Immigration Basics for Academic Advisors

Topics covered on this page: 

Overview

Information on this page has been prepared for academic advisors, faculty and staff who assist international students in the U.S. in determining their degree program requirements, educational options, transfer information, enrolling for classes, program changes, changes in class schedule etc. 

The information provided here is to help you understand some basic visa and immigration regulations as you advise international students.  Nevertheless, the information provided here is in no way going to make you an expert in visa or immigration regulations pertaining to international students. For any visa or immigration related issues that you don’t understand or feel that it is beyond your expertise, please refer the student to International Recruitment and International Services for answers.  

International students have unique advising needs because they must not only meet the university academic requirements, but must also follow U.S. immigration regulations.

Commonly Used Terms

I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status, issued by Webster University and other approved institutions. Students need the I-20 to obtain F-1 visas at the U.S. embassy/consulate abroad or to apply for change to F-1 status if they are already in the U.S. The form contains information such as student’s major, program start and end dates and student’s financial information.

DS-2019: Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status, issued by Webster University or other J-1 approved sponsors. Exchange students will need the DS-2019 to apply for J-1 visas at the U.S. embassy/consulate abroad, to apply for a change of status to J-1 within the U.S., or for a transfer of J-1 sponsorship from one J-1 program to Webster University. Students who come from institutions abroad that have exchange agreement with Webster University are always granted J-1 status.

Visa: A computer-generated entry permit issued by a U.S. embassy/consulate abroad for F-1 or J-1 students who wish to enter the U.S. for the purpose of studies.

SEVIS: The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System is an internet-based automated system that maintains current information on non-immigrant students and scholars. It is a tracking program that contains personal information of international students, scholars and their dependents. Schools must report information on students and scholars in SEVIS. Form I-20s and DS-2019s are all generated from this database by designated school officials and responsible officers.

DSO: This stands for Designated School Official or international student advisor. A DSO is a regular employee of the university approved by the Department of Homeland Security to access SEVIS. A DSO is responsible for issuing I-20s; approving - reduced course load, internship and other work authorization; and reporting and updating student's information in SEVIS. A DSO is also the one who can endorse a student's I-20 for travel.

ARO: An Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) is a regular employee of the university recognized by the Department of State to verify status of J-1 students and scholars. An ARO will issue and maintain DS-2019’s, report changes in course of study, program level or addresses for students. An ARO will advise students regarding immigration benefits and restrictions and verify whether students maintain their immigration status.

Immigration Status: It is the principal purpose of non-immigrant visitors coming to the United States granted upon student’s arrival at a U.S. port of entry. It is also the permission to stay in the U.S. for a period of time for a specific purpose, in the case of F-1 or J-1 students to study. Immigration status (F-1 or J-1 etc.) is issued on the student’s passport and I-94 – Arrival/Departure record with the F-1 or J-1 classification.

Maintaining Status: This means the students are complying with immigration regulations pertaining to their F-1 or J-1 student status. Students are considered to be “in status” or maintaining status if they are complying with the regulations. If they are in violation of their status they are considered to be “out of status” and therefore, ineligible for certain benefits of their status. A DSO or ARO from International Recruitment and International Services will report a student who is out of status to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by terminating his or her SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 record in SEVIS. A terminated I-20 or DS-2019 is no longer active. There could be serious consequences for students who are out of status. 

Common Non-immigrant Visas

There are many types of visas issued to non-immigrant visitors coming to the United States for different purposes. Some visas allow non-immigrants to attend school either part-time or full-time incidental to their primary purpose for being in the United States, while others do not permit non-immigrants to study on their current visas.

Common Student Visa Types for International Students

F-1: F-1 is the most common immigration status for degree seeking international students or those engaged in English as Second Language program. F-1 students are issued I-20s by International Recruitment and International Services and F-1 visas from a U.S. embassy or consulate. Upon their arrival at a U.S. port of entry, they are admitted in F-1 immigration status to study at Webster University as full-time students.

J-1: J-1 immigration status is for exchange international students who are in the United States to study full-time as degree or non-degree seeking students. J-1 students are issued DS-2019s either by International Recruitment and International Services or by other program sponsors such as Institute of International Education (IIE) and J-1 visas from a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Other Common Visas that Permit Studies

Students in the following immigration statuses can attend school either part-time or full-time:

TN/TD: Professionals under NAFTA (for Citizens of Canada and Mexico) and their dependents.

A-1, A-2: Individuals in the U.S. who are employees of foreign governments.

G-1, G-2: Individuals in the U.S. who are representing international organizations (e.g. the United Nations).

H-1B: Employment-based visa for a skilled foreign employee employed by a U.S. company

H-4: Dependents of H-1B skilled employee. H-4s are permitted to enroll as full-time or part-time students but are not permitted to be employed in any way while holding H-4 status. It is very common for H-4 students to change their status to F-1 student status. 

J-2: Dependents of J-1 exchange visitors. Permitted to study, but must apply for work authorization before they can work in the U.S.

L-1, L-2: Intra-company transferees and dependents. For example, a Brazilian employed at Monsanto, Sao Paulo office who is transferred to work in Monsanto, St. Louis.

Common Visas that Do Not Permit Studies

F-2: Dependents of F-1 students. F-2 dependents are prohibited from academic study at the post-secondary level, except children attending kindergarten through high school. They must apply for change of status from F-2 to F-1. They can obtain F-1 status at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad or here inside the U.S. by filing an application for change of status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

B-1/B-2: Tourist or business travelers. They must apply for change of status from B-1/B-2 to F-1 and wait until it is approved before attending classes. They can also obtain F-1 status by going back home and applying for F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

How does a Student Obtain an I-20 or DS-2019? 

As an advisor of international students, you often get these questions: “When will I get my I-20 or DS-2019?” or “How do I get my I-20 or DS-2019?” While the I-20s or DS-2019s are issued by International Recruitment and International Services, before you answer the above questions, ask the student the following questions:   

  1. Have you applied and submitted all required admission documents to the Office of Admission?
  2. Have you been admitted to a degree program or ESL program at Webster University?
  3. Have you submitted financial document or scholarship letter to the Office of Admission? This is required before the I-20 or DS-2019 can be issued to the student. The financial document will be reviewed. If it meets the university requirements, an I-20 or DS-2019 will be issued and sent to the student, otherwise the student will be contacted to provide another financial document.
  4. For students currently in the U.S.: Have you submitted copies of your current immigration documents: I-94, visa, passport, and any other applicable immigration documents such as an I-20 or DS-2019? 

How soon an international student will receive his or her I-20/DS-2019 depends largely on his or her answers to the above questions and partly on the following types of students:

1. First Time Students Coming from Abroad to Study at Webster University 

This refers to students who are going to apply for student or exchange visitor visa for the first time or students who were previously in the U.S. in student status or other visa status but has been out of the country for a period of time. Webster University will issue and send the students the I-20 or DS-2019 usually within 5-7 business days after receiving all the requirements mentioned above.

2. F-1 or J-1 Students Transferring to Webster University from Other U.S. Institutions

School Transfer means the changing of schools by F-1 or J-1 students, regardless of academic level or credit transfer. This involves the transferring of the student's I-20 or DS-2019 SEVIS records from the other school to Webster University. 

Students transferring to Webster University will need to request the electronic transfer of their SEVIS record to Webster University before an I-20 or a DS-2019 could be issued to them. Receiving an I-20 or DS-2019 from Webster University depends on how soon the other school transfers the student’s SEVIS record to Webster. Students admitted to the St. Louis area campuses will be required to use this Transfer-in Form to request the transfer of their I-20 or DS-2019 to Webster University. For students admitted at the U.S. extended campuses please inform the student to contact International Recruitment & International Services Office at intlstudy@webster.edu to get the correct F-1 Transfer Form.

3. Students Changing their Immigration Status to F-1 or J-1 from Other Visa Status

If this is a student who wants to change his or her current visa status to F-1 from other non-immigrant visas, please refer the student to contact International Recruitment and International Services.

Enrollment Requirements

Full-Time Enrollment

International students in F-1 or J-1 status are required to enroll full-time each term except during their vacation term or if they are authorized to take less than full-time by International Recruitment and International Services. Full-time enrollment at Webster University means the students must enroll in and complete the following minimum number of credit hours each term or semester depending on degree level:

Undergraduate Students 

  • 12 credit hours

Graduate Students

• In the School of Education: 5 credit hours per eight-week term or 9 credits hours in a semester-long courses
• In all other Schools or Colleges: 6 credit hours per nine-week term or 9 credits hours per semester (16 weeks)
• ESL Students Full Program: 18 clock hours per week.
• In the Doctoral Program: 3 credits hours per nine-week term

Online Courses and Online Degree Programs

Online Courses: International students are required to take most of their classes in classroom setting. Only 3 credits hours per semester or term will be counted towards full-time enrollment. Students who are taking overload courses may take more than 3 credits hours of online classes. If a student only needs one course to complete his or her degree program, that course cannot be taken online.

Online Degree Programs: International students on F-1 and J-1 visas are prohibited from pursuing online degree programs. International students in other visa statutes are exempt from this restriction.

Concurrent Enrollment

International students on F-1 or J-1 status are sometimes permitted to enroll concurrently in another school, as long as the combined enrollment amounts to full-time status. The student must get permission from you the academic advisor and International Recruitment and International Services before enrolling in another school. You should write a letter addressed to International Recruitment and International Services confirming that you have approved the student to take certain number of credit hours at another school. Register the student for at least one class (1-3 credits) at Webster University, except in cases where enrollment at Webster University is not possible.

Reduced Course Load (RCL)

Under certain academic or medical reasons, international students on F-1 or J-1 status may receive authorization for a Reduced Course Load (RCL), which gives them permission to enroll below full-time and still maintain valid immigration status. There are three categories of RCL namely:

  1. Academic Difficulties: The student must submit the Reduced Course Load Form, signed by you and the student to International Recruitment and International Services. RCL for academic reason consists of at least 6 credit hours per semester for undergraduate students or 3 credit hours per term for graduate students. Permission for academic reasons is only granted once during the student’s entire degree program (e.g. bachelor’s or master’s etc.). 

The following are acceptable reasons for academic difficulties RCL: (1) Initial difficulty with the English language  (2) Initial difficulty with reading requirements (3) Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods or (4) Improper course level placement

  1. Illness or Medical Conditions: The student must submit the Reduced Course Load Form and a letter from his or her doctor to International Recruitment and International Services. RCL due to illness or medical condition may granted to a student for a period of time not to exceed an aggregate of 12 months during his degree program at the same level. Based on the doctor's recommendation, a student may be authorized for half-time enrollment or for complete withdrawal.
  2. Completion of Studies: The student must submit the Reduced Course Load Form, signed by you and the student to International Recruitment and International Services. 

The Reduced Course Load Application Form will be reviewed; and if approved or denied the student and the advisor will be notified whether to drop classes Students must first obtain permission from International Recruitment and International Services before they drop below full-time.

Withdrawal and Leave of Absence

If a student decides to withdraw or take a leave of absence from Webster University please contact International Recruitment and International Services prior to withdrawing the student from classes. The student needs to obtain permission from our office prior to withdrawal or taking a leave of absence. Ask the student to complete the Withdrawal and Leave of Absence Request Form and contact International Recruitment and International Services.

Annual Vacation

International students on F-1 and J-1 students are eligible for annual vacation if they have completed one academic year prior to taking the vacation and intend to register in the next term. They are not required to enroll during their vacation term, but may do so if they wish and can be part-time or full-time.

When is a student eligible for a vacation term?

1. In the SUMMER for undergraduate students. Undergraduate Students must be in school for the traditional school year, August - May. However, if summer is the student's first semester, then it is not considered a vacation semester so the student must enroll full-time.

2. In the FIFTH (5TH) TERM for graduate students. Graduate Students must have been in school full-time for four (4) consecutive terms before they are eligible for an annual vacation in the fifth (5th) term.

Change of Major and Change of Level

Change of Major

If an international student in F-1 J-1 status changes a major or adds a major please inform International Recruitment and International Services as the student needs to obtain a new I-20 or DS-2019 to reflect their current degree programs. We ask that you and your advisee complete and submit the “Change of Major or Change of Level Form” or alternative form from your department to International Recruitment and International Services.

Change of Level

Moving Up a Degree Level: If you a student is changing a degree level the student must submit an International Admission Application online and all requirements to the Office of Admission. The student will receive immigration document that reflects his or her current level of study.

Same-level Sequential Degree: If a student is pursuing same-level sequential degree such as a second Master’s, we ask that you and your advisee complete and submit the “Change of Major or Change of Level Form” or alternative form from your department to International Recruitment and International Services. The student is also required to submit financial document to show he/she has the funds to pay for his/her education. Upon review a DSO or ARO will issue a new I-20 or DS-2019 to the student to reflect the changes in his/her program.

Extension of Program

A student who is unable to complete his or her studies by the end date indicated on his or her I-20 or DS-2019 must apply for an extension prior to the expiration of the I-20 or DS-2019. A delay caused by academic probation or suspension is not acceptable reason for extension. Students who are ineligible for extension of stay are considered out of status and must apply for reinstatement.

The student must submit a completed Program Extension Form signed by his or her academic advisor to request an extension.

Employment and Internship 

International students on F-1 or a J-1 visas are admitted to the U.S. to engage in a full-time study. Employment is therefore, a secondary activity permitted as a benefit of F-1 or J-1 status. To qualify for employment, an F-1 or J-1 student must be maintaining lawful F-1 or J-1 status and be enrolled full-time. Students need to obtain permission either from International Recruitment and International Services or from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before accepting most employment. Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of the student's immigration status and may result in the termination of the student's SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 record or deportation from the United States. The following are the different employment options available to F-1 and J-1 students:

On-campus Employment

Immigration regulations allow international students who are maintaining status to work on-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and more than 20 hours per week while school is not in session or during the student’s vacation term. No special permission is required from International Recruitment and International Services or from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for students to work on-campus. For detail information about on-campus employment please refer student to this On-campus Employment site

Off-campus Employment

International students are prohibited from working off-campus, except if they are authorized an internship, economic hardship employment or any other type of practical training. F-1 students are eligible for practical training authorization if they have been enrolled full-time for one academic year prior to beginning the practical training and J-1 exchange students are eligible for off-campus practical training within one week of their enrollment.

Students must get appropriate work authorization before accepting or engaging in any form of employment off-campus. Unauthorized employment is a serious violation of the student’s immigration status that could make the student subject to deportation. The most common forms of off-campus employment are:

1. Severe Economic Hardship Employment (for both F-1 and J-1 Students):

Severe Economic Hardship Employment Economic hardship employment is an off-campus employment authorization that is granted on a case-by-case due to severe economic hardship occurring after a student’s enrollment in an academic program for at least one academic year. Students should contact International Recruitment and International Service if they believe they have economic hardship. 

2. Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) or Internship for F-1 Students:

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is an internship or practicum that is related to the student’s degree program. This includes student teaching,  paid and unpaid internship. To be eligible for CPT an F-1 student must: 

    • Register for internship credits course work to be authorized to do the internship
    • Have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year or 9 months
    • Be maintaining legal F-1 immigration status
    • Have an internship job offer

3. Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students:

Optional practical training (OPT) is a temporary employment authorization for training purposes directly related to F-1 student's major field of study. Approval for this type of practical training employment comes from the USCIS, but it must be recommended by student's academic advisor and International Recruitment and International Services. Please click on Sample OPT Academic Advisor's Recommendation Letter to look at the  sample of the letter.

4. Academic Training (AT)  for J-1 Students:

 Academic training (AT) is a type of study-related employment or internship for J-1 exchange students who want to participate in temporary employment related to their field of studies. The employment can be done while the student is pursuing studies or after completion of studies.

It allows a J-1 student to work part-time while classes are in session and full-time during vacation periods and full-time after completion of studies. Academic training may be: (1) Paid or unpaid (2) Full-time or part-time (3) Done during the student’s studies or; after completion of studies (beginning no later than 30 days after the completion of studies).

To recommend Academic Training for J-1 exchange student an academic advisor must complete the Academic Training Recommendation Form

Your recommendation will be required before a student is authorized to work off-campus.

Traveling Requirement

International students and their dependents who are maintaining status can travel outside the U.S. and re-enter. However, they must get travel signature on their I-20s or DS-2019s from their campus designated school officials before they travel outside the U.S. Please note: Only authorized DSOs or AROs can sign the I-20 or DS-2019 for a student. For domestic travel they don't need travel signature, but students are required to carry their immigration documents if traveling outside the local area.

Students who fail to get travel signature on their I-20s or DS-2019s before they travel abroad will encounter problem at the port of entry upon their return to the U.S.