Immigration: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a visa?

A: A visa is a document from the U.S. State Department for the bearer to enter the United States in a particular category. The United States splits responsibility for issues having to do with non-citizens between the State Department and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once in the United States, non-citizen "aliens" are under the jurisdiction of the USCIS, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Once admitted to the United States, a non-immigrant can allow his or her visa to expire. While many other countries specify the length of stay on the visa itself, the USCIS relies upon the I-94 card for that purpose.

Q: What's an I-94 card?

A: An I-94 card is the small (3x4") section of the long immigration form you filled in on the plane. The USCIS inspector removed the bottom of it and stapled it into your passport. It bears the date and port of entry, the inspector's identification number, the status in which you are admitted, and either the date to which you are allowed to stay, or a reference to your certificate of eligibility as the controlling document in that regard. In this case, the I-94 card will be marked "D/S." (Duration of Status) This will be true for anyone in F or J status.

Q: What do I need to apply for a student visa?

A: At a minimum, you need the visa application form and any certificate of eligibility (e.g. I-20 or DS-2019) or approval that may be associated with the status for which you are applying. Consuls, however, have the authority to ask for any other type of documentation they feel is necessary to make a decision. They ask for this documentation as evidence that you are eligible for the status you are requesting, and/or that you are not "excludable."

The essential documentary concerns of most international students at Alliant International University are:

  • The certificate of eligibility, or the approval of the employer's petition;
  • Proof that you have sufficient funds to carry out the activities permitted by the visa without resorting to unauthorized employment;
  • Evidence that you have a compelling reason to return to your home country. (In some cases, such as the application for an H visa, 2 and 3 are not needed by the consul. For most students and exchange visitors [J-1], however, all three are areas of concern. And this applies to parents, friends or siblings, for example, who want to visit you as tourists in the future.)

Q: If the visa stamp in my passport expires while I am in the U.S. must I leave the country to renew it?

A: The visa stamp in your passport is an "entry permit" only, so you need not be concerned if it expires once you have already entered the US unless you plan to travel out of the US and re-enter, in which case you will need to go to the US Consulate (preferably in your home country) and apply for a new visa stamp. When you go to the Consulate to apply for the new visa stamp, you should bring with you your I-20 (if you are a student on an F-1 visa), which, unless it's a brand new document (consisting of both the "school copy" as well as the "student copy"), should be endorsed on the back by one of the International Student Services Office designated school officials. It is also strongly recommended that you bring proof that you have the funding to cover your tuition and living expenses and a letter from your advisor stating that you are in good standing and making adequate progress toward your degree.

Q: Are there scholarships that will pay for my studies at Alliant International University?

A: It is very difficult to find outside scholarships to fund study at Alliant International University, especially once you have enrolled and have begun your studies. Such awards as Fulbright and Rotary are available to students as long as they apply before they begin their studies. Foreign governments and companies also assist students to start their studies at Alliant. If you are an undergraduate and graduate international student, you will be informed by the Office of Admissions about any possible scholarship money available. You will receive this information when you apply.

The International Student Services Office does not have any scholarship funds to help support international students at Alliant. We do have some information and publications on non-Alliant scholarships but such awards are very competitive and often do not grant enough funds to cover the cost of studying at Alliant.

Q: What are my general responsibilities as an international student in the United States?

A: The most important contributor to your success is you! Your failure to live up to your responsibilities as an international student can drastically jeopardize your status as a student here, as well as your right to remain in the United States.

The following are among the many responsibilities of which you will need to be aware:

  1. You must know and adhere to the regulations of the Department of Homeland Security regarding your visa status, as specified on page 2 of your I-20.
  2. You must know and comply with Alliant International University’s regulations.
  3. You must enroll as a full time student during the Fall and Spring semester. Undergraduates must enroll in at least 12 unites each semester. Graduate students must enroll in a minimum of 9 units per semester. Summer session enrollment is optional. Only one Online Credit Course is allowed per semester.
  4. On campus employment is allowed, however, off campus employment must be pre authorized by Department of Homeland Security, or International Students Services Office. Unauthorized employment is grounds for deportation.
  5. If you leave and then re enter the US, you must present a valid visa and valid I 20 upon re entry.
  6. Keep your ISSO file complete and up to date. You must notify the ISSO with any changes in your major, marital status, visa status, contact information, address, e-mail address, phone number, and home country address with 10 days of the change. You also need to notify our office when you withdraw from school, and if you are planning to transfer to another school.
  7. Keep your Passport and I-20 valid at all times. You must apply for an extension of stay if you do not complete your studies within the time specified on your I-20. The extension must be completed before expiration date of your current I-20.

Q. What do I do if my passport expires or I lose it while I am within the United States?

A: Contact your local consulate for instructions to renew or replace a lost passport. To find the closest consulate or embassy of your home country, please refer to the listing of local consulates or contact the International Student Services Office.

Q: How often should my visa document be endorsed?

A: If you are on an F-1 visa, your I-20 should be signed on the part of the document designated "for re-entry of the student..." by one of the "designated school officials" (at the International Student Services Office) for you to re-enter the US after you travel outside the US. The signature is generally valid for re-entry for up to one year. Because many immigration officials interpret "one year" as meaning one academic year, you should request a travel signature each academic year. Keep in mind if you remain out of the US for more than 5 months, you will need to request a brand new I-20 for re-entry, since the travel endorsement is not valid for an absence from the US of more than 5 months. For students who have graduated and are on post-completion practical training, the signature is valid for six months only.

If you are on a J-1 visa, your DS-2019 should be signed by a Responsible Officer to reauthorize your reentry into the US. These signatures are valid for one year. If you travel several times within that year, it is not necessary to have it signed every time you travel. If you need to go to a US Consulate (outside the US) to have the visa stamp in your passport renewed, it is recommended that you have your visa document signed shortly before you plan to travel. You should also plan to present proof of funding and a letter from your advisor stating that you are making good progress toward your degree or a copy of your transcripts to the US Consul if you are applying for a visa stamp.

Q: I have a newly reissued passport. While I am in the United States, is it possible to change my unexpired visa stamp from my old passport to my newly reissued passport?

A: No. However, you may get a new visa stamp in your newly issued passport from the US Consulate/Embassy in your home country.

Q: I have a newly reissued passport. My old expired passport has a valid visa stamp, but my newly reissued passport does not. Can I re-enter the United States showing both passports?

A: Yes, you should carry both your old expired passport and your new reissued passport, along with a valid I-20 or DS-2019.

Q: I recently graduated. I would like to travel back to my home country for a vacation, and then return to the United States to work under Post-Completion Optional Practical Training. Do I need to have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) prior to my departure for my home country?

A: Yes. To re-enter the United States, you will need the following documents:

  1. Valid passport (passport should be valid for six months into the future at time of entry unless passport agreement exists between your home country and the United States)
  2. Valid visa stamp
  3. I-20 with endorsement for Optional Practical Training
  4. Signature endorsement on page 3 of I-20. Remember: a signature is valid for only six months once you are on post-completion practical training
  5. Valid EAD card
  6. Proof of funding
  7. Job offer letter

Warning: If you are outside the US for longer than 5 months, you will forfeit your F-1 status and the benefit of employment eligibility. It is illegal for you to attempt to enter the US, even with an apparently valid EAD, after an absence of five months from the US.

Q: I will be graduating this coming June. Do I need a job offer letter in order to re-enter the United States after conferral of my degree?

A: Yes, F1 visa holders on Post-Completion Practical Training must now also have evidence of a job offer letter or employer's letter verifying employment.


 

Information About International Student Travel Between U.S. and Foreign Destinations

Entry into Mexico

Mexican tourist cards or visas are required of all persons in order to visit Mexico. Tourist cards/visas are obtained at the Mexican Consulate. Tourist cards are normally processed within one hour: visas could take a little longer. Some visas are free: for others, there is a charge. Some visas require three photos. To find out whether or not a tourist card or visa is needed, and documents required to obtain the card/visa, contact the Mexican Consulate.

Re-entry into the U.S. from Mexico

Those F & J non-immigrant students who visit Mexico for less than 30 days, who have maintained a lawful non-immigrant status in the US and intend to resume that status upon their return, must have the following:

  1. A valid passport (passport should be valid for six months into the future at time of entry unless passport agreement exists between your home country and the United States)
  2. A new or properly endorsed valid 1-20 (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1 visa holders)
  3. A valid Form 1-94 (white card usually stapled to the passport, known as the "arrival / departure record". If this card is surrendered upon departure, a valid visa in the passport is required for re-entry)

NOTE: the (F or J) visa stamp in the passport need not be valid if you are traveling solely to Mexico and the travel period does not exceed 30 days and you have not submitted an application for a new visa at the U.S. consulate in Mexico with the result being that the application was either denied or delayed more than 30 days. (Citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Libya are not eligible for re-entry with an expired visa.)

Re-entry into the U.S. from Mexico for F-1 Status

Upon return to the U.S., you must show the U.S. Immigration Inspector:

  1. Form I-94
  2. Valid I-20 that has been endorsed for travel. The travel endorsement is valid for one year from the date of the endorsement for absences of less than five months.
  3. Valid passport (passport should be valid for six months into the future at time of entry unless passport agreement exists between your home country and the United States).
  4. Valid visa (Canadian citizens do not need visas)

Re-entry into the U.S. from Mexico for J-1 Status

Upon return to the U.S., you must show the US Immigration Inspector:

  1. Form I-94 (the expiration date shown must be beyond the date of return or the notation "J-1 D/S" will be noted.)
  2. Current DS-2019 (either a new Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) status, or an endorsed pink copy.) Endorsement by the program sponsor is necessary before the first departure from the U.S. and annually thereafter.
  3. Valid passport (passport should be valid for six months into the future at time of entry unless passport agreement exists between your home country and the United States)
  4. Valid visa (Exceptions: See the previous section on Re-entry; Canadian citizens do not need visas)