Common Immigration Documents
A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. It is issued by the country in which the student is a citizen or national. The average passport is valid from 5-10 years. A passport is actually the property of the country of issuance, and must be valid at least 6 months into the future (at the time of entry into the U.S.). If the passport is expiring, the student must contact their home country's embassy in the U.S. to find out the procedure for renewal. Renewal process vary by country.
I-94 Arrival-Departure Card
The Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94) is intended to record a non-immigrant's entry and exit from the U.S. It also indicates the non-immigrant status category in which the alien is admitted to the U.S. (such as F-1). The I-94 card is received at the port of entry and processed by U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The card is surrendered at the port of departure, usually through the airline. The I-94 contains a lot of information such as:
- the immigration classification (F-1 or J-1)
- the port of entry where the student entered
- the date a student arrived in the U.S.
- the date by which the student must leave the U.S.*
*Some categories, such as B-2 tourists or H-1B employees will have a specific departure date written on the I-94 and they must leave the U.S. or apply for a change of status (if applicable) by that date. However, most students will have "D/S" for Duration of Status indicated as their departure date. This means the student does not have a specific departure date on the I-94 and can stay as long as they maintain their F-1 or J-1 status.
International students are required to retain this card while they are in the U.S. It is a very important document because it is evidence of status. It is also very expensive to replace if lost. The replacement cost is currently $330.
A visa is a physical stamp inside an individual's passport or travel documents issued by U.S. Department of State at a diplomatic visa-issuing post abroad (usually a U.S. Embassy or Consulate). A visa allows an individual to apply to enter the U.S. in a specific non-immigrant category (such as F-1). The visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S. It only needs to be valid at the time of entry. It is okay if the visa expires while the student is in the U.S. as long as the student maintains his/her legal immigration status. If a student's visa is expired then the next time the student travels outside the U.S., he/she would have to obtain a new visa before re-entering the U.S. A U.S. visa can only be obtained outside the U.S.