Visas, Documents, and Rules

The U.S. Government considers it your responsibility to understand and follow the rules for your immigration status as defined by your visa during your stay in the U.S.  A violation of your visa regulations could endanger your student status, affect the benefits of your visa, or create legal problems in the future. The information below is intended to help you understand many of the important laws and regulations for your visa, but it does not explain all possible situations. Review this information carefully, and if you have additional questions, please ask the International Office to help you.

Documents, Status, and Signatures

Passport

Your passport must be valid and unexpired at all times. Keep your passport and other important documents in a safe place. Report a lost or stolen passport immediately to the police, as your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. Know your passport's expiration date and plan for renewal in advance. To renew or replace your passport, contact your country's embassy in the U.S., or plan for renewals when you visit home. You can locate your country's embassy or consulates through this site. https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-in/united-states 

Visas

Categories: A visa is the special form that a U.S. consular officer placed on a page in your passport. There are different categories of visas, such as F-1 Student and J-1 Exchange Visitor, which are most common for university students, but a person may also attend university as a dependent family member on other visas, such as A, E, L or other categories.  Each visa category has special rules you must follow.

Arrivals: Your visa is very important at the U.S. border or Port of Entry where you arrive. It allows you to present yourself for admission to the U.S. as an F-1 student or J-1 exchange visitor, for example, but it does not guarantee you admission. The U.S. Immigration Officer at the Port of Entry makes the final decision to let you enter.  Most visa holders are allowed to pass through Immigration and enter the U.S. without a problem.  But the Officer can also ask you go to a separate area for additional questions, or delay your entry, or even deny your entry. That is why it is important to have all your valid travel documents with you and for you to be able to explain your reason for being in the U.S.  Sometimes an Officer may also try to contact the Designated School Official (DSO) at Evergreen to clarify a question that's causing a delay, which is helpful.  Always be polite, cooperative, and patient at the U.S. Port of Entry, even if a delay is inconvenient.  When your entry is approved, the Officer will stamp the entry date in your passport, noting your visa category, and marking D/S, or Duration of Status if you are an F-1 or J-1 visa holder. Also, if you have another valid visa in your passport, such as a B Tourist Visa, please be sure the officer sees your F or J visa, not the B.

Expiration Date: The expiration date of the visa is not the same as the authorized length of time you can stay in the U.S. After your visa expires, you may not enter the U.S. at the border, but it may still be okay for you to already be here and continue studying.  If you leave the U.S. with an expired visa, you would have to renew it before you could return in that same visa category.

Certificate of Eligibility   (I-20 or DS-2019)

F-1 Student Visa: Evergreen prepares your I-20 Certificate of Eligibility and sends it to you.

J--1 Exchange Visitor Visa:   Evergreen prepares your DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility and sends it to you.

These documents allow you to apply for your visa at the U.S. embassy, enter or re-enter the U.S., and apply for other benefits. Your I-20 or DS-2019 must remain valid at all times. If necessary, request a new form prior to its expiration date. And remember to keep every I-20 or DS-2019 you are given for your permanent record.  If you apply for certain benefits later, you will need to show all the Certificates of Eligibility you were issued.

I-94 Arrival and Departure Record

I-94 refers to your record of arriving in and departing the U.S. If you arrive by air or by sea, your I-94 record will be completed electronically and you will receive only the ink admission stamp in your passport, usually on a page next to your visa. If you enter the U.S. at a land border, you will receive a small, white paper I-94 with the ink admission stamp on this. Keep the I-94 stapled to your passport.  Do not lose it, or you may have to pay a $330 fee!  Check the stamp to make sure the officer has written the correct visa type on the stamp, such as F-1 or J-1.  If they enter B-1, for example, because you have another visa in your passport, this is a mistake. Politely show the mistake to the officer.

Electronic Record: Go to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home in order to find and print your I-94 electronic record. Evergreen will ask for this to make sure your arrival was correctly recorded, and you may need this in the future when you apply for certain benefits of your visa, or a Driver's License, or State ID Card.

What is "Status"?

F-1 Status:   This means you are legally in the U.S., you have correctly followed the rules for your visa, and you may enjoy the benefits offered through the F-1 visa because you are "in status".  If you break the rules knowingly or unknowingly, you will be considered "out of status", no longer eligible for benefits, and you will have to take action to get back "in status".  You cannot claim "I didn't know the rule!" The U.S. Government expects you to know them, or to ask for help if they are not clear, before you make a mistake.

J-1 Status: This means you are legally in the U.S., you have correctly followed the different rules for the J-1 visa, and you may enjoy the benefits offered through that visa because you are "in status".  If you break the rules knowingly or unknowingly, you will be considered "out of status", no longer eligible for benefits, and unfortunately, you will have a very limited option to get back "in status".  You cannot claim "I didn't know the rule!". The U.S. Government expects you to know them, or to ask for help if they are not clear, before you make a mistake.

Loss of Status and Unlawful Presence: If you violate the immigration regulations and are considered "out of status", your days of unlawful presence may begin to add up.

For F-1 Students, 180 days of unlawful presence may result in the U.S Government barring you from re-entering the U.S. in the future. F-1 Students may regain status by 1) an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for re-instatement, or 2) travel out of and re-entry to the U.S. with a new initial I-20 and new SEVIS record. Contact International Programs.

For J-1 Students, you have one option to apply for re-instatement if you have between 120 and 270 days of unlawful presence.  For most other situations - failure to attend class, failure to maintain health insurance, unauthorized work, failure to pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee, etc, - your SEVIS record may be terminated with no option for re-instatement. Contact International Programs.

Re-instatement can be a complicated and uncertain process.  Evergreen provides limited advising on re-instatement.  We advise you to consult with an immigration attorney familiar with re-instatement issues.

What is my Period of Authorized Stay?

Your admission to the U.S. is for "Duration of Status," marked "D/S" on your entry stamp in your passport or I-94 card.

For F-1 Students that means:

  • you may enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start date on your I-20.
  • you may remain in the U.S. for as long as you are a full-time registered student, following the rules, updating your I-20 as needed, and making normal progress toward your degree.
  • if you apply and are approved, you may participate in Optional Practical Training following the completion of a degree, and which may be for 12 months, or more for qualifying STEM students.
  • you may remain in the U.S. up to 60 days after the completion date of your degree, or the end date of your Optional Practical Training period on your I-20.  This 60-day "grace period" gives you time to prepare to leave the U.S. or change to another status.
  • And if you complete one degree level, such as a Bachelors, and then transfer to a new university for a Masters degree, you would still have "Duration of Status" as long as you follow all the rules, and even if your visa end date has expired.

For J-1 Exchange Visitor Students that means:

  • you may enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start date on your DS-2019.
  • you may remain in the U.S. for as long as your are a full-time registered student, following the rules, updating your DS-2019 as needed, and making progress toward your degree, or
  • if you are a short-term exchange, non-degree-seeking student, you may stay until the end date on your DS-2019 + 30 days.
  • If you apply and are approved, you may participate in Academic Training (internship) following the completion of your studies, between 3 and 18 months depending on the length of your study.
  • you may remain in the U.S. up to 30 days after the completion date of your studies, or the end date of your approved Academic Training on your DS-2019.

Travel: Leaving and Re-entering the U.S.

Basic Travel Documents: Be sure to travel with the following: Unexpired passport, unexpired visa, unexpired I-20 or DS-2019 with valid travel signature, financial support documents, copy of transcript or course registration, copy of your I-94 record.  Even when traveling in the U.S, plan to have your passport, visa, and I-20 or Ds-2019 with you.

Valid Travel Signature: You must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 when re-entering the U.S. after traveling. This means that an Evergreen Designated School Official must sign your I-20 on Page 2, or your DS-2019 on Page 1 before you leave the U.S.  That signature is good for a one-year period, though we can sign more often, such as every six months. One exception: For F-1 students on OPT, the signature is valid for only 6 months.  In addition, you must be in-status, following the rules, and maintaining a full course of study for the DSO to provide a valid travel signature.

Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean: Returning from these areas is a little easier. If you visit these countries for less than 30 days, you may do so with an expired F or J visa.  When you return to the U.S., your visa will have an "automatic revalidation" to the date you re-enter. However, your passport must be valid and your I-20 or Ds-2019 must be updated and have valid travel signatures. If your I-20 or DS-2019 has expired, do not travel to these countries, even if the travel signature still appears valid. You will not be allowed to re-enter on that visa.  In addition, many of you will need to apply for a Tourist Visa to enter these countries, while others of you may be able to enter as visa exempt. Be sure to check the rules and plan in advance if you need a tourist visa.

Emergency Travel without a Valid Travel Signature: Sometimes students forget to get the DSO's signature or they have an emergency at home and have to travel without it.  Remember the DSO signature is required for returning to the U.S., not leaving.  Some possible solutions to this problem are: 

  • Replacement I-20 or DS-2019: After you are home, contact International Programs and request a Replacement I-20 or DS-2019.  We can sign it and mail it to you.  You must be at home long enough for production and mailing of the document. You may need to change your travel return date so there is adequate time for delivery. 
  • Request Form I-515A: In this case, you decide to return without a valid travel signature. At the Port of Entry, the officer may offer you the I-515A or you may request it. this form gives you temporary admission to the U.S. for 30 days.  If admitted, you will then have to take action, following the instructions given to you with the I-515A. This will include sending your original document to Washington DC for processing. But note, the officer has the discretion to not approve admission with 515A, so there is some risk.

Special Travel Situations: Students on OPT or Academic Training, or planning study abroad through Evergreen, or planning to be outside the U.S. for more than 5 months should consult with International Programs before leaving.  Additional documents or I-20 or DS-2019 updates may need to be made.

What is SEVIS? (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)

SEVIS is a U.S. Government database that allows schools and federal immigration agencies to exchange data on the status of international students.  After you are admitted and confirm enrollment at Evergreen, we create a SEVIS record for you.  This allows us to create the I-20 or DS-2019 and send it to you so you can apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. While you are at Evergreen, we will regularly update your SEVIS record with quarterly registration information, vacation quarters, address changes, academic program changes, degree completion, work authorizations, degree completion, rule or status violations, and more. And if you transfer to a new school for another degree, your SEVIS record will be transferred to the new school as well.

  • SEVIS will not allow initial or continuing quarterly registration if certain information is missing.  It is very important that Evergreen have up-to-date information in order to complete SEVIS Registration within the 30-day deadline of each quarter.  The following must be recorded.
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee must be paid to apply for a visa and for initial registration. This fee supports SEVIS costs.
  • US physical address must be verified.
  • Properly formatted email address
  • U.S. or foreign telephone number, or confirmation that the student does not have a phone.

Important: SEVIS has "auto-terminate" functions.  If you or Evergreen misses a deadline for an update, your SEVIS record may be auto-terminated, and you may be "out-of-status", requiring a re-instatement process.

Reasons to Update Your I-20 or DS-2019

Many kinds of updates must be reported through SEVIS and recorded on your I-20 or DS-2019.  Please report changes or requests to International Programs as soon as possible, but at least 15 days before any deadline or program end date.  Keep all past, current, and future I-20's or DS-2019's safely in a file.  You will need them if you apply for future benefits.

Change of End Date, or Program Extension: If you are unable to complete your course of study before the completion date on your I-20 or DS-2019, you must submit a Program Extension Request Form to International Programs as soon as you know, but at least 15 days before your completion date. Note that the new I-20 or DS-2019 must be issued and you must sign it before your current I-20 or DS-2019 expires. Certain benefits, like F-1 Optional Practical Training or J-1 Academic Training may also involve an extension process.

Change of Major/Emphasis:

  • Undergraduate international students are admitted to Evergreen as Bachelor of Arts degree students. If you decide to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree or a Dual BA/BS degree from Evergreen, you must complete a Declaration of Intent Form for the Registration and Records Office and give a copy to International Programs. We will then update the Major Code on your I-20 or DS-2019.
  • Graduate level students are admitted directly to either the Masters in Public Administration, Masters in Environmental Studies, or Masters in Teaching degree programs. If you decide to change Masters programs, you must request an update to your I-20 or DS-2019.

Change of Level: If you complete your current degree program of study, for example Bachelors, and continue at Evergreen at a new degree level, for example Masters, this change must be updated on your I-20 or DS-2019.

Change of Funding: If there is a substantial change in the source or amount of your funding, report this to International Programs along with your documentation so that your I-20 or DS-2019 can be updated.

Change of Legal Name: The name on your I-20 or DS-2019 should match the name on your passport. If you change any part of your legal name on your passport, please inform International Programs so a new I-20 or DS-2019 can be prepared. We cannot make changes to your I-20 or DS-2019 until you have made those changes on your passport.

Change of School, or Transfer: Your I-20 or DS-2019 lists Evergreen as your school of attendance. Sometimes students choose to transfer to another school before they finish their degree or studies at Evergreen.  You will need to work with both the new school and Evergreen in order to properly transfer your SEVIS record to the new school.

Change of Address: You need to report any change of your physical address to International Programs within 10 days for updating in SEVIS.  This update will not result in a new I-20 or DS-2019, but it must be reported.   F-1 Students on OPT will have their own online portal to SEVIS to make their own address updates.

Full-time Requirements

In general, F-1 and J-1 students must be registered for full-time studies and physically attending classes on the Olympia campus. This is defined as at least:

  • 12 credits each quarter for undergraduate students or non-degree exchange visitor students.
  • 8 credits each quarter for graduate students.

At Evergreen, most full-time daytime programs are valued at 16 credits, but it is possible to take smaller combinations of courses to add up to 12 or more credits for undergraduates.

Caution: No more than 25% of your registered credits can be online, meaning you do not physically attend class. Each catalog program description tells you what percent of the program is online: 25%, 50%, 75% and so on. In order to comply with this rule, you may not take any program or course that is higher than 25% online.

Caution: Do not register for fewer than the required number of credits for undergraduates or graduates, or withdraw from courses that would put you below the minimum, unless you have talked to International Programs and received permission.  Dropping below the required credit amount is a mistake that can result in being "out-of-status", and loss of benefits such as travel authorization, practical training, campus employment, change of level,  program extensions, and more.

Exceptions to the Full-Time Requirements

Annual Vacation Quarter: F-1 and J-1 regulations permit one vacation quarter each year. For most students this will be Evergreen's summer quarter, but for a few students it might be a different quarter. Normally you must have been registered full time for three quarters in a row before a vacation quarter, but if you start at Evergreen during a winter or spring quarter, you will be eligible for the upcoming summer vacation quarter. For transfer students, your enrollment at your previous school will be counted. All students on vacation quarter must intend to register full time for another three quarters following the vacation quarter, unless they have another valid reason for Reduced Course Load (RCL).  Contact International Programs if you want to request a vacation quarter during fall, winter or spring.  Summer quarter does not require special approval.

When on a vacation quarter, you may stay in the U.S. or travel internationally, or both; you may enroll in part-time classes or not at all; you may work on campus more than 20 hours per week; you may study at other schools or take online classes. However, if you are in the U.S. for any part of your vacation quarter, you will be automatically enrolled in and billed for the Lewermark Insurance Coverage in order to meet Evergreen and U.S. requirements, unless you have an approved insurance waiver.

Final Quarter at Evergreen: F-1 and J-1 degree-seeking students in their final quarter may take as few credits as they need to complete the degree requirement.  For example, if you have earned 176 credits and only need 4 credits to graduate with a BA at 180, then you only need to register for 4 credits, though you can register for more. You must complete the Request for Reduced Course Load, indicating it is your final quarter, and turn it in to International Programs. However, after you turn this in and it is recorded in SEVIS, you cannot change your mind, extend studies, change majors/emphases and so on, with few exceptions. 

J-1 students in the "non-degree" category are generally not eligible for Final Quarter RCL because you are here to experience a uniquely designed program for the duration of your time at Evergreen.

Reduced Course Load for Specific Academic Reasons:  Students who experience significant 1) initial difficulty with the English language, 2) initial difficulty with reading requirements, 3) unfamiliarity with American teaching methods, or 4) improper course level placement may request authorization to drop a course or be enrolled part time. You must request RCL before the end of the quarter you are enrolled, and RCL is only allowed one time per degree level, for example Bachelors. Contact International Programs.

Reduced Course Load for Documented Medical Reasons: Students who experience unexpected illness or an accident may be authorized to enroll part time or take up to four quarters off. The Reduced Course Load Request Form must be submitted before the end of the quarter you are enrolled. Your health condition must be documented by a "licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologist" per the law. No other category of health provider is approved.  Contact International Programs.

Graduate Student Thesis Registration: Masters level students who are registered for completion of their Thesis may register for fewer than 8 credits and be considered full time for regulatory purposes. However, graduate students must be registered for a minimum of 2 credits when engaged in Thesis Completion.

Concurrent Enrollment at Evergreen and Another College: It is possible to enroll at Evergreen and another school in the same quarter, as long as the added credits equal the 12 credit minimum requirement at Evergreen.  The majority of your credits must be at Evergreen (7 + 5 = 12, for example, or 9 + 7 = 16), the credits must be at an appropriate educational level, and transferrable to Evergreen.  Contact International Programs.

Employment, Internships, and Volunteering

F-1 Work Options for In-Status Students

On-Campus Employment: You may apply for Evergreen jobs described as "institutional", but not any that are described as "work study", which are only for U.S. students because of federal funding. You may apply for jobs offered on campus by a commercial business that provides direct service to students. You are limited to working 20 hours per week during the quarter, but may work full-time during quarter breaks or during your annual vacation quarter. Unauthorized OFF-campus employment is a violation of your visa.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CPT is a paid or unpaid internship for academic credit that you do before completing your degree. It may be part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week). It may be during the academic year or your vacation quarter, but always for credit. You must have been enrolled for at least three consecutive quarters and have an established major/emphasis. You must have a job or internship offer related to your major/emphasis arranged in advance.  Approval is through International Programs.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): OPT is a paid job or unpaid internship that you do after completing your degree. You must submit an external fee-based application to USCIS, which may be approved or denied. You must have been enrolled in a full course of study for at least one academic year by the date the OPT would begin. The eventual OPT must be related to your major/emphasis, but you do not have to have a job offer in advance. You are allowed one OPT per degree level. OPT is limited to 12 months.  If you have completed 12 months of full-time CPT before completing your degree, you will not be eligible for OPT.  STEM OPT Extension is for qualifying STEM majors still in their 12-month OPT and working for an E-verify Employer. Qualifying students may apply for a 24-month extension.

Severe Economic Hardship: If you experience severe economic hardship due to unforeseen changes in your financial situation, you may apply to USCIS for authorization to work off campus. Some examples are loss of financial support, extreme changes in the value of currency, loss of a family business, excessive medical bills, among others.  You must have been in F-1 status for at least one academic year. You must complete a fee-based application to USCIS, including documentation of the economic hardship.

Employment with an International Organization: You may work for a qualifying international organization based on the International Organization Immunities Act of 1945.  If you have an offer from an employer on the List of International Organizations, you may apply to USCIS for work authorization.

F-2 Dependents:  If you are in the U.S. with an F-2 spouse, children, or other legal dependent, they are not allowed to work on or off campus in the U.S.

J-1 Work Options for In-Status Students

On-Campus Employment: You may apply for Evergreen jobs described as "institutional", but not any that are described as "work study", which are only for U.S. students because of federal funding. You may apply for jobs offered on campus by a commercial business that provides direct service to students. You are limited to working 20 hours per week during the quarter, but may work full-time during quarter breaks or during your annual vacation quarter. Unauthorized OFF-campus employment is a violation of your visa.

Academic Training: Academic Training is a paid job or unpaid internship that you do before or after you complete your studies. It must be related to your major/emphasis. You must have completed at least three months of your program of study.  You must have a job offer arranged in advance. Your Academic Training will be limited to between 3 and 18 months, depending on the length of your program of study.

Serious Economic Circumstances: You may apply for permission from International Programs for off-campus employment that is necessary because of serious, urgent and unforeseen economic circumstances.  Approval can be up to 12 months.  You may not work more than a total of 20 hours per week combined on and off campus, except for breaks and your annual vacation quarter.  Contact International Programs.

J-2 Dependents: If you are in the U.S with a J-2 spouse, children, or other legal dependent, they may apply to USCIS for work authorization.  If approved, they may work at any part-time or full-time job. The J-2's income may not form a part of the J-1's documented financial support, and work is only authorized while the J-1 is maintaining status.