-1 Student visa. It must also be presented to an immigration official upon entry into the U.S. When traveling outside the U.S., those in F-1 status must carry both a recertified I-20 and financial documentation if they intend to return to the U.S. in F-1 status to continue their studies or practical training. The I-20 and its corresponding electronic updates in SEVIS are a permanent record of one’s activities as a student in the U.S.

It is your responsibility to keep all I-20’s issued to you throughout your student status, no matter how long you stay in the U.S. or how many times you travel abroad. The initial I-20 used when you enter the country and stamped by the DHS is a very important immigration document. Make a copy of both sides to keep with your records. If you were not issued an I-20, or if you lose it, please come to the International Student Program Coordinators’ office in LRC 139 or contact Gerda Reeb at greeb@fvcc.edu. Under most circumstances, we can provide you with a replacement form within five working days.

Form DS-2019 – The Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant J-1 Exchange Visitor Status is the Form DS-2019. This is the document issued by the program sponsor – the university, government agency or other organization sponsoring the visit – through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) for presentation at a U.S. consulate abroad to apply for a J-1 Exchange Visitor visa. It must also be presented to an immigration official upon entry into the U.S. When traveling outside the U.S., those in J-1 status must carry both a recertified DS-2019 and financial documentation if they intend to return to the U.S. in J-1 status to continue their studies or academic training. The DS-2019 and its corresponding electronic updates in SEVIS are a permanent record of one’s activities as a student in the U.S.

It is your responsibility to keep all DS-2019’s issued to you throughout your student status, no matter how long you stay in the U.S. or how many times you travel abroad. The initial DS-2019 used when you enter the country and stamped by the DHS is a very important immigration document. Make a copy of both sides to keep with your records. If you were not issued a DS-2019, or if you lose it, please come to the International Student Program Coordinators’ office in LRC 139 or contact Gerda Reeb at greeb@fvcc.edu. Under most circumstances, we can provide you with a replacement form within five working days.

Immigration Status – This is often confused with “visa” but your immigration status, e.g., F-1, B-2, J-1, etc., is determined at the time of your entry into the U.S. by an immigration official and is noted on the Form I-94. You may have many visa stamps in your passport but, upon entry into the U.S., an immigration inspector will admit you in only one immigration status which is noted on the I-94 card (see above). Be sure the correct status is written on your I-94 card. Unlike your entry visa, your immigration status may be changed in the U.S. The U.S. Department of State website provides further clarification on visa and status differences. Several important differences between the F-1 and J-1 immigration status are described at the end of this section.

Passport – Students in F-1 or J-1 immigration status must keep their passports valid at least six months into the future at all times. You may obtain extensions of your passport through the nearest consulate or embassy of your country.

Entry Visa – Your entry visa is issued by a United States Consulate abroad and affixed into your passport. The only purpose of an entry visa is to apply for admission to the United States at the port of entry. The entry visa itself may expire while you are in the U.S., but your permission to stay in the U.S. remains valid. All international students – with the exception of Canadian nationals – requesting F or J immigration status are required to have a valid F-1 or J-1 entry visa in their passport at the time of entry into the U.S. Your visa specifies the type of immigration status you will hold (F-1, J-1, etc.), the date until which you may enter the U.S., and the number of entries you may make before you must apply for a new entry visa stamp. The length of validity of each visa type is determined by an agreement between your home country and the U.S. government and is not necessarily tied to the length of your program of study. Please refer to the State Department’s Visa Reciprocity information on their website for more details.

NOTE: Although F-1 and J-1 entry visas may be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date on the I-20 or the DS-2019, you are not permitted to enter the U.S. more than 30 days in advance of that date.

If you have been out of the U.S. for more than 5 months and not registered in your current degree program, any valid student visa you may have is subject to cancellation and you are required to obtain a new visa to return to the U.S.

F-1 or J-1 entry visas cannot be obtained within the U.S. Application for a new visa must be made in person at a U.S. consulate or embassy outside the U.S. The validity period of your visa does not determine the length of time you may remain in the U.S. after you enter. Your length of stay is determined by the expected completion date of your program as indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019. You are admitted to the U.S. for “duration of status” in F and J. This is notated as “D/S” on your I-94 card. The U.S. Department of State website provides further clarification between the expiration date of an entry visa and the duration of time you are permitted to stay in the U.S. in your status.

Differences Between F-1 and J-1 Status

There are two types of entry visas issued to nonimmigrant students who intend to study full-time at Columbia University – the F-1 Student visa and the J-1 Exchange Visitor Student Category visa. A student’s accompanying spouse and children are given an F-2 or J-2 visa.

  • Source of Funding – J-1 Exchange Visitor status is available to those students who are supported substantially by funding other than personal or family funds. Such funding may include that which comes from the U.S. government or the student’s home government, an international organization, or, under exceptional circumstances, FVCC. Students who are supported by personal or family funds are ineligible for J-1 immigration status, and must come to the U.S. to study in F-1 immigration status.
  • Foreign Residence Requirement – Students in J-1 immigration status and their J-2 dependents may be subject to a foreign residence requirement. This applies to those who have received U.S. or home country government funding or those who are on the “Country Skills List”. The foreign residence requirement means that upon completion of the J-1 program they must reside in their countries of last legal permanent residence for two years before they are eligible to apply for entry into the U.S. on a specialized work visas (H or L) or an immigrant visa.J-1 students who receive direct or indirect U.S. or home government funding, or who are studying in fields for which personnel are considered in short supply in their home countries (most developing nations have “Country Skills” lists of varying lengths), are ineligible to apply for a change to another nonimmigrant status (except A or G) or permanent residency in the U.S. until they have satisfied the “two year home country physical presence requirement”. To see if your country is on the Skills List and which fields of study are included, consult the Exchange Visitor Skills List in PDF format. There is no foreign residence requirement for F-1 student status. Refer to the Department of State’s website for additional information on the Exchange Visitor Program.
  • Medical Insurance – Students in J-1 status and their J-2 dependents are required to have comprehensive medical coverage in order to fulfill U.S. government regulations governing the J Exchange Visitor status.
  • Work Permission – Students in either F-1 or J-1 immigration status may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) on campus with permission from the International Student Program Coordinators’ office — contact Gerda Reeb at greeb@fvcc.edu.  For both statuses, permission to work off campus based on economic need may be requested only after the first full academic year of student status, and only under extraordinary circumstances of unforeseen need. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorizes F-1 students to work off campus, whereas J-1 students submit an application for work permission to their visa sponsor, i.e. the agency or school that issued the DS-2019 form.
  • Practical Training – Students in F-1 and J-1 immigration status are eligible to engage in differing lengths of practical or academic training during their studies and at the completion of their academic programs.Practical training, a benefit of F-1 immigration status if you are eligible, is employment in one’s field of study. Those in F-1 immigration classification may be eligible for “curricular” practical training during their programs, in addition to one year of “optional” practical training that may take place during or after one’s program of study. Permission to engage in practical training may be granted only after you have been in valid student status for one academic year. International Student Program Coordinators’ office may recommend optional practical training and the USCIS authorizes it. Refer to the Practical Training Overview for complete information on both curricular and optional practical training.
  • Dependent Employment – Immigration regulations allow no circumstances under which the F-2 spouse of an F-1 student can apply for work permission while in the U.S.The J-2 spouse of a J-1 Exchange Visitor may apply to USCIS for permission to be employed, if he or she can demonstrate a need for supplemental support for self or children. The spouse cannot obtain work permission in order to support the J-1 student. The I-765 Form, required to apply for J-2 employment authorization, may be downloaded in pdf format from the USCIS website. The form may also be obtained from the International Student Program Coordinators’ office in LRC 139 or by contacting Gerda Reeb at greeb@fvcc.edu.

How to Obtain F-1 Student Status

The information to follow is provided to help you get to FVCC in appropriate immigration status in compliance with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations.

U.S. government regulations require you to attend the school that issues the visa certificate you use to make an initial entrance to the United States in F-1 status. Since you plan to enroll at FVCC, please use our Form I-20. It may be very difficult to transfer to FVCC if you enter the country using documents issued by another school unless you have attended the other school full time for at least one academic session.

10 Steps:  How to Apply for an Initial F-1 Entry Visa if You are Outside the U.S.?

Step 1: Make an appointment at a U.S. Consulate to apply for an F-1 Student entry visa. You will require the I-20 form from FVCC at the time of your appointment. DO NOT MAKE AN APPOINTMENT UNTIL you have received the I-20 or are sure that you will have the I-20 in time for the appointment. While the U.S. Consulate will not issue the student entry visa until 120 days before the reporting date on the I-20, you should apply for your visa as soon as possible. Check the following websites for more information on visa appointments.

For information about current wait times for the appointment and for visa issuance. Note that the processing wait times DO NOT include any extra time that may be required for security clearances.

Potential Delays in Visa Issuance and at Ports of Entry for more information regarding security clearances.

Find the U.S. Consulate at which you will apply at usembassy.state.gov and carefully read its instructions for applying for a visa (including links to required forms). Application procedures and requirements vary so be sure to pay attention the specifics for the Consulate at which you apply. Make a list of documentation required for the interview and make all fee payments as instructed on the Consulate’s web site.

Step 2: Check your form I-20 for completeness and correctness! Your I-20 indicates that we have created a record for you in SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), a national database for international students and scholars. Your unique assigned SEVIS ID number is in the upper right corner of page 1. Check to see that all information is correct and that your expected completion date is in the future.

If you have informed us that your dependents (husband, wife, or children under the age of 21) will come with you to the U.S., each of them will receive their own “dependent” I-20 needed for applying for their F-2 visas and entering the U.S. in F-2 status. If your family name is different from your dependents, be prepared to show documents that prove your relationship.

Step 3: Make sure your passport is valid. When you apply for a visa or enter the U.S., your passport must be valid for at least 6 months into the future. Some countries are exempt from this requirement and have their passports automatically extended for 6 months which means that you can use your passport up until the written expiration date. This rule applies to subsequent entries to the U.S. while traveling as a student.

Step 4: Pay the SEVIS fee and print the receipt. Go to SEVP Fee Processing and follow the instructions. You will need the I-20 available because the SEVIS number is required. Print copies of the receipt -you will need one with you for the visa interview and you should keep one for your own records. You can only access the receipt at the time of payment so be sure your printer is working before paying the fee.

If you have been a student in the U.S. and are transferring schools or beginning a program at a new level of study, it is possible you may not have to pay the SEVIS fee. Refer to information posted at SEVIS website.

Step 5: Complete the required Department of State application form DS-160. Everyone applying for a non-immigrant visa must complete this form. Be sure to print and keep the DS-160 barcode page.

Step 6: Refer to step one and follow instructions for paying any visa fees required in advance of your appointment. Procedures may vary from country to country, and even post to post within the same country. Note that application and issuance fees are based on reciprocity and generally reflect your country’s policies in granting visa privileges to visiting U.S. students.

Step 7: Bring a passport-size photo less than six months old. Check Nonimmigrant Visa Photograph Requirements for details.

Step 8: READ! Prepare for your interview appointment by learning what to expect. You will be applying for an F-1 student visa, a non-immigrant classification. According to U.S. immigration law, “Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a non-immigrant status.” This means you need to establish that you have no intention of staying in the U.S. permanently, but are coming here for a temporary purpose, i.e. to pursue your educational objective. While the consular officers are aware that it may be difficult for students to demonstrate strong professional and economic ties to their home countries, you should still bear this in mind as you prepare for your interview.

In preparation for your interview, please read the following:

Applying for a Student or Exchange Visitor Visa Published by Education USA, a division of the U.S. Department of State

Ten Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

published by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, in consultation with the U.S. State Department. Although published in 1997, these general points provide good guidance and still are relevant today.

Step 9: Checklist of what to take with you to your visa interview:

  • A passport valid for at least six months
  • Form I-20 (sign the form under Item 11)
  • School admission letter
  • Completed DS-160 visa application bar code page.
  • A photograph in the prescribed format (see Step 7)
  • A receipt for the visa application fee
  • A receipt for the SEVIS fee. If you have not received an official receipt in the mail showing payment and you paid the fee electronically, the consulate will accept the temporary receipt you printed from your computer. If you do not have a receipt, the consulate may be able to see your payment electronically if your fee payment was processed at least 3 business days before your interview.
  • Financial evidence that shows you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study.
  • Any information that demonstrates your intention to return to your home country after finishing your studies in the U.S. This may include proof of property, family, or other ties to your community.

Step 10: After the visa is processed, make sure you got what you requested! Check your passport to be sure you obtained an F-1 visa, and that any dependents obtained an F-2 visa. Also, be certain that the I-20 was returned to you, as you must have the original with you when you arrive in the United States. Sometimes, the document is returned to you in a sealed envelope, which must be presented to the immigration inspector when you arrive.

Canadian Citizens

Obligation to Comply with Immigration Regulations

In terms of immigration regulations, the only difference between Canadians and other international students coming to the United States is that Canadian citizens are not required to apply for an entry visa at a U.S. consulate.

Some Canadians have mistakenly assumed that other regulations that apply to international students do not apply to them. Canadians are subject to the same regulations regarding employment in the United States, requirement for full-time study and all other provisions for maintaining status. Other than applying for a visa, it is important that you read about and abide by all other provisions relating to F-1 status. It is especially important for Canadian students to be vigilant about entering the United States in proper student status, as immigration inspectors are accustomed to admitting Canadian citizens as visitors.

To enter the U.S. in F-1 student status, Canadians must present the items listed below to the immigration inspector:

  • Form I-20 from FVCC
  • Valid passport
  • Supporting financial documents submitted to obtain the Form I-20
  • Proof of SEVIS Fee payment
    To pay the SEVIS fee, click here and follow the instructions. Be sure to make a copy of the receipt for your own records.

Students no longer are issued an I-94 Admission/ Departure card at the port of entry, but need to access and print card themselves.

If You are Already in the U.S.

Currently in a status other than F-1

Students who do not plan to leave the U.S. before beginning studies at FVCC, and are currently in an immigration status other than F-1 are required to change status by application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In general, non-immigrants who are maintaining lawful status may apply for a change of status to F-1. You should review the detailed information in Procedure to Change to F-1 Student Status and consult Gerda Reeb (greeb@fvcc.edu) for more information or if you have questions or concerns or to review your application before submitting it to USCIS.

Note that because your intention at the time of admission to the U.S. is an issue with a change of status application, a change of status from B-1 or B-2 visitor status may be very difficult unless the B-1/B-2 entry visa was issued with the notation “prospective student” on it. Most problematic is that an individual in B-1 or B-2 status is prohibited from enrolling in classes until the change of status to F-1 has been approved, and there is no way of knowing how long this will take. The same prohibition against beginning a course of study until the change of status has been approved by the immigration applies to individuals in F-2 status.

Currently in F-1 Status at Another Institution and transferring to FVCC

Students enrolled in another U.S. school under F-1 immigration status who are planning to enroll at FVCC must complete a process in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is notified of this change. The transfer procedure begins with your current school “releasing” your SEVIS record to FVCC and qualifying for a FVCC I-20, and is NOT complete until you report to FVCC within 15 days of the program start date on your I-20. The first step is to get FVCC’s I-20 in a timely manner. Please refer to our F-1 transfer procedures for exact details.

Continuing Students in F-1 Status at FVCC

If you are completing one program at FVCC and are planning to pursue another degree or program at FVCC, DHS must be notified. FVCC needs to issue you a new I-20 for the new program within 60 days of your completion date on your current I-20 or within 60 days of completion of your program, whichever is earlier. Contact Gerda Reeb (greeb@fvcc.edu) about qualifying for and obtaining a new I-20.

If You Will Be Accompanied By Dependents

If your dependents – spouse or unmarried children under 21 years of age – will accompany you to the U.S. or join you shortly after your arrival, you will need to provide FVCC with additional documentation showing your sufficient funding to meet your dependents’ expenses and copies of their passport ID pages. An I-20 will then be issued for each of your dependents which they will use to apply for the F-2 visa. You may request am I-20 for your dependents at any time during your stay at FVCC.

Exchange Visitor (J-1) Visa Alternative

Another visa classification for full-time study is the J-1 Exchange Visitor status. J-1 students come to the U.S. under a contract agreement that is formally known as the Exchange Visitor Program. Students who are personally financing their studies are not eligible for J-1 status. Funding for J-1 students usually is from a government or international organization. FVCC funding may also qualify under exceptional circumstances. Please refer to and read carefully the section on Immigration Status under student immigration definitions for a summary of some of the differences between F-1 and J-1 immigration status so that you can make an informed choice.