On September 30, 1996, the "Illegal Immigration and Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996" became law. The law contains important provisions for all nonimmigrants in the United States, including students, scholars and their accompanying dependents. The bill has little effect on those individuals who maintain legal status. However, there will be serious consequences for non-immigrants who violate immigration rules, even in minor ways, especially for those who stay beyond the authorized period of stay.
Please remember that you maintain legal status by:
- Enrolling full-time each semester if you are a student.
- Pursuing the original objectives of your J-1 program if you are a scholar.
- Being employed only with permission from INS or the IPS.
- Applying to extend status IN ADVANCE of your expiration.
- Keeping your passport valid.
- Obtaining adequate health insurance if you are a J visa holder.
The new law makes it more important than ever to consult regularly with the IPS to ensure that you do not fail to maintain your status by oversight or by forgetting to comply with a required procedure. It is each student's/scholar's responsibility to monitor his or her own status.
The summary below represents our understanding of several provisions of the complicated new law:
As of October 1, 1996, the visa stamp in the passport of any persons who have violated their legal status or stayed in the United States beyond their authorized stay will be considered void, even if the dates on the visa stamp remain valid. Persons who have overstayed will therefore need to apply for a new visa before they can re-enter the United States and will only be able to do so in the country of their citizenship. Application for a visa in any other country (Canada or Mexico, for example) or a country of permanent residence is not permitted. This provision of the law means that it is essential for students and scholars returning from abroad to be able to prove that they have maintained status during their previous stay in the United States. We recommend that when you travel, you take with you a transcript verifying that you are currently maintaining your status.
Effective April 1, 1997, there are severe penalties for "visa overstays" (persons who have remained in the U.S. after expiration of their authorized time). The penalties include a bar from reentry to the U.S. for three years for any person who has been illegally in the U.S. for 6-12 months. Aliens illegally in the U.S. for more than 12 months will be barred from reentry to the U.S. for 10 years.
In April 1997, a program to collect information (visa information, address, academic status) on students (F, J, and M) from specified countries took effect. Information is to be collected by the school from students from the affected countries and forwarded to the Immigration Service.