Definitions of Immigration Terms
D/S: This stands for “Duration of Status” and is the period of time for which you have been admitted into the U.S. For F-1 students, this period is defined as the time in which you are pursuing a full course of study, with a valid I-20, and any authorized period of practical training plus a 60 day grace period from which you have to depart the U.S. For J-1 students, “Duration of Status” is defined as the period of time in which you are pursuing a full course of study, with a valid DS-2019, and any authorized period of academic training, plus a 30 day grace period from which you have to depart the U.S.
DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status): The DS-2019 is the document which is used to obtain the J-1 visa, to enter the U.S., and to transfer from one school to another. On this document, the school certifies your exchange visitor category (student, scholar, professor, etc.) your field of study, expected completion date, financial support, etc. A new DS-2019 should be requested from the Immigration Services office when any errors are discovered, when any changes occur, when beginning a new level of study (moving from a master's to a doctorate degree, etc.), when extending beyond your program completion date, etc. A student who plans to transfer to a new school must also obtain a new DS-2019 from the new school for transfer purposes. The DS-2019 is an important document which becomes your permanent record of all immigration related matters while you are in the U.S. You should always keep all DS-2019s that are ever issued to you. You MUST carry all DS-2019s with you while traveling. For J-1 “students”, a valid DS-2019 signed within the past 12 months will be needed to reenter the country.
Employment: Employment is considered to be the part-time or full-time rendering of services for any type of compensation (financial or other). Employment is a “benefit” of the F & J student statuses, which is only available to those students who have maintained their lawful immigration status. F-1 and J-1 students can only work in the U.S. after receiving the proper authorization and with certain restrictions. Working in the U.S. without proper authorization is a SERIOUS violation of F & J student status, which can lead to deportation. If you are considering any type of employment in the U.S., you should first consult with the International Student Advisor for specific rules and restrictions. All students who plan to work in the U.S. must first obtain a U.S. social security number for employment and taxation purposes.
I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status): The I-20 is the document which is used to obtain the F-1 visa, to enter the U.S., and to transfer from one school to another. On this document, the school certifies your academic level, major field of study, expected completion date, financial support, etc. A new I-20 should be requested from the Immigration Services office when any errors are discovered, when any changes occur, when beginning a new level of study (moving from a master's to a doctorate degree, etc.), when changing or declaring your major, or when extending beyond your program completion date. A student who plans to transfer to a new school must also obtain a new I-20 from the new school for transfer purposes. The I-20 is an important document which becomes your permanent record of all immigration related matters while you are in the U.S. You should always keep any I-20s that are ever issued to you as a permanent record of your F-1 immigration status. You MUST carry all I-20s with you while traveling. A valid I-20 signed within the past 12 months will be needed to reenter the country as a student. The I-20 will also be needed to prove work eligibility to prospective employers.
I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (I-94 Card): This small white card was issued to you by your airline and is usually stapled to your passport by the Immigration Officer at the U.S. Port of Entry (POE). This important card contains your name, date of birth, country of citizenship, immigration status, the date you entered the U.S., the amount of time you can remain in the U.S., and your 11 digit “Admission Number”, which is used to keep record of the dates you leave and reenter the U.S. F-1 and J-1 students should be admitted into the U.S. until “D/S,” or “Duration of Status.” (See “D/S” below for details.) Your I-94 card must be kept in a safe place and surrendered each time you depart the U.S. If a specific date is ever entered on your I-94 card, you must bring your passport, visa, and I-94 card to International Student Advisor immediately.
Passport: Your passport is your government's permit for you to travel internationally. The U.S., government requires you to keep your passport valid at all times while you are here. If your passport will be expiring within the next six months, you should request an extension or new passport, which can be granted only by the issuing government. Contact your Embassy or Consulate here in the U.S., and ask about the procedures, forms, fees, and the amount of time it will take to extend or renew your passport. If your F-1 or J-1 visa is still valid and you will be issued a new passport, request the return of your expired passport. By keeping the old and the new passports together, a valid visa can be used for reentry to the U.S. Otherwise, you will need to apply for a new visa the next time you depart the U.S.
PDSO/DSO: The acronyms for “Principal Designated School Official” and "Designated School Official." The PDSO is the primary intermediary between F-1 students and the USCIS, as well as the immigration official on campus for F category students. This person is also known as the international student advisor. A DSO is a secondary intermediary between students and USCIS.
RO/ARO: Are the acronyms for “Responsible Officer” and “Alternate Responsible Officer”. The RO is the representative of a J Exchange Visitor program sponsor, and the primary intermediary between J-1 students and scholars and the US Department of State (DoS), and USCIS. This person is also known as the international student advisor. An ARO is a secondary intermediary between students and DoS & USCIS.
SEVIS: The acronym for "Student and Exchange Visitor Information System”. This is the database used by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to track F, J, and M visa holders. All I-20/DS-2019s are issued through this database, required notifications are made (for changes in major or address, for example), and recommendations (for reinstatement, or employment for example.) Only the PDSO/DSOs and RO/AROs at a university have access to the SEVIS system.
USCIS: The acronym for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This branch of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) is responsible for most of the application and petition adjudications formerly done by the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) including work permits and reinstatements of status. This branch was formerly known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).
Visa: Your visa is the stamp placed in your passport with your photo, which allows you to apply for entry into the U.S. (Canadian students do not need a visa to enter the U.S.) The visa notes the purpose or category of your visit to the U.S. (student, exchange visitor, etc.), the last date you can enter the U.S., and the number of entries you are permitted. Some visas are valid for the entire duration of your studies, and some visas are issued for a much shorter time. The length of visa validity is determined by reciprocity agreements between your country and the U.S., and by the Consular official who approved your visa. It is NOT necessary to maintain a valid F-1 or J-1 visa while you are in the U.S., but you MUST have a valid visa if you plan to leave the U.S. and reenter for the continuation of your studies. F-1 & J-1 visas cannot be obtained or renewed within the U. S. They can only be obtained from the U.S. Consulates/Embassies outside the country.
Visa vs. Status
A visa is a physical document that permits you apply for admission to a particular country for a particular purpose, such as doing business, tourism, or becoming a student. It is not a guarantee that you will be allowed to enter, just a permit to request entry. If you are allowed to enter the US on a particular student or exchange visitor visa, that visa may expire during your residence here without any negative consequences; it has already fulfilled its function in allowing you to apply for entry as a student or exchange visitor. If you think of a visa as a key, and the United States as a building – once you enter the building, it does not matter if you lose the key or the locks are changed, so long as you remain inside the building.
Once you use your visa and enter the United states, you have a status which matches the visa you use. If you use a J-1 Exchange Visitor visa, you will enter with J-1 status, if you use a F-1 Student visa, you will be given F-1 status, if you use a B2 Tourist visa (or use the visa waiver program), you have B-2 status, and so forth. How long you may stay in that “status” depends on what the immigration officer at the port of entry wrote on your I-94 Arrival/Departure form. If you were admitted as a F-1 student or J-1 exchange visitor, you should have been admitted for the Duration of Status or “D/S” – which means you may stay as long as you follow all of the rules for that category, and you don’t allow your other paperwork to expire. Other visitors to the US are given a specific date on their I-94 cards and must leave, or ask for an extension, by that date.
You may also “change status” within the United States without having to obtain a visa. For instance, if you are here because your parents brought you as a dependant on an L or H visa, you may request a change of status, and become the primary holder of an F or J status, in order to continue your stay here in another category -- regardless of whether your parent stays in the US. For more information on changing your status, please contact your Immigration Advisor.