|Date:||August 28, 2003|
|To:||Academic Advisers and Directors of Graduate Studies|
|From:||Richard B. Tudisco, Associate Provost and Director|
Quick Reference on Immigration Issues for Academic Advisers
International students are subject to immigration laws and regulations that occasionally conflict with—and always take precedence over—University academic policies and procedures. International advisees must be identified early in the academic advisement process to ensure that advisers offer guidance that is consistent with the constraints of their students’ immigration status.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is unforgiving of violations of student regulations that previously were treated as minor transgressions. Violations now will result in enforced departure. Furthermore, a visitor’s failure to maintain immigration status will be a matter of record with the Department of State and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at ports of entry and is likely to prejudice eligibility to return to the U.S. in the future.
All Columbia F and J visa holders and their accompanying dependents are monitored by the DHS’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), mandated by the U.S. government to provide real-time tracking of foreign students and scholars. All immigration-related student transactions must be processed through SEVIS. SEVIS business rules are rigid; if a student is calculated to be out of status, no processing is permitted.
Students are personally responsible for knowing and adhering to immigration regulations. However, they are also accustomed to relying on the guidance of trusted advisers. International students may experience extraordinarily severe consequences from even an inadvertent misstep in managing their immigration issues. Accordingly, students are best served when advisers, deans, and departmental administrators are familiar with matters that point to further consultation with the ISSO.
The following is a short list with which academic advisers will want to become familiar. These matters, which frequently arise in the advisement process, carry exposure to irreversible immigration consequences. Should you have questions about these items or the broader array of student-related immigration issues, please contact our assistant directors, Ellen Cohen (email@example.com) and Jennifer Soler (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information. They will be happy to assist you with your questions or to put you in touch with the ISSO adviser working with your student.
Full-Time Registration Requirement
International students must maintain full-time registration throughout their programs of study. Part-time enrollment is permitted only under extraordinary circumstances and only if a student obtains permission from the ISSO before the part-time registration or before dropping courses that cause the student to be classified as part-time. Unless the ISSO’s authorization precedes the effective date of part-time status, a student will be in violation of his or her immigration status. Part-time enrollment may be possible under the following circumstances:
- a student is in his or her first semester in the U.S. and is having academic difficulty due to improper course level placement;
- a student has a documented medical situation which requires a reduced course load. Immigration regulations require written certification from a licensed physician or clinical psychologist. If the medical condition continues beyond one semester, the student must present an updated certification to the ISSO prior to the start of the second semester. The student must resume a full-time course of study after no more than two semesters of reduced course load in order to maintain immigration status;
- a student is in the final semester of a program for which he or she had been enrolled full-time for every other semester, but now requires less than a full course load to complete the requirements for the degree.
Normal Progress Toward Degree Requirements
Immigration regulations require international students to make “normal progress” toward their degrees, i.e., progress that is consistent with standard departmental expectations and academic requirements. Thus, for example, a student who formally maintains “full-time” status by registering for elective courses, but fails to satisfy degree requirements in a timely or reasonable manner, violates his or her immigration status.
Timelines for Departing the U.S.
Ordinarily, international students are expected to depart the U.S. within 30 days (for J-1 visa holders) or 60 days (for F-1 visa holders) following the successful completion of their programs. Student who do not depart, or fail to take appropriate steps to remain in the U.S. within this “grace” period, violate immigration regulations.
There is no “grace” period for students who terminate or interrupt their studies before successful completion. However, students who withdraw with the prior permission of their school and the ISSO are allowed 15 days within which to leave the U.S.
Early Program Completion
International students are ordinarily given a specific period of time to pursue and complete their programs at Columbia. Early program completion may affect their ability to remain in the U.S. or pursue on- or off-campus employment and training benefits for which they might be otherwise eligible. Departments are advised to refer any student who is completing early (for example, in 1.5 years for a program that ordinarily takes 2 years) to the ISSO to discuss the potential ramifications.
DHS requires students to apply for practical training before the successful completion of their studies. The completion date is not tied to the degree conferral date, but is usually the last day of the student’s last semester. Students who miss the application deadline lose eligibility for practical training. Until 2002, students were allowed to apply during the 60 days following the completion of their programs.
Leaves of Absence, Withdrawals, or Cancellations of Registration
International students who are granted non-medical leaves of absence must depart the United States immediately and remain outside the U.S. for the duration of the approved leave. Immediate departure is also required of those for whom the school has cancelled registration. Permission to remain in the U.S. while on a medical leave of absence is subject to strict regulatory guidelines. Departments should consult with the ISSO before granting leaves, withdrawals, or canceling registration to ensure that INS timing or compliance issues are appropriately addressed.
Certification of Official INS Documents
International students who hold immigration forms that require the signature of a Designated School Official (DSO) or a Responsible Officer (RO) should be referred directly to the ISSO. Only ISSO staff are legally authorized to sign or certify these DHS forms.
I-9 Form Compliance
Departments are reminded that international students on F or J visas must complete an I-9 form at the ISSO on the first day they begin performing employment or service-related duties. All other students and all non-student employees must complete the I-9 procedure at their department or school. University I-9 procedures may be found at http://www.hr.columbia.edu/hr/html-files/cu_i-9_policy.html.
International Students and Scholars Office
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