Immigration Regulations

All international students and scholars who have entered the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas are subject to federal regulations that do not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It is extremely important that these individuals are well informed about the specific regulations pertaining to their status. These regulations affect foreign students and scholars and their families in areas such as taxes, employment, study and travel. When in doubt, ask our office for advice.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (HRIRA) has placed the burden of responsibility on the foreign national to know the limits of their nonimmigrant status. Listed below are some general requirements for all nonimmigrants.

photo of international students at Christmas party in United States

Nonimmigrants enter the U.S. for a temporary period of time and are restricted to the activity consisted with their visas. The most important documents in their possession are the passport, the Form I-94 and their particular immigration document (I-20, DS-2019 or approval notice). These documents should be kept in a safe place where they can be accessed, if needed.

Generally, nonimmigrants must demonstrate that their stay in the U.S. is temporary.

  • Nonimmigrants most maintain a valid passport
  • Nonimmigrants cannot hold more than one nonimmigrant status at a time.
  • Nonimmigrants must be participating in activities that are considered with the specific immigration status they currently hold


A visa is a multicolored stamp placed on one of the passport pages by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate which gives permission to enter the U.S. at the port-of-entry (POE). The visa is presented along with the appropriate document (i.e. I-20, DS-2019 or approval notice) to an immigration officer. At the inspection the immigration officer marks the immigration status on the Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record). Once admitted to the U.S., nonimmigrants are not required to maintain a valid visa stamp.

Immigration Status

Immigration Status refers to an individual’s immigration status while in the U.S. Each immigration status has specific conditions and limitations under which a person may remain in the U.S.

Duration of Status (D/S)

Duration of Status (D/S) is defined by the BCIS as that period in which an F-1 student “is pursuing a full course of study at an education institution approved by BCIS for attendance by foreign students, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies, plus 60 days to prepare for departure from the U.S.”

J-1 exchange visitors are also admitted with the “D/S” notation and may remain in the U.S. as long as they maintain J-1 status until the ending date on the form DS-2019 plus 30 days.

Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS)

The BCIS service center having jurisdiction over Alabama is located in Mesquite, Texas and may be contacted at the address listed below. This facility is not open to the public for walk-in service. All applications for change of status, employment cards and employment –based immigrant petitions are processed through this office.

The Atlanta District BCIS office is open to the public Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., except for federal holidays. The district office is very limited on the types of applications they will process. Please contact our office prior to visiting Atlanta.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

SEVIS is a national tracking system mandated by Congress to monitor F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors. SEVIS provides tracking, monitoring and access to accurate and current information on nonimmigrant students (F and M visa) and exchange visitors (J visa). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit electronic information and event notifications via the Internet to the BCIS and the Department of State throughout a student or exchange visitor’s stay in the U.S. SEVIS is directed by the BCIS in partnership with the Department of State and the Department of Education



Students and scholars should always keep their passport in a safe place. Most passports are valid for a limited period of time. The law requires that all nonimmigrants maintain a passport valid for at least six months into the future. Some countries have entered into agreements with the U.S. government acknowledging that a passport is valid for six months beyond the expiration date shown in the passport. It is the responsibility of the students and scholars to remember when their passport will expire and contact their home country Consulate or Embassy for the extension. EXCEPTION: Canadian citizens are not required to have a valid passport while in the U.S.


The form I-94 is the small white card that is issued at the port-of-entry into the U.S. The eleven-digit number listed in the upper left-hand corner on the I-94 card is known as the admission or entry number. This is an identification number with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The I-94 shows the individual’s immigration classification and endorsements made by the immigration officer to indicate the date and place of admission to the U.S. and the initial period of authorized stay.

J-1 Exchange Visitors

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program has been an important component of U.S. immigration law for over 40 years. Legislation enacted by congress in 1948 and 1961 directed the executive branch to facilitate and promote exchanges. Under INA § 101 (a) (15) (J), an individual may enter the U.S. in J-1 status if he or she is a “bona fide student, scholar, trainee teacher, professor, research assistant, specialist, specialist or leader in a field of specialized knowledge or skill, or other person of similar description.” The alien must come to the U.S. temporarily in a program designated by the U.S. Department of State for “teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, or receiving training.”