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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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Virginia Tech sends the following information through SEVIS:
The following are important immigration requirements:
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.
Designated School Officials: Ruth Athanson, Zelma Harris, Monika Gibson
Cranwell International Center
West End of Clay Street
Designated School Officials: Belinda Pauley, Karen Wills
Cranwell International Center (0509)
Blacksburg, VA 24061