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Dos and Don'ts for International Students

by Hamid R. Kashani, Attorney at Law
Nov 07, 2018 (last modified Apr 22, 2019)

When living in the United States, you should observe all applicable laws and regulations.  It is always good to use common sense and reason. At the same time be cautious.  Every country has its own laws. Keep in mind that what common sense allowed in your home country may be prohibited here and vice versa. If you have any doubt, remember that the International Student Office (or its equivalent at your school) is your best resource.

Violation of some laws or failing to meet some requirements would have a serious impact on your immigration status. This list of dos and don'ts, while not exhaustive, addresses some of the issues with immigration implications, which you may encounter during your stay in the United State.

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1. DO keep a minimum of six-month validity on your passport

Your passport must always have a minimum of six months of validity. You must renew your passport no later than six months before it expires. If you send your passport to the embassy of your home country for renewal, keep a copy of all of its pages even blank ones).

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2. DO know the difference between “visa” and “permission to stay”

The visa, which you receive at a U.S. consulate overseas, is the permission to present yourself at a port of entry and request admission into the United States. Permission to stay, which you receive at the border, is your permission to stay in the country.

Having a valid, unexpired visa allows you to present yourself at a port of entry and request admission into the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, who interviews you, will issue an I-94 form which would contain your “permission to stay.” It is the permission to stay which controls how long you may stay in the country. For example, you may have a multiple-entry, 4-year visa, but, when you arrive in the country, you may receive permission to stay for 60 days.  That means that you are only allowed to stay here (on this trip) for 60 days, but you can come back and request admission again within the 4-year validity of your multiple-entry visa.

You may not receive a paper I-94 at all. If that is the case, you can download your I-94 electronically from online I-94's page.  The “Admit until Date” on your I-94 will show how long you are allowed to stay.  If you see “D/S” (most common) on this line, it means that you are admitted for “Duration of Status,” which is as long as you are a student for the university and program specified on your I-20.

Note that even if you receive an I-94 with “D/S” notation, if you leave the country you still must have a valid, unexpired visa to get back. I-94 is not a visa.

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3. DO keep copies of important documents at a safe location

Always keep a complete copy of all pages of your passport (including blank pages) and other important documents (such as Employment Authorization Document) at a safe place, or at least separate from the documents themselves.

In addition, keep

  • All of your travel tickets, receipts, itineraries, and boarding passes;
  • Housing contracts;
  • Apartment leases; and
  • Utilities bills

Also see list of additional immigration and school records that you should keep.

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4. DO update your address with the USCIS

You must update your address with the USCIS, within 10 days of any change of address.  For this purpose, you may use the online Form AR-11.

See also Change of Address Requirement for Noncitizens.

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5. DO maintain your status

Maintain your status as a student and register as a full time student at your school.  Remember that you need approval for changes in your degree program.

If you do not maintain status at any time, you may be found deportable. If you do not maintain status within 90 days from your last arrival into the United States, then the next time you apply for a visa (any visa), the consular officer may find that you willfully misrepresented your intention when you originally applied for student visa.  Such a finding would be a permanent bar to your admission into the United States.

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6. DO NOT use fake ID's

Drinking age is 21. Some of your schoolmates younger than 21 may be using fake ID's, to get into bars and clubs. You should not use fake ID's.  That is a criminal offense, and, aside from receiving criminal penalties, you may be deported.

By the same token, do not use other people's ID's or social security numbers for any reason.

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7. DO NOT buy alcohol or cigarettes for others

There are minimum age requirements for buying alcohol or cigarettes.  If you meet the age requirement, do not buy alcohol or cigarette for your younger friends and do not lend your ID's to anybody for this purpose (or for any other purpose).  Any “friend” who asks you to do that is not your friend. That is a criminal offense, and, aside from receiving criminal penalties, you may be deported.

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8. DO use care before shipping particular items overseas

It is natural that you may want to send some cool stuff that you see in the United States as gifts to your family and friends back home. Be mindful of the export control laws, especially regarding shipment of computer hardware and software.  See Introduction to Commerce Department Export Controls.

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9. DO NOT use drugs and DO NOT abuse alcohol

Using drugs is a crime under federal and state laws. Smoking marijuana, even though lawful in some states, is still a crime under federal laws and may result in deportation.

Even if you are of age and can legally consume alcohol, you must remember that public intoxication and drunk driving are criminal offenses in all states and, under particular circumstances, may result in deportation. Also remember that in many places it is a criminal offense to carry an open container (like an open beer bottle) inside the passenger compartment of the car you are driving.

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10. DO retain an attorney, if you are accused of a crime or arrested

If you are arrested for an alleged criminal violation, request an attorney before discussing the facts with the police. You need both an attorney specializing in criminal law and an attorney specializing in immigration law.

With respect to the criminal case, if you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for you at the government's expense.

With respect to an immigration attorney, if you cannot afford one on your own, you may contact the organizations in your area that provide free legal services.

Commission of some criminal acts would render a non-citizen inadmissible and deportable. Keep in mind that it is not necessary for a non-citizen to have been convicted of the specified crimes in order to be found inadmissible for immigration purposes. Any non-citizen, who admits having committed the criminal act or admits the commission of particular acts that are the essential elements of the crime, would be inadmissible. So even if the prosecutor and the court forgive you and reduce or drop the criminal charges, you may still be in trouble, if you admit to having committed particular acts.  Consult an attorney, if you are accused of criminal conduct.  Further, do not leave the country (permanently or temporarily), while a case is pending against you, without consulting your attorney.

 

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