Immigration Documents for Students
The following is a list of immigration documentation that students in F-1 or J-1 status must have to enter the U.S. These documents also must be maintained during their stay in the U.S.
All international students are required to possess and maintain a valid passport issued by their country of citizenship. At the time of admission, the passports of F and J nonimmigrants, must be valid for at least 6 months into the future. A student’s passport should remain valid at all times while in the U.S. Students who have questions regarding passport renewals, extensions, or replacements must be referred to their country’s embassy or consulate located in the U.S.
A visa is a stamp in the passport that can only be issued by a consular officer at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. A visa can never be issued within the U.S. Upon application for admission, the non-immigrant presents a valid passport and a valid visa. Non-immigrants requesting admission into the U.S. for the purposes of pursuing full-time study, must have a valid student visa (F-1 or J-1). The visa stamp has an expiration date that may or may not correspond to the period of authorized stay in the U.S. The visa stamp is an entry document only; it must be valid at the time of admission into the U.S. but there is no requirement that it remain valid for the duration of the student’s program.. The visa never determines the period of authorized stay for the individual. Once in the U.S., the F-1 or J-1 student may remain legally even after the visa expires so long as their other documents are valid and they maintain student status through full-time enrollment and following all other student regulations. Conversely, if the validity of the visa stamp extends beyond the end of the student’s program, this will not allow the individual to remain in the U.S. beyond the end of the program for a period longer than the stated grace period applicable to the student’s status (60 days for F-1 students and 30 days for J-1 students).
Non-immigrants already in the U.S. may apply to USCIS for a change to another non-immigrant status if they desire and are eligible (they should consult with International Student and Scholar Services staff for details). If USCIS approved the change of status, the individual would possess new documents (a new I-94 and an I-797 Notice of Action). If the individual has not traveled outside of the U.S. since the change of status was approved, he/she would not have, nor be required to have a new visa stamp in the passport. A valid visa for the status a non-immigrant wishes to enter in, as stated above, is only required when requesting admission to the U.S.
Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019)
The Form I-20 or DS-2019 is required for a student to apply for the F-1 or J-1 visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and to request admission into the U.S.
These forms are issued through the U.S. government’s SEVIS database (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) and are created by ISSS for study at UNC-CH once a student has been admitted and submitted all other required documents. The Form I-20 or DS-2019 along with the I-94, are the documents that indicate an individual has been lawfully admitted into the U.S. or has been approved for a change of status within the U.S. They document the amount of time it normally takes to complete the course of study to which they have been admitted. Students who have not completed their course of study by the date indicated on the Form I-20 or DS-2019 must apply for an extension prior to the current date of expiration. The Form I-20 and DS-2019 also indicate a student’s level and field of study so if any of this information changes the form must be amended.