Center for International Programs

International Student Services

Immigration Documents and Terminology

To help you understand the essential rules and regulations which govern your status, we offer the following glossary of immigration terms.

The passport is a formal permit to travel abroad and return to the issuing country. With few exceptions, it is issued by one’s country of citizenship. All individuals in F and J status, except Canadian citizens, are required to have a valid passport at all times. Canadians must present valid passports when entering the U.S. from outside the Western Hemisphere. It is your responsibility to extend or replace your passport when it expires. In most cases passports are required to be valid for 6 months in the future. Information on renewing your passport is available from your country’s consulate in New York City or embassy in Washington, D.C.

F-1 Student
An F-1 student is a nonimmigrant who is admitted to the United States to pursue a full course of study. F-1 students’ educational expenses are usually met by personal, family or institutional funds.

An I-20 is a certificate of eligibility issued by an authorized educational institution to enable eligible individuals to obtain an F-1 student visa or to apply for F-1 student status. The I-20 must also be carried by the F-1 student while traveling and re-entering the U.S. The I-20 reflects the student’s biographical data, school and program information, and financial resources. It is an important government document that should be retained by the F-1 student as a part of his or her permanent record. The I-20 is a three page form.

J-1 Student
A J-1 student is a nonimmigrant who has been selected to participate in an exchange visitor program. J-1 students generally are financially sponsored by an educational institution in the U.S. or abroad, the American or an international government, or a private agency in support of international educational exchange.

DS-2019 (formerly IAP-66)
A DS-2019 is a certificate of eligibility issued by an authorized educational institution or Exchange Visitor program. The certificate enables eligible individuals to obtain a J-1 visa to study or teach in the U.S. The DS-2019 must also be carried by the J-1 exchange visitor while traveling and re-entering the U.S. It is an important government document that should be retained at all times as a part of the exchange visitor’s permanent records.  The DS-2019 form is 2 pages.

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
The I-94 is a small white card issued to all nonimmigrants by a U.S. immigration officer at the port of entry. It is evidence of legal entry to the U.S., indicating the date of arrival, nonimmigrant classification (e.g., student, tourist, diplomat, etc) and the amount of time one is permitted to remain in the United States. The I-94 of those in F and J status should be marked with the letters “D/S” for duration of status.

Duration of Status (D/S)
“Duration of Status” or “D/S” is the length of time for which individuals in F and J status are admitted to the United States. Duration of status allows students to remain in the U.S. as long as they are pursuing full-time studies and are otherwise complying with all immigration regulations. Duration of status is not, however, an indefinite period of time. Duration of status is based on the completion date on your I-20 or DS-2019, plus a 60-day grace period for F-1 students and a 30-day grace period for J-1 students.

The visa is a stamp placed in the passport to allow an individual to enter a particular country, such as the U.S. The visa indicates the purpose of someone’s visit. Persons entering the U.S. to study must obtain either an F-1 or J-1 visa. The visa is valid for a specified number of entries to the United States: one, two, or multiple (until the expiration date). The visa does not indicate how long a person may remain in the U.S. (see “Status” below), but only whether a person may enter the U.S. to pursue a particular type of activity (visit friends, study, work, etc). Visas are issued only by U.S. consulates and embassies outside the U.S. and cannot be renewed while in the U.S.

Once nonimmigrants enter the U.S., they are classified to the purpose of their visit. This classification is known as “status”. Students are in either F-1 or J-1 status and their dependents are in F-2 and J-2 status. Immigration regulates nonimmigrants according to the rules specific to that status. It is very important for students to remain “in status”. Individuals who fail to follow the rules, for example an F-1 student who is not studying full-time, become “out of status”. A person’s status also determines how long he or she may remain in the U.S. Individuals can apply for a change of status while in the U.S. as long as they are not out of status.

A nonimmigrant is a person who is in the United States temporarily to pursue a specific activity or purpose (e.g., study, travel, business). Most nonimmigrants, including all F-1 and J-1 students and their dependents, must have an established residence abroad to which they intend to return. There are over fifty classifications of nonimmigrants, each defined according to the primary purpose of stay in the U.S.

Since August 2003 all individuals in F-1, J-1, F-2, and J-2 status must have a SEVIS-issued I-20 or DS-2019. SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is a database to which all schools are required to electronically report information about foreign students to the Department of Homeland Security.