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International Students


The information in this section is intended for Mercer County Community College international students. Immigration information is subject to change often. For the latest information, visit the International Student Services office (SC261) on the West Windsor Campus, e-mail, or call 609-586-4800 ext. 3531. Students can also check the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

All students who are in the U.S. in a non-immigrant status are subject to a complex and changing set of regulations mandated by the U.S. government. A major role of the International Student Services office is to provide advice about these regulations and assist students in obtaining the benefits that are legally permitted.

The following section provides a summary of the immigration regulations for F-1 students. This includes some of the basic terminology and regulations which all students should know while they are studying in the United States.

Important Immigration Documents

Passport Issued by the government of your country, your passport is your most important form of identification and must be valid at all times during your stay in the United States.

If your passport is going to expire, you must go to your country’s consulate in New York City (NYC) to have this document revalidated. A list of the NYC consulates is available in Office of International Student Services.

U.S. Stamped in your passport by a U.S. consulate, a visa enables you to enter the U.S. for the time of its validity.
Immigration Status This refers to your classification by the USCIS, which indicates your main purpose for visiting the U.S., such as F-1 (student), J-1 (exchange scholar), B-2 (visitor)
1-94 Card This small, white card which you receive upon entering the U.S. is also known as the Arrival/DepartureRecord. The I-94 card shows for how long you are authorized to legally stay in the U.S. and includes your 11-digit INS admission number.

The USCIS officer who examines your documents when you arrive in the U.S. stamps your date and place of entry and marks your immigration status on this document.

I-20 Form This Certificate of Eligibility, issued by schools authorized by USCIS to enroll F-1 students, is presented to a visa officer at a U.S. embassy or consulate in order to obtain an F-1 visa. Students present this form to the USCIS officer at the port of entry in the U.S. to be granted F-1 status.

Each F-1 student must retain his/her form I-20 to establish legal status in the U.S. The Coordinator of International Student Services endorses page 3 of the I-20 when eligible F-1 students want to travel outside of the U.S. and then re-enter to continue studying.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD) This small plastic card is issued by USCIS to show authorization for employment.

F-1 Student Regulations

Duration of Status
F-1 students are admitted to the U.S. for "duration of status" (D/S), which is defined as the time during which the student is pursuing a full course of study and making normal progress toward completing that course, plus the time the student may be working in authorized practical training after completion of studies, plus a 60 day period to depart the country upon completion of an academic program or practical training. The USCIS grants duration of status to F-1 students by entering the notation "D/S" on both the I-20 Form and I-94 Card.

Limitations on Duration of Status
The "completion of studies" date in item #5 on the most recent I-20 Form that was issued is the date by which the USCIS expects you to complete requirements for the current program of study. If the student is unable to complete the academic program by that date, he/she should consult with the International Student advisor at least 30 days before reaching the I-20 completion date. If he/she is eligible for an extension of the time limit, the Coordinator will assist the student in a Program Extension application.

If the date for completion of studies on the I-20 has expired, if the student has not maintained a full course of study as defined above, or if he/she has not applied for a program extension in a timely manner, then the student may be in violation of F-1 status. In this case, the student should contact the International Student advisor immediately to seek advice about a reinstatement application to the USCIS.

Travel Abroad and Reentry
If the student is planning to make a trip outside of the U.S., he/she must have page 3 of the Form I-20 endorsed (signed) by the International Student advisor (who can also be referred to as the DSO or Designated School Official) In signing the I-20, the DSO verifies that the student is maintaining a full course of study and is eligible to continue as a student at MCCC upon his/her return to the U.S. This signature is required even for short trips outside the U.S. Please allow at least one week for the DSO to process the I-20 before the expected date of departure!

It is the responsibility of the student to comply with the immigration regulations. If the student fails to comply with these responsibilities, the student may not be eligible to continue (or to apply for) benefits provided to F-1 students. For example, the student may not be eligible to continue any type of employment (even on-campus employment) or to apply for school transfer, practical training or other F-1 benefits. In some situations, the student may even be subject to deportation.

Extension of Program

Do you know that your I-20 has a life expectancy? If you look in item 5 of your I-20 where it says ".......... and complete studies no later than (date) XX/XX/XX," the six digit number tells you what the projected graduation date is for you and when your I-20 expires. For example, if the numbers are 05/25/03, it means that your I-20 expires on May 25, 2003.

It is your responsibility to extend your I-20 before it expires. If your I-20 is expiring soon and you do not see yourself graduating within that time, please come to the International Student Service Office one month prior to your I-20's expiration date to extend your I-20. This extension is simple.

However, if you allow the I-20 to expire, you will immediately become illegally present in the U.S. and will no longer be eligible for F-1 benefits, such as employment. To regain your F-1 status, you will have to apply to USCIS for "reinstatement," a lengthy, cumbersome, and not always successful process.

Know your I-20's life expectancy and keep that I-20 alive!

Questions and Answers

When must a student apply for a program extension?
An F-1 student who is unable to complete a full course of study in a timely manner must apply, in a 30-day period before the completion date of the Form I-20, for a program extension.

To whom does the student apply for the program extension?
The student must apply to the Coordinator of International Student Services.

Who is eligible for a program extension?
A student who has continually maintained F-1 status is eligible to request a program extension if the delay has been caused by compelling academic or medical reasons.

How does a student apply for the program extension?
The student must submit I-20 Extension request along with all required documents for a new Form I-20.

How is the program extension granted?
The International Student Services office issues a new Form I-20 with a new completion date and certifies the student’s eligibility for a Program Extension on Form I-538. The International Student advisor notifies USCIS of the approved Program Extension through SEVIS.

Who must apply for reinstatement?
A student who has not maintained status and/or is unable to show "compelling reasons" for the delay is considered in violation of status and must apply for reinstatement.

For more information contact:

Overview of Employment for F-1 Students

The following information explains how "employment" is defined by the USCIS and describes the types of employment authorization that may be available to F-1 students.

Eligibility and Application Requirements
The requirements for different types of F-1employment authorization vary. For example, a basic requirement for all types of student employment is that the student has maintained F-1 status continuously. Students in F-1 status are limited by USCIS to 20 hours per week of employment when the school is in session. When you decide to seek employment, consult with Coordinator of International Student Services to ensure proper procedures are followed. The application process and the waiting time to obtain employment authorization can be quite long. Therefore, it is recommended that the student file an application as early as possible. Written information which further describes the different types of employment for F-1 students and how to apply for authorization is available in the International Student Services office.

On-Campus Employment
Work on the MCCC campus is permissible for F-1 students in lawful status with certification from the International Student advisor. Students often work as peer counselors, tutors, computer lab assistants, bookstore cashiers or cafeteria servers.

Off-Campus Employment Based on Economic Necessity
After being in F- 1 status for at least one full academic year (nine months), an F-1 student may be eligible to apply to USCIS for employment based on economic necessity. The requirements for this category of employment are quite stringent. The student must have documentation verifying that an unforeseen change in financial circumstances has occurred since acquiring F-1 status. Application forms and instructions are available in the Office of International Student Services. Students must consult with the Coordinator of International Student Services.

Curricular Practical Training
Work experience that is an integral part of the academic program of a student may be considered curricular practical training. This includes internships or cooperative education courses organized through academic programs. The student receives academic credit for the employment and accompanying course assignments.

Optional Practical Training
The student may be eligible to be employed in a job which is directly related to his/her major field study for up to one year during your time in F- 1 status. This practical training may be during or after the completion of the academic course work. Applications for post completion Optional Practical Training must be filed with USCIS at least one month prior to completion of studies.

Employment for F-2 Dependents
Immigration regulations prohibit all employment for F-2 dependents (spouses and children of F-1 students).