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 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 Advisor, 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).
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, 2019, 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, 2019. If you have a "single-entry" visa valid until December 30, 2017, 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. You can print a copy of your I-94 card here as they are are issued electronically. If your last entry into the US was prior to May 2013, you may still have the white card in your passport and should keep this with your passport as it is very important (it would cost $300 to replace if you were to lose it). The next time you leave the US, you should hand it in and your I-94's from then on will be available online.
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 at MHC is 16 credits per semester, and we expect students to register for 16 credits each semester . For purposes of Immigration requirements only, the minimum full-time courseload is 12 credits per semester for all students. If at any time you find yourself considering enrolling in fewer than 12 credits, you must first consult with the McCulloch Center 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 two, or DS-2019 form, signed at the bottom right-hand corner, after your initial enrollment at Mount Holyoke, by Jenny Medina or Donna Van Handle, 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 Jenny or Donna has signed page two of your I-20 form within the current semester. (Students on the J-1 visa need to have the DS-2019 signed 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 the McCulloch Center 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, 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. See our Massachusetts ID page for additional information.
The International 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.
An international 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. An international 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).