You are not expected to be an expert in every matter of immigration law, nor are we trying to intimidate you with a barrage of acronyms related to the government. This being said, international students have special regulations to follow and these regulations change often! Please do not hesitate to contact International Scholar Services (ISS) with any questions or concerns. Remember that immigration laws can change frequently. Consult ISS, not your friends. What might have been true a year ago may not be true now. You must notify ISS if you have a name change, an address change, a marital status change, or a major change.
You walked through customs upon arriving in the United States. You most likely had to gather your luggage and walk it past a customs officer. They typically ask if you're carrying fruit, meat, or other prohibited items into the U.S.
The Department of State issues your visa and grants you permission to arrive in the country. They do not admit you into the country -- the USCIS does this. They also do not determine your length of stay.
This is a Wilson employee who is granted permission from USCIS to sign for travel, grant CPT, and other services for international students. We currently have three DSO's.
Your I-20 was issued by Wilson College stating that you have been admitted as a full-time student and you (or your sponsor) are able to pay for your schooling. It is a white full-sized piece of paper with three pages and a red stamp in the top right corner. Your I-20, in part, determines how long you can stay in the country -- not your visa.
Your I-94 is a small index-card sized piece of paper where you filled out your name and other information. Upon arrival, an immigration agent stamped this. This card does not look very official; however, it is required to prove that you entered the country legally and when you arrived. It should be stapled in your passport. When you leave the United States it will be taken from you, and you will receive a new one upon return to the United States.
This means that you are in the country legally and following all the rules. You should be attending school full-time, taking a full course-load, not working illegally, making progress towards your degree, not overstaying your I-20, and you haven't switched majors without notifying the international office. These are just a few things you need to do to stay "in status."
SEVIS is a database used by the Department of Homeland Security to monitor students (F-1 and J-1). DSO’s (see above) maintain SEVIS and issue I-20s in SEVIS. SEVIS keeps track of your entries in and out of the country, if you are maintaining status, internships, and other issues.
If you plan to leave the country, you need permission from a Wilson DSO. A Wilson DSO will verify that you are in status and then sign the last page of your I-20. You have six months to travel on that signature. Schedule an appointment with International Student & Scholar Services to get this signature. It takes one day or more for a DSO to make sure they can sign for travel, because the DSO must verify that you have been in-status the entire time. Again, plan for travel signatures ahead of time. Students on OPT also need a travel signature every six months.
This is a branch of the federal government under the "Homeland Security" Department. This office admits international students and monitors them in the U.S. When you first arrived on U.S. soil (most likely at the airport), you showed your paperwork to an agent who stamped your I-20 and I-94 and allowed you to enter the country.
Your visa is a sticker or stamp in your passport. It was given to you at an embassy or consulate, most likely in your home country. Your visa does not determine how long you can stay in the U.S. A visa is merely an entry ticket into the country. Depending on the type of visa you have, it means that you can enter and possibly re-enter the U.S. up until the expiration date. It does not legally determine if you can stay in the country -- it only lets you in. In other words, if your visa expires in 2018 but you are done with school in May 2017, you must leave by July 2017 (see 60 day voluntary departure). It does not mean you can stay until 2018 just because your visa says so. On the other hand, if your visa expired July 2016, but you are not done with school, that’s fine. You can stay in the country and continue schooling, as long as you are staying “in status” the entire time. You cannot leave the country and re-enter, though, on this visa. If you leave the U.S. then you must obtain a new visa to reenter the U.S.
You are allowed to volunteer if you receive no compensation for this and if it’s normally a volunteer position. You may not: get paid, earn credit, or receive any compensation. If your employer gives you something (i.e., a bus ticket) and then puts this on their taxes, it can be linked to you. You cannot take a volunteer position which is normally paid; this is not a true volunteer position.
You have 60 days from graduation or completion of studies to leave the country. Students who withdraw from their program or do not re-enroll must leave the US within 30 days. If you overstay this, you are in violation of your immigration status. Students may also have their SEVIS record transferred to another institution to which they have been admitted if they have maintained status.