I have experienced and observed the confusion that comes with being an international student. A lot of students live in so much fear and anxiety. As information travels from one person to another, a lot of things get lost and added. I’ve been there, and I’m happy to tell you to RELAX.
In this post, I describe the documents you need to maintain a legal status as an international student. There are some clauses I will draw your attention to, as I discuss them. I will also leave the links to my sources so that you can go back and verify whatever you see here. Without any more long story,
below are the important legal documents for international students in the United States of America.
Valid International Passport
Consider this, your other fingerprint. You have come from a different country and one of the main documents that allowed that to happen is your passport. Your passport is more important than any other form of identification you have in the US. Some organizations will immediately request it, once they discover you are neither a US citizen nor a permanent resident. Your passport should ALWAYS be current; in other words, RENEW it before it expires. If you plan to leave the US, make sure you have at least 6 months left on your passport. It is also important to keep it secure to avoid damage or loss. You will not be allowed to re-enter the US, if your passport is expired, regardless of whether your current visa is on it. If your current visa is on an expired passport, carry the old one and the new one when you need it.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, you can stay in the US with an expired visa, as long as your SEVIS record shows you are in active student status. However, if you leave the US, you will not be allowed back without a valid US visa. An exception to this is the ‘automatic visa revalidation’ where your visa can be automatically revalidated if you travel to Canada, Mexico, or neighboring islands for less than 30 days. For this revalidation, you have to have a valid Form I-20 and unexpired Form I-94. This revalidation will not be possible, if, during your travel, you traveled for more than 30 days, applied for a US visa that was denied or not issued yet, or have a terminated SEVIS record. Honestly, I just advice international students to try and renew their visa if they can or don’t want to be restricted in their international travels. However, an expired student visa is NOT a crime and does not make you illegal; as long as your SEVIS record shows you are an ACTIVE student.
This is one document you should take very seriously. Your student status starts and ends with this document. If all is well with your I-20, all is well with you. This document doesn’t require much to maintain. You don’t need to renew it! It’s valid as long as your student status is active. Form I-20 will be reprinted if you get a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optical Practical Training (OPT). You should also keep all information on your I-20 current, i.e. name change, funding, major, dependents, etc.; if any of the information on your I-20 changes, notify your Designated School Official (DSO) immediately. The big thing with the I-20 is getting it signed by your DSO before you travel outside the US. People have reported unpleasant experiences when they tried to enter the US without a DSO signature that is current (less than a year).
Who remembers when the Form I-94 was a small white paper in your passport? Some people almost fainted when they misplaced that paper. Whew! The Internet has saved us…lol. Unlike some other forms of non-immigrant visas, the Form I-94 for students doesn’t typically have an expiration date. When it was a paper, the admitting officer will put D/S on your form. D/S means ‘Duration of Stay’, which means you are fine as long as you are an active student. Now, you can just go to the Department of Homeland Security website, and print out the Form I-94 whenever it is required. This is the least of your concerns, as long as you are in status.
And that is it ! Yes, just FOUR documents! I hope all your fears have been put to rest. There are other documents that you might need for other reasons, but not to stay in status. If you have any questions or concerns, the comment section is a scroll away. Until the next post…..
Make it a Winning-Day