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SEVIS and Immigration

A complicated system of statutes, regulations, and interpretations govern U.S. immigration and naturalization. In general terms, immigration law is created by the Legislative (Congress), Executive (President and Executive Agencies), and Judicial (Federal Courts) branches of the U.S. government. This law must then be interpreted, applied, and adhered to by both the government and the public.

U.S. immigration functions are divided between three bureaus of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

  1. USCIS : U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for most application and petition adjudication.
  2. ICE : U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for immigration investigations, detention, removal, intelligence, and SEVIS.
  3. CBP : U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for immigration inspections at U.S. ports of entry, Border Patrol, and Customs Service.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 granted visa policy authority to the Secretary of DHS, while leaving the day-to-day management of visa issuance with the Department of State.

What is SEVIS?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an internet-based system that maintains current academic and immigration information on non-immigrant students (F/J visas) and their dependents. SEVIS enables schools to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the internet to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and Department of State (embassies and consulates) throughout a student's stay in the U.S.

 

How does SEVIS work?

You will receive your I-20 (if you are applying for an F-1 visa) or DS-2019 (if you are applying for a J-1 visa) through the mail with a letter of acceptance to Virginia Tech. You must then begin the immigration process immediately. Anyone seeking a visa from an embassy or consulate abroad must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.

Visas and Certificates of Eligibility

F-1 and J-1 are the two visa categories in which most people study in the U.S. They both require full-time study per semester; 12 credit hours for undergraduates and at least 12 credit hours for graduate students.

F-1 Information

The F-1 is the most commonly used student visa. You will be considered for F-1 status if you intend to pay expenses using your own personal resources or receive a graduate assistantship from Virginia Tech.

If you are given an F-1 visa, your spouse will enter on an F-2 visa.

J-1 Information

The J-1 is an exchange visitor visa. To qualify for Virginia Tech's J-1 visitor program, you must participate in an approved student exchange program or be specifically funded by a government organization, an agency, a foundation, an employer, or an international organization authorized to conduct an exchange visitor program. You cannot be placed on Virginia Tech's J-1 program if your sole source of support is personal funds. If you qualify for a J-1 visa, your spouse will be given a J-2 visa.

Some J-1 students may be required to return home for two years at the end of their studies to fulfill the two year home residence requirement before being able to return to the U.S.

If you are eligible for J-1 status, request a DS-2019 from the appropriate admissions office or sponsoring agency. Students who have DS-2019 forms must take the DS-2019 to the U.S. consulate in their home country to obtain their J-1 visa. Otherwise, the student will use an I-20 form (certificate of eligibility) to apply for a F-1 student visa. Students must take the I-20 form to the U.S. consulate in their home country to receive their F-1 student visa. Please visit travel.state.gov to see what U.S. Consuls are looking for when international students apply for visas.

F1 and J1

After Virginia Tech admits an international student, Virginia Tech notifies SEVIS and the USCIS approves the issuance of an I-20/DS-2019. The form is mailed to the student.

The student visits a U.S. consulate or embassy, where the document is verified and the visa is issued.

Before signing your I-20 you should understand your obligations.

When you arrive at a port of entry in the United States, you will be required to present either the I-20 or DS-2019 form to the immigration officer, who will keep the appropriate form and issue you a complete I-94 (arrival-departure record). This form is sometimes referred to as the Temporary Entry Permit. The I-94, which is an extremely important document, indicates the date when your permission to remain in the U.S. expires and should be kept in your passport. If you enter the United States on an F-1 or J-1 visa, you will receive a copy of your I-20 or DS-2019 that will be used as an ID. Make sure you get this form and keep it in your passport.

Customs

At a United States consulate in your home country, ask for a copy of U.S. Customs Hints for Visitors. This explains customs regulations and may prevent unnecessary expense.

When the student arrives on campus, the school notifies SEVIS of the student's enrollment. Event updates, including change of address, change of major, medical relief, withdrawals, and full time enrollment for each semester are entered into SEVIS.

The student's departure is also recorded in SEVIS.

What data does SEVIS collect?

Virginia Tech sends the following information through SEVIS:

  • Whether a student enrolled or failed to enroll in classes (each semester)
  • Change in the student's (or their dependent's) legal name or address
  • Whether a student drops below full time enrollment (12 credit hours) without prior authorization from a designated school official
  • Change of major or academic level
  • Program extensions
  • Premature termination of study (date and reason)
  • Employment authorizations (curricular or optional practical training)
  • School transfers
  • Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to criminal conviction
  • Information regarding any student who fails to maintain status or complete their program
What other immigration requirements should I be aware of?

The following are important immigration requirements:

  • Students must report address changes within 10 days to Graduate Student Services or Cranwell International Center.
  • Students must apply to the USCIS for optional practical training prior to completion of studies.
  • Students are eligible for 12 months of optional practical training after each level of higher education (bachelor's, master's, Ph.D.).
  • Only one online/distance education course (3 credit hours) may count toward full-time enrollment.
  • Any reduced course load must be pre-approved by a designated school official.
  • An F-2 dependent may not enroll in a full course of study/degree program.
  • The grace period for students who resign or withdraw from Virginia Tech is 15 days.
  • New international students may enter the United States to begin studies only 30 days prior to the start date on their I-20.
  • Report any change in your major, academic level, or the completion date of your program.
  • Consult with Cranwell International Center if you intend to apply for an extension, transfer, or employment authorization (optional or curricular practical training).
  • Carefully read all email from the Graduate School and the Cranwell International Center.
  • Stay informed. Don't rely on your friends or the media for accurate information regarding immigration issues. They may not be aware of recent developments and practices. Remember, you are responsible for maintaining your F/J status. Check with a designated school official if you have any questions/concerns.
Where can I find more information?

Graduate Students: 
International Student & Scholar Support Office
Room 111/112 Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown
Office hours: Monday–Friday, 8:00 a.m.–noon and 1:00–5:00 p.m.
Phone: 540-231-9561
Fax: 540-231-3714
Email: grads@vt.edu
Designated School Officials: Ruth Athanson, Zelma Harris, Monika Gibson

Undergraduate students: 
Cranwell International Center
Harper Hall, Suite 1015
240 West Campus Drive
Phone: 540-231-6527
Fax: 540-231-3808
Email: international@vt.edu
Designated School Officials: Karen Wills, Brian Bolton


Contact Information

Cranwell International Center at Harper Hall
(0509)
240 West Campus Drive
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Phone: 540-231-6527
Fax: 540-231-3808
international@vt.edu