California Western -- F-I Student Immigration Rules and Regulations |
F-I Student Immigration Rules and Regulations
To download this information as a PDF document, click here
U.S. immigration law is often confusing, and even somewhat scary to international students who are not familiar with its regulations and procedures. This document is designed as a basic guidebook which you, as an international student, can use as a resource for your immigration concerns while you are studying at California Western School of Law. Refer to this guide whenever you have a question regarding your immigration status. If you then feel you need additional information, feel free to make an appointment with Professor Jacquelyn H. Slotkin at (619) 525-1492 or the Program Administrator, Chinthana Konganda at (619) 525-7075.
Although we attempt to keep this information up to date at all times, there is always the possibility that there has been a change in immigration regulations since it was last updated. Always maintain close contact with us to make sure you are informed of any new immigration regulations or procedural changes.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on F-1 non-immigrant students, and their dependents (F-2 visa holders). SEVIS enables schools to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet, to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) and Department of State (DOS) throughout a studentís stay in the United States. The system will reflect international student status changes, such as admission at Port of Entry (POE), change of address, change in program of study, and other details. SEVIS will also provide system alerts, event notifications, and basic reports to the end-user schools, programs, and Immigration related field offices.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires California Western School of Law to provide detailed and current information on all F-1 students in attendance. Because it is critical that CWSL delivers accurate and up-to-date information, students should inform the M.C.L./LL.M. Office immediately of all changes to their name, address, and academic situation. In addition, because it is the student's responsibility to maintain status, all students should review the latest guidelines and procedures.
Responsibilities as an F-1 Student
The responsibility for maintaining your immigration status lies with you. Failure to do so can result in serious immigration problems which could lead deportation from the United States. There are several important things you must do to maintain status:
-Maintain full-time enrollment and normal progress towards your degree. You MUST enroll in a minimum of 8 credit and no more than 14 credits per trimester. Contact the M.C.L./LL.M. Office immediately if you are unable to fulfill this requirement.
-Keep your passport valid! Your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months past your expected completion date at all times. For example, if your I-20 expires on December 31, 2012, your passport should be valid until June 30, 2013. Renewal applications must be made with the Embassy or Consulate of the country issuing the passport. You will need a certification of student status from California Western School of law. Addresses of embassies and consulates are available from the M.C.L./LL.M. office.
-Obtain extensions, as needed, of your permission to stay in the U.S. USCIS regulations state that F-1 students may stay in the U.S. for the duration of an educational program or a series of educational programs (for example, from an undergraduate degree through a master ís degree)plus the duration of optional practical training and then an additional 60 days. However, students who do not complete the stated educational program within the time indicated on their I-20 form must request a program extension prior to the completion date. Those who do not request a program extension are out of status and must be reinstated by the USCIS. There are new laws that severely penalize non immigrants who violate their status through overstays. Please make sure your I-20 does not expire.
-Do not work more than 20 hours per week on campus (first year J.D. students are limited to 5 hours per week). As an international student the only employment you are permitted to engage in during your first year of study is on-campus employment. You are not permitted to work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session. Working more than 20 hours per week is a violation of your student status and could lead to any number of USCIS penalties including deportation. During summer and other breaks there is no hour limitation. NOTE: On campus employment is not guaranteed. If you do wish to work on campus, please let us know when you arrive.
-Do not work off-campus without USCIS approval. You are not eligible to work off-campus until you have been a full-time student for at least one academic year. At that point you may be eligible provided there is a legitimate "economic necessity." Please contact the M.C.L./LL.M. office to discuss your eligibility. Please know that very few students are approved for off-campus employment by USCIS. Therefore, it is important that you have enough financial support to fund your entire stay at California Western School of Law.
-Report an change of address, phone number, email address, and home country address to the M.C.L./LL.M. office within 10 days.
SEVIS I-20 Immigration and Naturalization Form (Certificate of Eligibility) for F-1 Visa
The immigration document that is issued to a student to apply for F-1 status. All actions (e.g., transfers, primary purposes, etc.) are recorded on this document. The SEVIS Form I-20 is a one page document that will contain a two-dimensional (2D) bar code on the right hand corner of the form, and will have the word "SEVIS" printed above the bar code. Dependents will each have their own SEVIS Form I-20. In instances of travel a student with a SEVIS Form I-20 will have a separate page for the DSO (Designated School Official) signature authorizing travel. After being accepted for admission and upon receiving your deposit, your Form I-20 is issued by California Western School of Law. This form serves as evidence that the school has admitted you. Before issuing the Form I-20, the school must make sure that you have sufficient financial resources to study full-time without working illegally. The money can be from your own funds or those of close family members. Since living and studying in the Unites States can be expensive, a very important part of applying for the F-1 status is providing evidence of financial support. The SEVIS Form I-20 indicates the estimated cost of one year's study at the school. If you apply for F-1 status, you are required to show that you can pay the cost of the first year of study in the United States, and that you have dependable financial resources for the rest of your educational program. Proof of Financial support can be demonstrated in several ways. Some applicants use what is known as an Affidavit Of Support or Form I-134. You will need letters from a bank, tax records, or other evidence confirming the financial resources of whoever signs your Affidavit of Support. If you want to prove that you have personal resources to pay for your own education, you need to show that you can maintain yourself financially throughout the entire period of study. Evidence of bank accounts, a trust or similar income must be presented. If a distant relative or friend will support you, it is best for money to be put directly into your personal bank account rather than rely on an Affidavit of Support.
Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Card
This small white card is issued to all non-immigrants and is stapled in the passport at the time of arrival in the U.S. The I-94 indicates the visa classification and the length of authorized stay in the U.S. This card is surrendered upon departure from the U.S. and a new Form I-94 is issued upon re-entry (expect for trips to Canada and Mexico lasting less than 30 days). You must be in possession of your I-94 card at all times. If you lose it, you must complete an application form (I-102) which can be obtained from the M.C.L./LL.M. Office or the USCIS. A fee of $330.00 must be submitted with the application. After details of your entry are verified, a new I-94 will be mailed to you.
The visa is the stamp placed in the passport at a U.S. consulate. It is the permit necessary to enter the U.S. for the terms and conditions of that visa classification. The visa indicates the specific classification, the expiration date, name of the bearer, the number of valid entries, and the location and date it was issued. It is not necessary that the visa be valid while you are in the U.S. It is only when traveling outside the U.S. that you must have a valid visa for re-entry. An exception is made when traveling to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands for visits of 30 days or less. With a valid passport, I-94 and I-20, the visa is considered automatically re-validated.
Obtaining a New Visa
You must always have a valid visa in you passport when you enter the U.S. It is not possible to obtain an F visa in the U.S. They can only be obtained at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate outside the United States. Generally speaking, it is always easier to obtain a new visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country. Each time you are applying for a visa, you must prove to the Consular office that you have the funds to study, that you are a bonafide student, and that you plan to return to your home country after completion of your course of studies. The Consular officers will need to see a new I-20 Form and updated financial documents proving your source of funding. Many Consulates also require a copy of your transcripts.
Applying for a Visa in Mexico or Canada
Students who are not citizens of Mexico or Canada are not recommended to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Mexico or Canada. Although students may visit Mexico or Canada without needing a valid U.S. visa to return, the law states that visa applicants denied the visa, must have a valid visa to re-enter the U.S. The automatic visa re-validation rule does not apply when an application is denied, the passport will be annotated to show there has been a visa denial, and re-entry to the U.S. will be barred.
If visa renewal in Mexico or Canada is unavoidable, appointments can be made online at: www.nvars.com. For more information, contact the Mexican Consulate in downtown San Diego.
Family members eligible for F-2 status are the spouse and the minor children of the F-1 visa holder. Please inform us of any dependents (spouse/children) that plan to accompany you to the U.S.
~You must furnish proof of financial support the amount of $5,000 per year for a spouse and $3,000 per year for each child in addition to the amount needed for your own studies and living expenses.
~Health insurance is mandatory for all dependents.
~Under no circumstances will your spouse be permitted to take any employment after he/she reaches the U.S.
~F-2 visa holders are not eligible for a Social Security Number but can apply for an ITIN number for income tax purposes.
~Children in F-2 status are able to attend public school in the U.S.
~Spouse in F-2 status is able to take classes at an educational institution.
~F-2 visa holders are able to apply for a change in visa status to F-1 if they have been admitted into a program of study in the U.S. and have been issued a Form I-20.
~Dependent family members will remain in legal F-2 status as long as the F-1 remains in legal status
Please be aware that bringing family members to the U.S. is not considered a valid reason for needing employment authorization.
Traveling Outside the U.S.
Visits to Mexico and Canada
Before traveling to Mexico or Canada, you must remember that you will be crossing an international border and consider the following: Do persons from your country need a visa to enter this country? Do you have the necessary documents to re-enter the U.S.? In order to determine if persons of your citizenship are allowed to visit Mexico, check with the Mexican Consulate in downtown San Diego. To verify visa requirements for Canada, check with the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles.
In both cases, to re-enter the U.S., you must have a valid passport, I-94 form, and a SEVIS I-20. The I-20 should have been signed on the back by the DSO within the past six months. In most cases it is not necessary to have a valid U.S. visa if your stay in Mexico or Canada is for 30 days or less. The visa is considered automatically re-validated if all the other necessary papers are in order. Border officials at the San Diego-Tijuana border now require students to have a valid visa if their SEVIS I-20 is not stamped with the red entry stamp. Student whose SEVIS I-20 does not have the red entry stamp should talk with the M.C.L./LL.M. Office before visiting Mexico.
Traveling Home or Abroad
F-1 students: If you are planning to return home or to go to another country for a visit, make sure your I-20 is valid, has been signed on the back by the DSO within the past six months, and that your visa is valid. If your visa is not valid, you will need to renew it at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.
Note: Attempt to have the back of your I-20 endorsed at least three days before your planned departure.
F-1 visa students, full-time, first year (except J.D. students who are limited to 5 hours per week) who are enrolled full time, are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week on campus while school is in session and up to 40 hours per week during vacation periods. Permission from USCIS or CWSL is not needed for on campus employment. F-1 students are also permitted to work off campus if, after one year of study, they have a severe unforeseen economic need. Permission is required from USCIS.
Employment of Dependents F-2 dependents may not be employed under any circumstances.
Social Security Number
A Social Security Number (SSN) is an identification number required for working in the U.S. Students must have a social security number for employment on and off campus and for filing the annual Federal Income Tax return. To apply for a SSN, you will need your passport, Visa, I-94 card, SEVIS I-20, and letter from the M.C.L./LL.M. office. When you receive the new number YOU MUST REPORT IT TO THE M.C.L./LL.M. OFFICE AND THE REGISTRAR. You may apply in person at the Social Security Administration located at 880 Front Street, San Diego, CA 92101.
NOTE: Upon arrival, you will be issued a California Western identification number. This number is only valid on campus to register for classes, obtain a school I.D., etc. It is cannot be used in place of the SSN.
It is not necessary to have a social security card to open a bank account. The Social Security Office will not issue you a social security card for bank purposes. If your bank asks for a social security number, you need to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The W-7 form which is used to obtain an ITIN is available at the IRS website at www.irs.gov.
Students earning money while in the U.S. may have to pay federal and state income taxes. The completion of a W-4 form at the time of hire determines the amount of tax to be withheld from each paycheck. Students often mistakenly claim "exempt" on this form only to find they must pay a large sum of tax on April 15. Students should only claim "exempt" if they are positive it will not negatively affect them. It is recommended not to claim "exempt."
More information on federal taxes can be obtained from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by calling 1.800.424.3676. The IRS also offers tax recorded information on a variety of topics through their Tele-Tax service at (619) 293.5020. State tax information can be obtained from the Franchise Tax Board by calling 1.800.852.5711.
The following federal tax publications are of special interest to international students; Publication 519: U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens; Publication 520: Scholarships and Fellowships; Publication 901: U.S. Tax Treaties.
Optional Practical Training
Optional practical training (OPT) is an opportunity to gain work experience to complement your academic program. F-1 students are entitled to one year of practical training. When it is time for you to apply for practical training, you must contact the M.C.L./LL.M. office for processing. You must apply no more than 120 days prior to and no later than 60 days after your graduation or USCIS will not authorize your practical training.
Students must complete one full academic year of study before being eligible for optional practical training/academic training.
More information about OPT is available in the M.C.L./LL.M. Office.
A Few Words of Advice
1. I-20 requests submitted to the M.C.L./LL.M. office require 3 business days to process. Plan accordingly!
2. Bring your passport and all relevant immigration documents (I-20, passport, visa, I-94) and financial documents when you come to the M.C.L./LL.M. office with requests.
3. Always contact the M.C.L./LL.M. office before you consider contacting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The USCIS is a very busy agency and the officer answering your call may not have the time required to fully understand your problem.
4. If at any time you are uncertain about your status, check with the M.C.L./LL.M. office immediately. We are here to help you!
SPECIAL ATTENTION: All Immigration regulations set forth in this document are subject to change.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
NAFSA: Association of International Educators