U.S. Immigration and Student Resources
United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE)
The USCIS and USICE are agencies of the United States Department of Homeland Security. These departments regulate all matters pertaining to immigrants and non-resident aliens. International students holding F-1 visas and their families are considered non-resident aliens.
Basic Requirements for F-1 Students
As an F-1 visa holder, once in the United States you come under the jurisdiction of the USCIS and USICE. In order to stay legally in the U.S., there are certain guidelines that every F-1 student must follow. These are required by U.S. federal law and regulation. Following these guidelines will assure you that you "stay in status" or "maintain your student status." If you do not follow these rules, you will be considered to be "out of status," having failed to maintain your student status, and you will be in the U.S. illegally.
To remain in good standing with the USCIS and USICE, all student visa holders must do these things:
Keep your passport valid at all times. If your passport will expire while you are in the United States, check with your home country's embassy or consulates in the U.S. about the renewal process before the expiration date.
- Attend only the school which is noted on your I-20 form. If you change schools after entering the U.S. you will need to complete a "transfer process".
- Maintain full time enrollment throughout each term. Undergraduate students at Northwood must complete a minimum of 12 credit hours each term. Exceptions to a full course load can be made the final term for an undergraduate student.
- Complete your studies by the date noted on item #5 of the I-20 form. If more time is needed to complete the degree, obtain a Program Extension before the completion date passes. Unless students are doing a CPT or OPT, they may only remain in the U.S. for 60 days after completion of studies.
- Report any changes of address, phone number, academic major or name to the International Student Advisor/DSO.
- Do not work without proper authorization. F-1 students can work on campus up to 20 hours per week when school is in session, or up to 40 hours per week when school is not in session. F-2 visa holders CANNOT be employed. Employment off campus is permitted only with Northwood University and USCIS approval.
Responsibilities of F-1 International Students
International students who enter the United States agree to follow all the regulations that apply to their F-1 status. It is important for you to know and pay close attention to these regulations because they affect your academic study, travel, and employment while in the U.S. If you are not sure about the regulations, talk with the International Student Advisor on your campus. Note that regulations and requirements change periodically, and your International Student Advisor can help advise you on changes that might affect you.
Entering the United States and Northwood University
To enter the United States as a student, you must first obtain an F-1 visa, except for Canadian citizens. The visa (a stamp or computer label), applied in your passport by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country, is necessary for entry to the United States. The only purpose of the visa is to permit entry at a U.S. border. It does not by itself determine the length of your stay in the U.S.
The visa may expire while you are in the United States. In such a case, your stay is still valid through the ending date on your I-20, provided you are maintaining legal "status" as a student. If your visa expires, you may legally stay in the U.S. as long as you are "in status", have an I-94 card marked "D/S", a valid passport, and a valid I-20 for your current academic program. However, on your next trip out of the U.S. (unless you are in either Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days), you will need to obtain a new visa to return to the U.S.. This is done in your home country. Visas are only issued outside the U.S. at U.S. Embassies or Consulates. They cannot be obtained within the U.S.
If you do not already have an F-1 visa and are residing outside of the U.S., one of the first things that you will need to do is to apply for an F-1 student visa at a United States Embassy or Consulate in your country of citizenship or permanent residence. Please allow sufficient lead time; in some countries it can take several months to obtain this visa. Do not enter the United States on a Tourist Visa or through the Visa Waiver Program. See the U.S. government guidelines for applying for the F-1 Visa at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html.
The documents that you will need to apply for the F-1 visa are:
- A Northwood University I-20 Form (sent to you after application and admission). The form must be signed by you and by a school official in the appropriate places.
- Letter of admission from Northwood University
- A Valid passport.
- Proof of financial support.
- An application Form DS-156 together with DS-158 (available from the U.S. consulate or Embassy as well on the Visa Services website under Visa Application Forms). The forms should be completed and signed. Some visa applicants are required to be complete Form DS-157.
- One 2x2 photograph.
- Form i-901 (pament of SEVIS fee).
- Canadian citizens do not need to obtain an F-1 visa. They activate their F-1 status by presenting their I-20 at the U.S. border and having it stamped and annotated "F-1/D/S" in the upper right hand corner of the form and on their I-94 card.
Please check with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your country of citizenship or permanent residence to determine if you will need any additional documents in order to apply for the F-1 visa. A fee is also required. The U.S. Consular Officer will interview you to determine the following information:
- That you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses for the duration of your stay in the U.S.
- That you have been accepted by Northwood University and plan to attend as a full-time student.
- That you have a good reason to return home after you complete your studies and are not planning to immigrate to the U.S.
- If the Officer is satisfied that you have met these requirements, he or she will issue you an F-1 visa which permits you to enter the U.S.
You can enter the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the beginning of your classes at Northwood University. When you enter the U.S., you must be prepared to show the Immigration Inspector at the Port of Entry:
- Your passport with valid visa.
- Your Northwood I-20.
- Your proof of financial support.
- Your letter of admission from Northwood University/I-94 Form.
- The immigration officer/inspector may briefly interview you again. You should have an I-94 Card (Arrival-Departure Record). If arriving by air, the I-94 will have been handed to you on the plane. Your I-20 and I-94 should be stamped with an admissions stamp and marked "F-1/D/S" in the upper right-hand corner, which means that you are eligible to remain the United States for "Duration of Status".
If you are a transfer student from another college or university and will not leave the U.S. and re-enter before you begin your studies at Northwood, you will need to meet with the International Student Advisor on your campus to complete the mandatory SEVIS transfer process.
When you arrive at Northwood, you must attend an orientation session and check-in with the International Student Advisor of your campus. At this time, photocopies of your visa, I-94 card, and I-20 will be made and you will be asked to complete school and tax documents. It may be possible to have photocopies of your documents made during Student Orientation, so please have these documents with you at this time.
Renewing an F-1 Visa
If your F-1 Visa has expired, you do not need to obtain a new visa unless you plan to travel outside of the U.S. and return to resume your studies or practical training. The visa is necessary for entry only. Please note that for trips of less than 30 days to Canada or Mexico F-1 students who are in status are generally allowed to re-enter the U.S. with an expired F-1 Visa (but not with a canceled visa). However, some students may also need a Canadian or Mexican visa.
To apply for a new F-1 Visa, you will need to apply at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country. It is not possible to renew an F-1 Visa from within the U.S. Please note that some countries require an official college transcript in order to renew a visa; contact the U.S. Consulate that you plan to visit in order to determine what documents are required. You should also obtain a recent signature from the International Student Advisor on your I-20 and be prepared to document that you have sufficient funds to cover the estimated expenses noted on your I-20.
A list of U.S. Embassies and Consulates is available at http://usembassy.state.gov.
Duration of Status
F-1 should have D/S (duration of status) written on their I-94 and original I-20. D/S refers to the time during which a student is pursuing a full course of study or engaging in authorized practical/academic training following completion of studies, plus any grace period. To maintain status the student must make normal progress toward completing a course of study.
The completion date indicated in item #5 of the I-20 should allow adequate time to complete the course of study. The student's stay is only valid to the completion date of the academic program plus any period of authorized practical training plus the grace period. Following completion of their program, F-1 students have a 60-day grace period to prepare for and depart from the U.S.
Extension of stay
If you are unable to complete your academic program by the date in item #5 on the I-20, you may request a program extension. This must be done through the International Student Advisor before the completion date noted on the form. Program extensions will be granted only for valid academic reasons and if you are making normal progress towards the completion of the academic program. You must provide a letter from the academic dean confirming the need for an extension. In such cases, a new I-20 must be validated to report the extension to U.S. CIS.
F-1 students must make the request for a program extension before the completion date in item #5 on the I-20 form. It is not possible to extend your I-20 if you are past the ending date listed on the I-20.
Travel out of the United States
If you plan to travel out of the U.S. and re-enter during your course of study, you must obtain the signature of an International Student Advisor on your current I-20. This signature, along with a valid entry visa in your passport, is required for re-entry to the U.S.
Be sure to check on whether you will need a visa if you are traveling somewhere other than your home country.
If you need a new I-20 before you leave the country because of a change in program, program extension or other change in information, you should apply for the new document at least two to three weeks in advance of your departure.
An F-1 student may accept employment at Northwood without prior approval from the USCIS provided the student is enrolled full-time. On-campus employment means work is primarily performed on the physical campus, such as the bookstore or cafeteria. It may also include work at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with Northwood.
On-campus employment is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students may work up to 40 hours per week while school is not in session provided the student is registered for the next academic term.
On-campus employment is not permitted after completion of a course of study except for post-completion practical training, which must be authorized by the USCIS.
F-2 visa holders (spouses and dependents) CANNOT be employed.
F-1 students CANNOT work off-campus without USCIS approval. There are several types of off-campus employment, ALL OF WHICH REQUIRE U.S. CIS and Northwood University APPROVAL. Students must have been in lawful F-1 status for one academic year in order to be eligible for the following:
Curricular practical training (CPT) is an "integral part of an established curriculum" such as an internship or a mandatory practicum required for graduation. It is often offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. CPT must be authorized by an International Student Advisor or Designated School Official (DSO).
Optional practical training (OPT) can occur before and or after completion of studies. Training can be granted for a maximum of twelve months. This time is inclusive of ALL training before and after completion of studies. Student must apply for OPT before the end of the studies (e.g. completion of the last course to finish the degree).
Post completion practical training must be completed within 14 months of the completion of studies, and is limited to a maximum of twelve months. To be authorized for post completion practical training, the student must meet with the International Student Adviser to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD is endorsed by the DSO but MUST BE authorized by the USCIS. Employment cannot begin until the EAD has been approved and issued by the USCIS.
Employment based on severe unforeseen economic hardship. Students must prove that:
- They are in good academic standing and enrolled full-time.
- They have been in F-1 status for one academic year.
- They can demonstrate and document unforeseen severe economic hardship beyond their control.
- Employment opportunities on the campus are unavailable or insufficient.
- Acceptance of employment will not interfere with being a full time student.
How New Employment Regulations Affect You
The Department of Homeland Security has published new rules that directly impact all F-1 students who will apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), have an application pending for OPT, or are currently engaged in OPT.
OPT Application Process and Timeline:
The new rules allow all qualified F-1 students to apply for 12 months of OPT up to 90 days prior to their program end date and within 60 days after their program end date. In addition, OPT applications must be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of receiving an OPT I-20 from the PDSO on your campus.
Students applying for OPT must use the USCIS employment authorization application Form I-765 version dated 04/08/2008. Please note that some of the instructions on this new version have changed:
- Students applying for pre-completion OPT (question 16) must use the eligibility code (c)(3)(A).
- Students applying for the 12-month post-completion OPT (question 16) must use the eligibility code (c)(3)(B).
- The PDSO on your campus will assist you in completing this paperwork.
- If you are applying for OPT, please make an appointment to see the following:
- Michigan - Viviane Delogne
- Texas - Rene Rojas
- Florida - Mun Kok
- DeVos - Cathy Sigg-Kendziorski
- UC - Cathy Sigg-Kendziorski
Reporting Address and Employer Information
All students on OPT are required to report to their campus PDSO within 10 days any changes to the following information:
- Residential address
- Phone and email address
- Employer name
- Employer address
- Employment status
- Student should report this information via email directly to the persons listed above for their respective campus.
- Students who fail to report this information as required will be in violation of their F-1 status and may endanger their opportunities for future benefits in the United States.
Periods of Unemployment
- Students authorized for 12 months of OPT put their F-1 status in jeopardy if they are unemployed for more than 90 days cumulative.
- Students authorized for 29 months of OPT (see "extension" information below) in total put their F-1 status in jeopardy if they are unemployed for more than 120 days cumulative (see below for more information on the new 29 month rule).
- 17-Month Post-Completion OPT Extension for "STEM" Students.
- Under the new rules, recipients of U.S. bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields are eligible for a one-time, 17-month extension of post-completion OPT (for a total eligibility of up to 29 months). The only Northwood BBA degree eligible for this is the Computer Information Management major.
- To be eligible for the 17-month extension, the following conditions must be met:
- The student must be authorized for OPT at the time of the extension application and working in a job related to his or her field of study.
- The 17-month extension is limited to students who have completed certain science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees. Only the Computer Information Management BBA at Northwood is eligible for the extension.
- At the time of application for the OPT extension, the student's employer must be registered with and participating in the USCIS E-Verify employment verification program.
- Employers must indicate their E-Verify Identification Number on the I-765.
- Employers must agree to notify the Berkeley International Office within 48 hours of a student's employment termination.
- At this time (04/10/2008), SEVIS has not yet been modified to allow International Student Advisers to recommend the 17-month extension of OPT. Please be sure to check the Berkeley International Office web page, and your CalMail email account for updates as they become available.
DHS has provided the following additional guidance on the 17-month OPT extension:
- Students eligible for the 17-month extension must request the extension recommendation from the persons listed for each campus.
- The student will file the extension request with form I-765, application fee, and supporting documents. The eligibility code for the 17-month extension on the I-765 question 16 is (c)(3)(c).
- Applications must be received by the USCIS prior to the student's current OPT end date.
- While the 17-month extension application is pending, the 12 month OPT is automatically extended for 180 days or until the I-765 is adjudicated, whichever comes earlier.
- The start date on the 17-month extension OPT card will be the day after the 12-month OPT expires.
- Students with a 17-month extension must submit a validation report (verifying name, current mailing address, name and address of current employer and dates of employment) to the respective person listed above every six months in order to maintain their F-1 status while on OPT.
- What is SEVIS?
- How will SEVIS affect me?
- What do I need to do to comply with SEVIS?
- What if I have questions about SEVIS or need to see a Designated School Official (DSO)?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a database system that is set up for U.S. colleges and universities to share information electronically with government regulatory agencies in order to keep better records on non-immigrant students and exchange visitors who are currently in the United States. Northwood University is required by U.S. federal law and regulation to maintain certain records and information on international students, and to share this information electronically with the USCIS and USICE.
SEVIS has been in development for several years. It is not a direct response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though its development has been accelerated because of the attacks.
As a non-immigrant student (holding an F-1 visa) certain records pertaining to you and your immigration status will be recorded and submitted to the USCIS and USICE. The university will automatically submit certain information without any action on your part. As long as you maintain "legal status" as an F-1 visa holder, SEVIS will have no real effect on you. However, in certain situations, if you fail to submit information within a certain time period or miss important deadlines, you will no longer be in "legal status", and may lose certain benefits or will have to apply to the USCIS for "reinstatement" as an F-1 student. In rare instances, you might even be required to leave the United States without completing your degree.
You do have certain responsibilities with SEVIS, and there are several instances where you will be required to notify Northwood University staff members who are certified by the USCIS as DSO's of changes in your personal and academic situation. You will also have to meet and be aware of certain deadlines.
The following situations/changes/requests require YOU to notify or meet with a Northwood University DSO so SEVIS can be updated.
- If You: Change your U.S. address or phone number
- Notify: DSO (and complete NU form)
- Within a deadline of: 10 days of the change
- If You: Change your name
- Notify: DSO
- Within a deadline of: 10 days of the change
- If You: Change your major
- Notify: DSO (and complete NU form)
- Within a deadline of: 10 days of the change
- If You: Want to drop a class
NOTE: You must be enrolled in at least 12 credits each term (except for summer or in your last term if you have less than 12 credits to complete your degree).
- Notify: DSO - you must meet with and obtain permission from a DSO before you drop a class that puts you below 12 credits (and complete NU form).
- Within a deadline of: BEFORE the end of the 7th week of the term (Northwood deadline to drop a course).
- If You: Extend ending date on I-20
- Notify: DSO (a new I-20 will be generated)
- Within a deadline of: BEFORE the ending date listed on the current I-20. NOTE: If you do not extend before the ending date, you are automatically "out of status" and must apply for reinstatement.
- If You: Apply for CPT (externship) or OPT (EAD card for year of employment authorization)
- Notify: DSO - (must complete paperwork and generate a new I-20 with DSO endorsement)
- Within a deadline of: BEFORE the end of studies - which may not be the same as the ending date on your I-20 (before the last day of final exams for your last term or last day of the last summer session)Note: If you do not apply before the end of studies, you lose eligibility for CPT or OPT.
The international student advisor at each campus is a DSO. If you have questions about SEVIS and your responsibilities to comply with SEVIS and maintain "legal status", you should first see the International Student Advisor on your campus.
NOTE: Faculty and staff at Northwood University are not permitted to give individual tax advice. Students with complicated tax situations may wish to consult with a tax preparation service, professional tax accountant, or tax attorney who is knowledgeable about nonresident tax law. The information given is subject to change without notice.
U.S. Tax Information For International Students
All international students are responsible for compliance with U.S. laws and regulations, and may be obligated to pay U.S. income taxes. Students should refer to the following Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publications to determine their tax status and filing requirements.
The IRS is an agency of the Treasury Department of the federal government of the United States, and is the tax collection and enforcement agency for federal taxes in the United States.
Internal Revenue Service Publications
Publication 515 Withholding of Tax on Nonresident Aliens
Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens
Publication 901, U.S. Tax Treaties
Publications, tax forms, and instructions are available via the IRS website or by calling 1.800.829.3676. Forms are also available at libraries and post offices.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) - The USCIS is an agency of the United States Department of homeland Security and regulates all matters pertaining to immigrants and non-resident aliens. International students holding F-1 visas and their families are considered non-resident aliens.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) - The USICE is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security and regulates all matters pertaining to enforcement of immigration and customs regulations. USICE oversees the SEVIS system for F-1 and J-1 international students.
Non-resident alien - A foreign-born person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is temporarily admitted to the U.S. for a particular purpose. Most international students are "non-resident aliens".
DSO - Designated School Official. A DSO is empowered to prepare and sign USCIS documents.
Visa - Document allowing entry into the United States. Issued by the U.S. Department of State through United States embassies and consulates, it is affixed to the individual's passport. It represents a "window of time" during which the visa bearer is eligible to apply for entry into the U.S. The visa's expiration date is generally of little consequence as long as the student remains "in the U.S. and in status".
F-1 Visa - For non-resident alien students in academic or language programs. Students who enter the U.S. on the F-1 visa are commonly referred to as "F-1's" or "F-1 students".
F-2 Visa - For spouse and children of F-1 visa holder
I-20 - The purpose of the I-20 is to enable a foreign student to apply for a student visa (F-1) to enter the United States to begin a program of study
I-94 - Arrival-Departure card documents the arrival of non-resident alien. A new card is issued whenever an individual re-enters the United States.
Tax Terms and Definitions
Resident Alien: A resident alien is a foreign national who meets the green card test or the substantial presence test.
Nonresident Alien: A nonresident alien is a foreign national who is not a U.S. citizen and has not passed the green card or substantial presence test. Note: A nonresident alien for tax purposes is different than a nonresident alien for immigration purposes.
Green Card Test: Foreign nationals who have been granted lawful, permanent residence in the U.S. as an immigrant by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and issued an alien registration card (often called a "green card").
Substantial Presence Test: A mathematical calculation comprised of two parts; the 31-day test and the 183-day test. To pass the test, an alien must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 31 days during the current calendar year, and 183 days during the 3-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before that, counting:
- All the days present in the current year, and
- 1/3 of the days present in the first preceding year, and
- 1/6 of the days present in the second preceding year.
Exempt Individual: An individual who is exempt from counting days of presence for the Substantial Presence Test. Students temporarily present in the United States under an F, J, M, or Q visa and who substantially comply with the requirements of the visa are exempt individuals for no more than five calendar years. Note: This term has nothing to do with whether the individual will be exempt from having federal income tax or Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld, or filing a U.S. tax return.
Common Questions Concerning U.S. Taxation of International Students
1. Are F-1 students required to file a tax return?
Students who are nonresident aliens and receive U.S. source income such as wages and taxable scholarships must file a U.S. tax return using Form 1040NR-EZ, or Form 1040NR. Students who do not have income must file Form 8843. Students who are resident aliens will be subject to the same tax rules as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
2. Why do I care if I'm a nonresident alien or a resident alien?
A nonresident alien is taxed on U.S. source income only-not worldwide income. Generally, a nonresident alien is eligible for only one personal exemption and cannot take the standard deduction on his/her tax return.
3. What are the general rules determining tax status?
An F, M, J, or Q student in the United States for no more than five calendar years, including part years, is a nonresident alien. The same rules apply to family members in F, M, J, and Q status. Since each family member's presence in the United States may have been different from the spouse or parent's presence, the family member's tax status may be different from that of the primary visaholder.
4. What if a student's only source of income is a scholarship? Isn't that exempt from tax?
Scholarships from foreign sources are exempt from U.S. tax in their entirety. However, only the portion of U.S. source scholarship used for tuition, fees, and required books and equipment is exempt from tax. The United States taxes any portion of a U.S. source scholarship granted or used for living expenses, room, or board. Northwood University will send Form 1042-S to nonresident alien scholarship recipients who receive taxable scholarships in the calendar year. A copy of this form must be attached to the U.S. tax return.
5. If my country has a tax treaty with the U.S. does that mean I don't have to file any tax forms?
No. In order to claim tax treaty benefits, you must file federal income tax Form 8843 and either Form 1040NR-EZ or Form 1040-NR.
6. Will I be subject to U.S. social security taxes?
F-1, J-1, M-1, and Q-1 nonresident aliens are exempt from social security and Medicare taxes on authorized employment. F-1, J-1, M-1, and Q-1 resident aliens are not exempt. A foreign student who has been physically present in the United States for more than five years is a resident alien unless the student can prove he or she is not intending to reside here permanently.
Students enrolled in and employed by an academic institution are exempt from social security and Medicare taxes under the same rules that apply to U.S. citizens.
7. My employer withheld social security and Medicare taxes from my wages. What can I do?
If social security and Medicare taxes have been withheld from your wages by mistake, you should first ask your employer who withheld the tax for a refund. If the employer does not grant a refund, a refund can be claimed from the IRS on Form 843. Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, contains instructions on pages 39-40 for claiming a refund of taxes withheld in error.
8. Will a student who cannot obtain a Social Security Number be able to file a tax return?
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) can be obtained by anyone not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) by submitting a completed Form W-7 together with required documentation to the IRS. The IRS will reject a tax return that does not include an SSN or ITIN for the taxpayer and all dependents for which an exemption is claimed.
9. Where can I get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number?
An ITIN can be obtained abroad at a U.S. embassy or consulate. It can also be obtained from an Acceptance Agent such as a college, university or accounting firm that has entered into an agreement with the IRS to provide processing for issuing ITINs. Northwood University is an Authorized Acceptance Agent and can submit Form W-7 applications to the IRS.
10. How will the tax authorities know if I don't file required tax returns and pay U.S. tax obligations?
IRS computers compare forms submitted by employers and other payors to report income (Forms W-2, 1099, and 1042S) with individual tax returns. If an individual return is found to be missing, the IRS contacts the individual concerned. The IRS's computerized information is shared with state tax authorities, which may also contact the individual.
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