It is critical that you become familiar with the general rules and regulations concerning your legal status, and that you comply with all of the regulations. Many of these rules appear on the I-94 form and on the I-20 or DS-2019 (see below for further information about these documents), and you can turn to them for reference. Remember, however, that United States Government regulations frequently change without much advance notice and may vary according to country of citizenship. In particular, many of the regulations are currently undergoing substantial change. The advisers in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives are responsible for knowing the specific regulations that govern international students at any time. They will keep you informed of changes as they occur, but also strongly recommend that any student planning to leave the United States, even for a short trip to Canada, should see one of them well before her planned departure. Students who adhere to all of the regulations governing their visa status can expect to encounter few, if any, difficulties during their studies and travels. However, penalties for even minor violations of the regulations are severe, and can have serious consequences. If, at any time, you have questions about the regulations, or whether a particular activity is permitted, we strongly encourage you to speak with Jenny Medina, Immigration Specialist, in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, in advance.
All students should be aware that passports, visas, and I-94 forms do have expiration dates. Remember, it is extremely important to keep your passport, visas, and other documents in proper order since failure to do so could cause unnecessary problems that might interfere with your education.
Most of the information provided here is directed toward students who come to Mount Holyoke on F-1 or J-1 visas. Each year a few students come to Mount Holyoke on other visas, usually as dependents of their parents who are studying or working in the US (examples include F-2, J-2, E-2, L-1, G-2, A-3, etc.). In these cases, regulations pertaining to employment, travel, full-time study, and other matters may be different from those for F-1 and J-1 students. Students in other visa categories should check with their parents and/or their parents' employers or attorneys to be sure they understand the requirements and restrictions related to their particular immigration status.
Mount Holyoke College comes under the jurisdiction of the Boston Office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), John F. Kennedy Federal Building, Government Center, Boston, Massachusetts 02203.
Address Reporting Requirement
The Department of Homeland Security requires all non-US citizens (including US permanent residents) to notify them of every address change within the US. For F-1 and J-1 students, this is done through SEVIS, which is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. If you have an address change while you are in the US, you must report this change to the Office of Global Initiatives within 10 days of moving. We will then enter your address change into your SEVIS record and this will take care of the reporting requirement. It is very important that you comply with this requirement, as failure to do so could result in deportation. All other visa holders must use Form AR-11, which can be downloaded from the USCIS website, to report changes in address.
Your passport is issued by your own government and is generally valid for a period of several years, depending on country of origin. United States immigration laws require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond the date that you complete your studies or training. You can renew your passport at one of your country's consulates (many are located in New York City) or at your embassy in Washington, DC (see www.embassy.org for details).
Be certain to remove and keep your Form I-94 (discussed below) from the passport if you send it for renewal.
Whenever mailing your passport or other official documents, use certified return-receipt mail.
Most international students come to Mount Holyoke on Student (F-1) or Exchange-Visitor (J-1) visas. The basic purpose of a visa for the US is somewhat different than visas in many other parts of the world. In most countries, the visa determines the length of time that you may remain in the country concerned. In the US, however, the visa limits the period of time during which you may enter the US, and the number of times that you may enter. For example, if you have a "multiple-entry" visa valid until June 30, 2008, you may use that visa, your passport, and your I-20 or DS2019 form, to enter the US as many times as you wish until June 30, 2008. If you have a "single-entry" visa valid until December 30, 2007, you may enter the US once, before that date. Once you have entered the US, it does not matter if your visa expires. As long as your other immigration documents (I-94, passport, and I-20 or DS-2019) are valid, and you are enrolled as a full-time student, you may legally remain in the US beyond the expiration date of the visa itself. Think of the visa as the key that opens the door; once you are inside, you no longer need the key. However, if you leave the US after your visa has expired, you will need to obtain a new visa in order to return.
I-94 Card (Arrival/Departure Record)
The I-94 Form is the document that permits you to remain in the United States and governs the length of your stay. Except for your passport, it is the most important document you have. Regardless of which visa type you receive, you will receive a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record when you enter the US. The I-94 is usually a small white card, and the immigration officer at the port of entry usually puts inside your passport. (Some new I-94 cards, issued only at certain airports and for flights on certain airlines, are long, thin forms that look like an airline ticket or boarding pass.) The form will indicate your visa status and have the notation D/S ("duration of status") which means that it will expire when you complete your studies at Mount Holyoke (e.g., May 2011, for students entering as first year students). The I-94 will also have a number written in the top left corner, which USCIS will use to keep track of your records in their office. This number is variously known as Arrival Number, Departure Number, and Admission Number. Each time you leave the US (except for visits of 30 days or less to Canada, Mexico, or certain adjacent islands), your current I-94 card will be taken from you upon your departure, and you will receive a new one when you return. Make sure that you keep your I-94 card in your passport at all times. If the Immigration Officer does not staple it in your passport, please make sure that you staple it in your passport. The cost to replace the 1-94 card is $300.00.
All international students are required to be enrolled full-time at Mount Holyoke in order to maintain their immigration status. The normal full-time courseload is 16 credits per semester, and we expect students to register for 16 credits each semester (Foreign Fellows who have teaching responsibilities in one of the language departments may enroll for fewer than 16 credits each semester, but must complete 20 credits over the full year). For purposes of Immigration requirements only, the minimum full-time courseload is 12 credits per semester for all students (except for Foreign Fellows with teaching responsibilities, who must register for a minimum of 8 credits per semester and 20 credits over the course of the year). If at any time you find yourself considering enrolling in fewer credits, you must first consult with Global Initiatives to determine whether you can do so without jeopardizing your immigration status. If you reduce your courseload without prior authorization from us, we will be required to report you to USCIS as being "out of status," so it is critical that you seek approval first.
Transfer (Before or After Completion of Studies)
Students on both F-1 and J-1 visas may apply to other colleges or universities to continue their education in the United States after completion of their studies at Mount Holyoke, or to transfer. In either case, you should notify Jenny Medina in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, who will inform you of the procedures to be followed in your particular case.
Travel Outside the United States
You may leave and re-enter the United States as many times as you wish during your stay at Mount Holyoke as long as you have:
- A valid multiple entry visa
- An I-20 form signed on page three, or DS-2019 form, signed at the bottom right-hand corner, after your initial enrollment at Mount Holyoke, by one of the advisers in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, and
- A valid passport
We also recommend that students carry with them a current copy of their Mount Holyoke transcript and any financial documentation (such as the Certification of Finances).
Remember that each time you leave the United States, you must have an I-20 or DS-2019 to return (this applies to summers, college vacations, weekend trips to Canada, etc.). When you are planning a trip outside the US, be sure that one of the advisers in the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives has signed page three of your I-20 form within the current semester. (Students on the J-1 visa need to have the DS-2019 signed on the back only once each year after their arrival.) If your visa expires or you have a single entry visa, you will need to get a new one to re-enter only if you leave the US; in this case, consult with Global Initiatives about your visa application.
If you travel to a country other than your home country, you may need to obtain a visa in order to visit. Contact the embassy or consulate to find out whether you need a visa. Remember that you need to check whether you need a visa to visit Canada, for example.
In the United States, it is important to have several forms of identification with you. You should have at least one "ID" (Identification Card) with your picture on it. In order to cash a check, you may be required to show two ID's with your picture on each. When cashing traveler's checks, you may be asked to show your passport as one of your forms of identification. On the other hand, many businesses will not accept your passport as a form of identification if you are trying to cash a personal check.
- Mount Holyoke College ID (One-Card). This card has a 9 digit number assigned to you by the College; the Registrar's Office assigns a separate 9 digit number ("access number") for course registration and billing purposes. These numbers generally are not meaningful to businesses or offices off campus, but the ID card itself may be accepted as proof of identity. Note that you will need to keep a record of your access number for use in registering for courses, charging purchases at the College store, etc.
- Social Security Card. Employers use Social Security numbers (9 digit numbers) to keep track of payroll earnings, deductions, and income taxes. As a non-resident of the United States, you will have to file an income tax form with the United States government if you work on or off campus. If you work at Mount Holyoke, you must have a Social Security number in order to receive a paycheck. The McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives will arrange for new students to apply for Social Security cards early in the academic year. In order to apply, you need to show your passport, I-94 card, and I-20 Form (F-1 students) or DS-2019 Form (J-1 students), as well as a letter from the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives confirming that you are a full-time student who is eligible for on-campus employment and a letter from your on-campus employer.
- Massachusetts ID Cards. During your time at Mount Holyoke you may need another form of identification in addition to your passport and MHC ID. For instance, if you want to pay by check in a store, it is possible that you will be asked for several forms of identification featuring your picture--and it is not a good idea to carry your passport around with you. Therefore, you may want to consider applying for a Massachusetts ID. The McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives arranges several trips each spring to the Registry of Motor Vehicles so that students may apply for Massachusetts IDs. See our Massachusetts ID page for additional information.
The Foreign Student and the Law *
As a foreign student, you are subject to American laws except those pertaining to immigration, voting rights and citizenship; you are also protected by American laws.
Should you come into conflict with the law, the first person to contact is the Dean of International Students or the Dean of the College or Associate Dean of the College. She will let you know whom to contact next - either a lawyer or another responsible person.
A foreign student, just like an American citizen, if she is accused of a violation of the law, may not be forced to confess or to give evidence against herself; she may remain silent and refuse to answer any questions regarding the accusation against her, if she so chooses. A foreign student is entitled to have a lawyer to defend her in court, and if she cannot afford to hire a lawyer, she may have one appointed by the court. So, if you are arrested for any reason, you do not need to make any statement or answer any questions without legal counsel (lawyer).
Foreign students often worry that they will be deported should they come into conflict with the law. In general, you will not be deported for a single misdemeanor or other minor offense, e.g., petty theft, disturbing the peace, or drunkenness. But if a foreign student is convicted of a crime involving "moral turpitude" for which she is then sentenced to one year or more in confinement, deportation is a real possibility. Charges relating to drug (narcotic drugs or marijuana) addiction, possession, and sale fall into this category. Students who violate immigration laws and work illegally in the US may also be subject to deportation.
In addition to violation of the law, a foreign student must consider several other related factors which may affect her immigration status. If she violates the rules of the College and is disciplined by suspension or dismissal from the College, her status changes - she is no longer a student, she has not maintained her status as a student under the immigration laws, and she can be deported for that reason. She cannot be deported for violating a college regulation, but she can be deported for not being a student. Also, sponsored students must keep in mind the regulations of the sponsoring agency. If those regulations are violated, the agency may withdraw financial and visa sponsorship. Finally, a student should consider the attitude of her home government toward any of her actions here, for the home government is able to withdraw or cancel her passport.
* The information in this section is taken directly from the Participant's Handbook 1981-82 United States of America published by ISEP, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., pp. 28-29.