- Enroll and complete a minimum of 12 credit hours each fall and spring semester. Summer is optional unless you enter the U.S. on an I-20 that begins with the summer term.
- Do not participate in any unauthorized employment.
- Maintain a current passport and I-20. The I-20 is valid until the program end date. If you have not completed your program, you can request an extension of your I-20. You must submit a new bank statement. You should request an extension I-20 at least 30 days before the expiration date.
- You must inform MCC within 10 days of moving. You can do this by updating your myMCCKC account.
- You can only take one course via internet in any term to count toward a full course of study.
The SEVIS system (Student Exchange Visitor System) is real-time. This means that if you withdraw from a class, you will immediately be reported to USCIS. Please make sure you maintain your full-time enrollment (12 credit hours) every fall and spring semester. (Summer is optional). Please remember that if you do not attend your classes, your instructors can withdraw you. Check the student handbook and course syllabi for guidelines for your class.
There are certain situations when a student can take fewer than 12 credit hours and still maintain their legal F-1 status. Generally, these reasons include: last semester to graduate or a specific medical condition. Please make an appointment with the International Student Services Office to discuss your situation.
Reinstatement is the process in which you apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to have mistakes cleared away and to be restored to your student status. Reinstatement is not something to be taken lightly, as not all students who apply for reinstatement are successful in obtaining it.
Reinstatement is for those individuals who, through no fault of their own or through circumstances beyond their control, have violated the terms of their immigration status. If a student can show that not being reinstated would cause a significant hardship, s/he is eligible for reinstatement.
Not all violations can be corrected through reinstatement. Some violations cannot be corrected or will not be corrected by USCIS. Working without valid employment authorization is a violation that can never be rectified through reinstatement.
A student who has been out of status for more than five months is ineligible for reinstatement unless the student can provide a substantial reason for the delay and an explanation of how the student is filing as promptly as possible.
F-1 students and dependents will accrue unlawful presence the day after a violation of status and this may subject them to a 3-year or 10-year bar on returning to the U.S. when they depart the United States. MCC recommends you seek legal counsel before filing this petition.
Students who are not eligible, or who are poor candidates for reinstatement, have an alternative to regaining their student status. Students who find themselves in this situation have the option of obtaining a new I-20 and then using that new I-20 to travel outside of the U.S. and reentering. This is not the same as reinstatement but does allow a student to regain lawful student status. By using this method, students have to wait another period of nine months, maintaining status, before they regain any eligibility for practical training or other off-campus work authorization.
A. To apply for reinstatement
Prepare the following materials to bring to your appointment with International Student Services:
- If you have been out of status for more than five months, you must repay the SEVIS fee. Go to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) SEVIS I-901 for payment instructions
- Letter to USCIS explaining why you are out of status and stating why you are eligible for reinstatement
- Download and complete the USCIS form I-539 Application to extend/change nonimmigrant status
- The application fee, check or money order payable to USCIS
- Current documentation of financial support (sponsor may need to submit updated bank letter)
- Official academic transcripts from all schools attended in the U.S.
- Copies of your passport and visa information
- I-94 printout
- New I-20 requesting reinstatement
- We recommend that you include a copy of the SEVIS fee receipt.
B. To travel and reenter
For students who need to travel and reenter, different steps need to be followed.
- Obtain current financial documentation/bank letter from sponsor.
- Request a new SEVIS I-20 for travel and reentry from the International Student Office, circumventing the need for reinstatement.
- Repay the SEVIS fee if you have been out of status for more than five months or out of the U.S. for more than five months.
- If you still have a valid visa, then you simply need to exit the U.S. and reenter using the new I-20.
You may travel freely within the U.S. provided you maintain your lawful F-1 status and have a valid passport, I-20 and I-94 in your possession.
Students often travel home for holidays and during the summer breaks. Before leaving the U.S., preferably about the same time you are making your travel arrangements, you need to check the following:
- Your passport must be valid for the date you intend to return to the U.S. and at least six months after that date.
- Your visa must be valid for reentry.
- Your I-20 must be valid.
- Your I-20 has been signed within six months of your departure date.
- Carry a copy of your official MCC transcript with you.
- You should check with the consulate of the country you wish to visit to determine if you need a visa for entry.
If you need to renew your passport, contact the consulate or embassy representing your home country in the U.S., or the appropriate authorities in your home country.
What documents do I need to renew my visa? Check the website Travel.State.Gov to see exactly what documents, including forms and photos that you need to bring to the consulate.
F-1 students and F-2 dependents need (or may need - officers do not always ask for all these documents):
- SEVIS I-20 from MCC, with a recent travel signature
- Any I-20's previously issued by the MCC and any other U.S. school attended before enrolling at MCC
- Official transcript of F-1's academic record
- Evidence of F-1's financial support (bank statement, letter, family bank statement, etc.)
- If engaged in OPT, also take current EAD (dependents should take photocopy) and a letter from OPT employer stating you are working there under the terms of optional practical training
VISA frequently asked questions
It depends on your situation. But now, more than ever, all students are advised to go to the consulate to renew their visas early to avoid delays. Ask for a visa "renewal" appointment. Do not wait until the end of your stay abroad. If you know you will be required to appear in-person at the consulate, try to make an appointment with the consulate before you leave the U.S. Go to Travel.State.Gov wait times for more information.
Ask the consular officer to give you a written explanation for the denial. Contact us immediately and supply details about your visa interview. Give us the date and place of the denial and, if possible, the name of the consular officer who issued it. Usually, if it is clear there has been a misunderstanding or if your documents weren't acceptable to the consul, we can provide the additional information needed to help you get the visa. Sometimes we are unable to help. The law concerning visas gives consular officers very wide latitude, so their decisions can seem arbitrary.
If your current visa will expire next semester, you might want to go ahead and renew it. Many consulate offices have an expedited process for renewals.
Temporary absence from the U.S.
You will be considered a returning student after a temporary absence of less than five months provided that your current I-20 contains valid travel signatures that are not more than six months old.
If you have been outside the U.S. for more than five months, you will need new documents (I-20) and you will need to be enrolled for another full academic year before being eligible for optional practical training.
F-1 visa holders may travel outside the U.S. during their period of OPT. The following documents are needed to re-enter the U.S.:
- The unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- I-20 endorsed by international student services within the last six months
- Valid passport with a valid visa
- We recommend you carry an additional letter from your employer acknowledging that you will return after a temporary absence.
If you have applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) but have not yet received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from immigration, you should be aware that leaving the U.S. before your OPT application has been processed by immigration may be considered abandoning your application. Also, if you try to reenter the U.S. and do not have your I-20 signed for travel within the last six months and do not have your EAD card to show as proof that authorization has been granted, you may be denied entry into the U.S. These are some factors to keep in mind when making travel plans.
Deciding whether to hire an immigration attorney is an important decision. The first issue is whether you need an immigration attorney. Some immigration matters can be relatively straightforward. Many times, however, it is useful to hire an immigration attorney, for three reasons. First, immigration law is one of the most complicated areas of U.S. law, perhaps second only to tax law in its complexity. Second, U.S. immigration law is changing all the time, and it is hard to keep up, even for many immigration lawyers. Third, immigration lawyers can help make sure that your application goes through the immigration bureaucracy smoothly and quickly.
At some point it may be necessary for you to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney. As with all professions, there are many qualified, competent immigration attorneys, and there are some that are not very good. Unfortunately, there is no reliable directory to assist you in determining which ones are great and which are not. This handout is intended only to provide you with some general tips in deciding which attorney is right for you and to give guidance in working with the attorney and his or her staff.
Gather all your immigration documents. Gather any documents relating to your education, accomplishments, marriages, divorces, birth of children, any arrests or convictions, etc.
Know what your goals are and do some basic research. If you are seeking to have an H-1B processed and the attorney does not know that Form I-129 is used for this, do not retain him or her. Do not think that you need to be an expert. Immigration law can be very complex and a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. There is a lot of information out there, but not all of it is accurate.
Be honest in your dealings with the attorney who needs to have a clear, accurate picture of your situation. If you've worked without permission, neglected to file tax forms, been arrested - even for silly things - the lawyer needs to know this as it may affect your immigration options. Your discussions with the attorney and his or her staff are confidential.
The first step in hiring an attorney is the setting up an initial consultation. Consultations can be in-person at the attorney's office or over the telephone. Before the consultation, you will be asked to complete an initial intake form and send copies of current immigration documents. To make the most of your consultation, you should get these documents to the attorney before the consultation so they can be reviewed and analyzed ahead of time. Consultations may range anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
The attorney should be able to provide you with a preliminary analysis of your case and a plan for achieving your goals. They may not be able to provide this immediately particularly if some specific research is required. If an attorney informs you that he or she must do some preliminary research, do not assume that they are not up to the task of representing you, particularly if your case is unusual or complicated or if there have recently been changes in regulations.
Many attorneys do charge for the initial consultation. This is not unusual. It does take an attorney time to read your documentation and to provide a legal analysis. Time spent on your case in these initial stages is time not spent working on cases for other clients. Some attorneys will deduct the price of the consultation from their legal fees if you decide to retain them for your case within a certain period of time.
It is important that you find the right attorney for your needs. Attorneys, like physicians, specialize in certain areas of law - immigration, tax, criminal, contracts, etc. Since many areas of U.S. law are very complex, most attorneys do not practice in all areas of law and gain an expertise in one or two. Immigration law is an area of administrative law that lends itself easily to considerable sub-specialization some attorneys specialize in asylum, some in family-based immigration, employment, etc. It is important to choose an attorney with expertise with your type of case.
Determining expertise can be a tricky thing. Unfortunately, there are no guaranteed methods for doing a background check on an attorney. Many immigration attorneys are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Determining whether your attorney is a member of AILA can be a starting point. Please remember that any attorney can become a member of this association - even those that are not very skilled in immigration law. Look at the attorney's website for any information about your type of case. Talk to any friends who have used an immigration attorney for a similar case. Finally, it is all right to ask the attorney or his or her staff about the firm's experience. You might actually want to ask about this before setting up and paying for an initial consultation. A good immigration attorney will refer you to another attorney if he or she lacks the relevant experience.
Once you've established that the attorney has experience with your type of case, you need to know who will actually be working on your case and whether you can you easily reach these individuals. In many law firms the bulk of the work may be done by paralegals and legal assistants. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if they are well trained, organized and responsible. Can you meet or talk to these individuals ahead of time to establish a rapport? Large firms have the advantage of resources - if your attorney is on vacation, someone else on staff will work the case until his or her return. Small firms have the advantage of more personalized service where the attorney is more likely to know the status of your case. Solo practitioners generally make arrangements with colleagues for them to cover the cases when they are away.
Immigration law is a form of federal law that can be practiced to some extent anywhere in the U.S. Indeed, many attorneys have what is known as a national practice. An attorney in Washington, D.C. can file cases for clients in California and vice versa. You are able to choose attorneys from almost anywhere in the U.S. Most of your communications will occur via email or the telephone and fax machine anyway rather than through in-person meetings.
It is recommended that you get a local immigration attorney if your case involves appearances before local immigration judges or the local CIS district office. In these cases, local attorneys know the personalities and procedures of the local immigration office better than someone across the country. If your case involves filings at the regional service center or dealings with consulates, then it doesn't matter where your attorney's office is.
A word of caution about choosing an attorney: scrutinize any attorney closely. All communities have attorneys who are not very good who can unintentionally do more harm than good. Bad attorneys come from all backgrounds - even from your home country. Be careful in your choices.
Another important factor in choosing an attorney is his or her pricing structure. The temptation is often to seek the least expensive attorney possible. While your bank account may appreciate this strategy, it could prove to be shortsighted if this is the main factor in choosing your attorney. Some really, really bad attorneys are very inexpensive, some are expensive. You cannot rely on cost in determining who you will hire.
There are two primary methods of pricing: an hourly rate or a flat fee. Occasionally, a mixed pricing structure may be proposed by the attorney. It is important that you understand how you will be charged for work on your case.
Many attorneys charge by the hour, charging you for the time they and their staff spend working on your case. If your case is very simple and does not require much time, this may be appealing to you. However, if your case is labor intensive the hourly fees will add up quickly. You will pay not just for the time the attorney spends working on the case, but also for the time each paralegal and legal assistant works the case as well, including time when they are discussing your case amongst themselves and all the time you spend on the phone with them. Some lawyers charge different rate for their time as opposed to the time of their support staff.
Many attorneys use a flat fee for fairly "routine" cases such as H-1B, Labor Certification, etc. In this pricing model, you and the attorney agree on the price ahead of time, regardless of how long the case may take to work. In this model, it is to the advantage of the attorney to work your case as efficiently as possible. If unexpected complications arise that change the nature of your case, it may be necessary to renegotiate the contract.
With some complicated cases, an attorney may not be able to assess a flat fee up front as it may not be certain how much work is involved in the case. The attorney may suggest that the case be handled on an hourly basis. Since some cases can result in significant number of billable hours, you may wish to explore the possibility of converting the case to a flat fee after the legal fees have reached a certain figure. This would serve to limit the expense from your end and deter the firm from running up your fees. However, if your case involves considerable amount of court time and preparation, this may not be an option.
If your attorney charged an initial consultation fee, does the amount of the fee get "discounted" or deducted from the total legal fees if you decide to retain the firm?
In addition to the legal fees, it is important to understand what other costs you may be expected to pay. Ask about these costs up front as they may add significantly to the cost of your case:
- Photocopies: How much does the firm charge for copies? Since you should receive copies of all documents filed with the government, the per-page cost, if any, could quickly add up, particularly if the type of petition or application files involves considerable supporting documentation. Are there separate charges for getting a copy of your file after the case is closed?
- Filing fees: Are you responsible for paying any government filing fees? How much are they? When must they be paid?
- Does your case require documents to be translated? Do your credentials need to be evaluated? Are DNA tests needed to establish relationships for family-based immigration? If so, who pays them and when are these costs payable?
After the initial consultation, the attorneys should send you a retainer agreement to sign. This agreement formalizes your relationship with the attorney, establishing the scope of the case - what is the case an H-1B, a J-1 waiver, a case for permanent residency? What are legal fees will be charged? What are the costs you will pay and, importantly, when are you expected to pay? Read this carefully. Understand the terms of the representation agreement.
Working with the attorney and staff
Remember that you are responsible for your immigration status. Keep track of your expiration dates and deadlines. A good lawyer will also track these things, but they are human and can sometimes overlook an important date.
The attorney and his or her staff work for you. They should provide you with updates on the status of your case in a timely manner. If you do not hear from them for an extended period of time, follow up with them.
They should provide you with copies of everything that is filed on your behalf with the government. You should receive copies of receipt notices, approval notices, etc. If you do not receive them, you should insist on it.
You should never let an attorney retain your original passport. This belongs to you and your government.
How to find an immigration attorney
American Immigration Lawyer's Association (AILA) Immigration Lawyer Referral Service ailalawyer.com provides a search engine that allows you to find a lawyer by zip code or language.
AILA is a national bar association of over 7,500 attorneys who practice immigration law. To access the AILA referral Service, use the web-based search, call 1.800.954.0254, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Give your name, location, and the reason you need an immigration lawyer. You will be given the contact information of a local lawyer who specializes in your area of need. When you contact the lawyer, mention that you used the AILA Immigration Lawyer Referral Service and ask about their "initial consultation fee."