The sunny days of summer break have come to an end. It's back to school time, and for thousands of international students in Arizona and across the country, that means complying with U.S. immigration laws. Citizens of foreign countries must have a student visa to study in the United States, and they must maintain their status in order to remain in the U.S.
The number of foreign students coming to the U.S. to study has continually increased, now numbering more than 1 million people each year. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that it has lost track of some 6,000 foreign nationals who entered the U.S. under a student visa. This comes after the supposed fix of a security gap which came after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. According to government numbers, in the past year nearly 58,000 of those students overstayed their visas. Agents have been referred to follow up with 6,000 of those students because they were identified as people of heightened concern.
In order for foreign students to remain legally in the U.S. while under a student visa, it is imperative they follow the reporting standards outlined by DHS, and continue to maintain legal status by taking a full load of courses at their host college or university.
A recent article from U.S. News provides an overview of the process for maintaining current student immigration status The first step to getting into a U.S. university is the application process. After applying, and being accepted to an approved school or university, prospective students apply for an F or M student visa, which generally includes an interview. After student visa approval, international students can enter the U.S. within 30 days of their program start date.
Upon arrival, students must inform their university international student office of their new local U.S. address. Any further changes of address must also be reported. The University of Arizona provides guidance for international students to maintain their full time student status.
Undergraduate and graduates students under the F-1 visa are required to maintain full-time status while studying in the U.S. This means being enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per term for undergraduate students. The requirements for graduate study may differ. Full-time status is required throughout the semester, and students are not compliant if they drop below that level. Failing to maintain a full course load will result in the student being out of compliance with their visa requirements, and will no longer be able to remain in the U.S. without correcting their status.
The Department of Homeland Security also provides a website to provide prospective and current international students with information on the process of getting and maintaining their student visa status.
If you are a studying in the U.S. under a student visa, or have any questions regarding your current status and are seeking legal counsel, please do not hesitate to contact my office in order to schedule an initial consultation.