Following, you will read very important information regarding your immigration status and the responsibilities associated with it. It is vital that you take time to understand these regulations. Staff members of the IPS who work with international students will explain the regulations you do not understand. Please note that these regulations pertain to both F-1 and J-1 student visa holders.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
If you receive authorization to work in the United States (i.e. when you apply for Optional Practical Training), you will be given an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office (USCIS).
Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record
Permission to be in the U.S. comes from your Form I-94, which is issued to you at the port of entry and grants you admission to the U.S. F-1 and J-1 students are admitted for "duration of status" which is written as "D/S" on the Form I-94. D/S means that there is no expiration date for your legal stay. You may continue to study through a bachelor's, master's, Ph.D., and practical training, plus 60 days (30 days for J-1 students) to prepare for departure. However, your legal status depends upon your following all of the rules pertaining to your status.
Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student
The I-20 form is a certificate from the school, in which the school attests to several facts, including a belief that you are a bonafide student who intends to pursue the academic program to the end and a statement that you have been accepted by the school for a full course of study. By itself, the form is nothing more than a piece of paper on which facts are stated. An I-20 is a required part of an F-1 visa application, but merely having one in your possession has no legal meaning.
When you are outside the U.S., the I-20 must be taken to a U.S. embassy or consulate, with copies of your financial documentation, and submitted with an application for a visa. If you are inside the U.S., the I-20 is used to notify the Immigration Service when you change schools or extend your program and may also be needed if you apply for reinstatement to student status or some other benefit. The DS-2019 is also a certificate and serves similar purposes for J-1 applicants.
You must sign your Form I-20 or DS-2019 before it will be accepted by a consulate, embassy, or USCIS. The signature on Form I-20 constitutes an agreement to abide by the rules and grants the school permission to provide certain information about you to USCIS. Take special note of the date entered in section five of your I-20 or the beginning of studies date on your DS-2019. You must arrive in the U.S. and appear at the school by that date. If you cannot, you will need written instructions from the school or may have to wait until a later time to begin studies (with a new form).
Whenever you travel outside the U.S. with plans to return, you must carry your I-20 or DS-2019 with you and you must have a new signature on the form from the IPS staff each time you travel.
It is essential that you keep the I-20 as well as your passport, visa, and I-94 card in a safe place. If you lose any of these forms, please inform the IPS immediately. Please review your I-20 for accuracy and inform the IPS of any corrections that need to be made (i.e., if you change your major, if your financial support changes). Pay special attention to the expiration date in item #5, and follow procedures for an extension if necessary. KEEP ALL I-20's ISSUED TO YOU EVEN IF THEY HAVE EXPIRED. INS will not authorize employment if you do not have all of your I-20's.
Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status
Form DS-2019 is the official document that you use in order to obtain a J-1 visa in your home country. It is essential that you keep the DS-2019 as well as your passport, visa, and I-94 card in a safe place. If you lose any of these forms, please inform the IPS immediately. Please review your DS-2019 for accuracy and inform the IPS of any corrections that need to be made. Pay special attention to the expiration date in item #3. KEEP ALL immigration documents ISSUED TO YOU EVEN IF THEY HAVE EXPIRED.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
USCIS is the agency of the U.S. government that enforces U.S. immigration law. USCIS maintains the border patrol and inspection stations at U.S. ports of entry. USCIS is also responsible for adjudicating an individual's eligibility for many nonimmigrant statuses and permanent residency. You should, however, contact the IPS regarding any immigration questions that you have.
The concept of U.S. immigration status is often misunderstood by students. It is not connected to your visa. A visa must be valid only to the day you enter the U.S. (unless you are exempt from visa requirements). There is no effect on your legal status if your visa expires while you are in the U.S. and F, J, and M visas cannot be renewed in the U.S. The visa is only a travel document which allows you to board an airplane or a ship destined for the U.S.