Immigration Basics

Like all countries in the world, the United States has laws and regulations governing foreigners who are temporarily within its borders. The immigration regulations are administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These regulations can change frequently and are difficult to interpret. It is important for you to understand the immigration rules as they apply to your student status. DHS does not consider ignorance of the law a legitimate reason for failing to obey it. Questions should be directed to a Designated School Official (DSO) in the Office of International Undergraduate Admission.


Your passport must be valid at all times while you are in the United States and should be valid for six months in the future upon each entry into the U.S. Be sure to keep your passport in a safe place. It is your most important document. It is your responsibility to remember when it will expire and contact the nearest consulate or embassy of your country if it will expire while you are in the U.S. Your passport can only be extended by your government, and it usually takes several weeks for a passport to be renewed, so be sure to allow enough time. Remember that you are in this country illegally when your passport expires and could be subject to deportation. Do not let this happen!


The visa stamped in your passport at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is for permission to enter the United States for a specific purpose and period of time. Students are usually given an F-1 visa. Spouses and children of F-1 visa holders are assigned an F-2 visa. J-1 visas are given to researchers, scholars and students who are sponsored by agencies or universities. Spouses and children of these visitors are assigned J-2 visas. Since this stamp is only important for entry and re-entry to the United States, there is no need to worry if it expires while you are here if you are maintaining your student status. If you need to leave the U.S. temporarily and your visa has expired a DSO will advise you on how to obtain a new visa. You will need to notify the Office of International Undergraduate Admissions well in advance of your departure to allow time to prepare the necessary paperwork. Because a visa is only a permit to apply for entry into a country, it is not possible to obtain a U.S. visa while you are in the U.S. To apply for a visa, you must go to a U.S. consulate or embassy in a country other than the United States, usually your home country.

I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)

Form I-94 (also called the Arrival/Departure Record of Stay Permit), may be printed by accessing the online record at

The I-94 information is very important since it officially determines how long an international student can remain in the U.S. Students on the F-1 and J-1 visas should have their I-94 stamped "D/S" (Duration of Status) which means that the student can remain in this country for the length of time required to complete his/her studies as long as the student follows all of the regulations of the student visa. (See section on Duration of Status for more information.) The eleven-digit number written on your I-94 is your DHS admission number which is used by the DHS to monitor your entry into and departure from the U.S.

If you are on a visa other than an F or J, or if you have a specific date stamped on your I-94 card instead of the “D/S” designation, you must apply for an extension or exit the U.S before the expiration date or you will be considered out of status and a visa overstay which can have serious DHS consequences.


When Middle Tennessee State University accepts an international student for full-time study it sends the student a Form I-20 as proof of acceptance and to apply for an F-1 student visa. A DHS inspector at the port of entry will stamp your I-20 upon arrival and give it back to you to use as your travel document.

The I-20 acts as your permission to live and study in the U.S. It must always be kept in a safe place, and you must keep all former copies of your I-20 as it is updated during your stay in the U.S. If you intend to travel outside the U.S. an official in the Office of International Undergraduate Admissions must give you authorization by signing the I-20 on the second page.

Vacation Periods

F-1 visa holders are required to attend full-time during the fall and spring terms.  Full-time status is 12 credit hours for undergraduate students.  Students do not have to be enrolled during the summer vacation period and may remain in the U.S. without jeopardizing their immigration status. Students beginning their studies in the summer, however, must be enrolled full-time during their first session of study.

Travel Outside the U.S.

If you plan on leaving the U.S. temporarily to visit your homeland or some other country, a DSO must validate your I-20 for re-entry into the U.S. (Allow at least one week before your departure.). You will not be allowed back into the U.S. without the validated immigration documents, a current visa, and a passport which is valid for at least six months after you re-enter the country.


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