Legal Information for Students on F1 Visa in USA

By Mrunmayai Bobade Updated On - Jun 21, 2022 12:35 PM

Everyone in the United States has rights as per the US Constitution and international laws, regardless of immigration status. Make sure you know your rights as an international student if you are confronted by police or ICE. Explore the article below to learn about your legal rights in the US and how to utilise them in diverse circumstances.

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The US is popularly referred to as a 'litigious society'. This means that people in the US heavily rely on attorneys and courts to formalise and implement agreements, resolve disagreements, and collect reparations for injuries and injustices.

At some juncture in their study abroad journey, an international student may require legal aid to contest accusations, tenant or landlord concerns, or numerous other issues that may occur out of the blue.

Some individuals in the US take advantage of international students by charging them too much for a product or service or selling them substandard items. International students are often ‘too kind’ as clients, thinking that individuals are telling them the truth without questioning the item or the terms of the sale.

International students tend to be unaware of the significance of a signature. They do not always realise that they are obligated by the terms of a contract, lease or other sales agreement after they sign it. Thus, it becomes important to know your legal right as a student.

Everyone in the US has certain rights under the United States Constitution. Non-immigrants in the country such as international students are generally accorded the same constitutional protections as Americans. However, they are bound by immigration laws that do not apply to US citizens. For example, non-immigrants have the right to possess property (land and buildings). They are also protected against racial, religious, colour, and national origin discrimination.

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Legal Responsibilities in the US

The legal system (law) in the United States plays an important role in every aspect of society. International students or scholars are free to approach the judicial system, either to pursue their own complaint or grievance or to defend themselves against a false charge brought by someone else.

The US, like all other countries, has rules and regulations governing international students studying in the country or staying temporarily. These restrictions are frequently complicated, and they change occasionally.

International students are responsible for understanding the rules that apply to their specific immigration status. If a student violates any of these rules, they will lose their status and may be deported. The ten most important things you must undertake while residing in the US in terms of immigration law and regulations are outlined below:

  • Check the validity of your passport.

  • Maintain full-time enrollment as an international student throughout the school year. Unless it is your first semester as an F-1 visa student in the US, enrollment in the spring/summer session is not needed.

  • If an F-1 visa student needs more time to complete the programme as compared to the time period mentioned in the I-20, then they must apply for a programme extension.

  • Do not take work until it has been approved by the US government (such as on-campus jobs or practical training).

  • Do not leave the US, even for a short time, without the required documentation and signatures.

  • If you are about to graduate and wish to continue your education in the US, apply to the new school/programme before you graduate.

  • You must notify the International Student Advisor (ISA) and Enrollment Services Office of your new address within 10 days of the address change.

  • If you are working, file your income tax return. Fill out the forms that correspond to your tax situation.

  • Be honest when answering queries about your student status from an immigration official.

  • Stay up-to-date on immigration restrictions that may impact your visa status by staying updated or informed and reviewing anything supplied to you by the ISA.

Know Your Rights as an International Student in the US

Under the US Constitution and other laws, all individuals in the US, whether citizens or not, have certain legal rights. These are as follows:

  • You have the right to refuse a search of yourself, your car, or your residence by the immigration officials or the police.

  • It is your right to remain or stay silent. You should speak it out loud if you wish to utilise this right.

  • If you are not a US citizen, you have the right to contact your home country's consulate. Your consular must be allowed to visit you or communicate with you.

  • Before answering any questions, you have the right to consult with an attorney. While replying, you can say "I will remain silent until I consult with my attorney".

  • You are not required to sign anything you do not comprehend.

  • You are entitled to a copy of all of your immigration documents.

Basic Travel Documents for International Students in US

One of the most important aspects of your pre-arrival study abroad checklist is preparing all the travel documents and keeping a secure copy of the documents. All your immigration-related and travel documents should be photocopied and these copies should be kept securely. It is advisable to get two to three copies of the travel documents so that one docket can be in your handbag/carry bag and the rest can be kept in a safe place. This is because if you lose any of the originals, then these copies will come in handy and save you from any legal issues. The following are some of the basic travel documents which you must have copies of, before travelling to the US:

  • the page of the passport displaying the visa details

  • I-20

  • the pages of your passport that contain your photograph, personal or contact information, and maturity or expiry date

  • your Form I-94 (arrival/departure record), both sides 

Passport

A passport serves as the government's authorisation for you to travel outside your nation and cross international borders legally. Some students carry a certificate of identity (CI) instead of a passport, which is basically similar to a passport. The majority of passports have an expiration date. International students in the US must keep a check on the expiration date of their passports.

For renewing a passport, international students should consult their country’s consulate or embassy in the US. They need to ask the ISA for a letter confirming their enrollment at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) if they are obliged to provide one.

Note: Students must keep their passports up to date at all times.

Visa

The date the visa was issued, the date it will expire, the non-immigrant class under which the visa was granted, and the total entries that may be made using the visa are all indicated on the visa document. The US immigration inspector assesses whether you are permitted to enter the US after reviewing your visa, passport, and Certificate of Eligibility (I-20) when you reach your "port of entry".

If you need to renew your visa to re-enter the US, you must do it at the US consulate in your country of residence. However, there is no certainty that your visa renewal will be granted.

Note: An F-1 visa cannot be renewed while the applicant is inside the US.

I-20

The Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) Student Status is known as the I-20. The I-20 is a legal document that attests to the student's admission to a US educational institution with the DHS's permission. Students need to carry the I-20 form along with their passports. The international student advisor will sign the I-20's final page before students leave the country they are residing in and return.

I-94, Arrival/Departure Record

Your legal admission to the US is evidenced by the I-94. Typically, the I-94 is stapled to the passport page earmarked for your US visa. It has an identification number of eleven digits called 'admission number'. This number is used by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) to trace your entry and exit from the USA.

On the I-94, only the letters 'D/S' (duration of status) and not an expiration date are written. As long as you maintain your non-immigrant status in accordance with the rules, you are admitted for the duration of your programme as stated on Form I-20. You must submit an application for an extension of stay at least 30 days before it expires.

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Maintaining F-1 Status as International Students

It is not necessary for F-1 students to enrol for the summer or spring session unless this is their first semester of study in the US. The following are the regulations for maintaining F-1 status as an international student.

Full-time Study 

Each semester, F-1 students must remain enrolled in a full-time programme until they graduate. For international undergraduate students, 'full-time study' is defined as a minimum of twelve credits. If a student is unable to enrol in a full-time course, they must inform the international student advisor before the semester begins in order to maintain their status. In the event of health issues or for legitimate academic reasons, exceptions to the full-time enrollment requirement may be made.

Completion Date 

The deadline by which you must complete the course of study for which your I-20 was granted is listed in item #5 on your document. This date is predicted on an estimation of the time needed for a student to finish that specific programme of study.

Level of Study 

A transfer I-20 with course start and finish dates to match the new degree programme will be issued by the new school if your transfer application is successful. In order to enrol in the second programme of study after receiving an associate degree, a new I-20 must be granted for that programme and the USICE must be notified.

Duration of Status 

It is the duration wherein the student is undertaking a full course of studies in any educational programme (for example, an associate degree). In addition to any period of allowed practical training, plus sixty days within which to depart from the USA, is the 'duration of status'.

Programme Extension

You must ask an ISA for a programme extension if you cannot finish the programme of study by the deadline indicated on your I-20. It is imperative to submit the required papers for programme extension if you have good cause to ask for more time and have sustained your F-1 status. Your updated completion date is reported to the USICE and an I-20 is issued by the ISA.

Transferring to Other Schools 

An I-20 must be obtained from the new school by an F-1 student who wants to transfer to another institution within the United States. An F-1 student must be in status, be enrolled in a full term of study (at the approved institution), or be enrolled in post-graduation practical training in order to be eligible for school transfer.

Any student who does not fulfil these criteria is ineligible to transfer schools and must submit an application to the USICE in order to regain their student status. The student must let the old school know that they intend to transfer before leaving.

Working on F-1 Visa as International Students

Regulations in the US limit the employment options available to international students. Employers are prohibited by law from intentionally hiring non-immigrants whose immigration status prevents them from working.

Practical Training 

F-1 students are eligible to take part in two different forms of practical training: optional practical and curricular training. An F-1 student may work off-campus in a position linked to his or her primary subject of study with the help of this kind of practical training.

Optional Practical Training 

Even if a student is working outside in the US while undergoing practical training, US colleges and universities still count them as F-1 students. An F-1 student is qualified for a year of optional practical training. You can request optional practical training, and the ISA will help you fill out the relevant papers. The following situations qualify for optional practical training:

  • Part-time before finishing a programme of study (20 hours a week or less).

  • After completing the program of study (file 90 days before the end of the program).  

On-Campus Employment 

F-1 students who sustain their status are eligible to work as "student assistants" in any part-time position on campus. When classes are in session, F-1 students are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week on campus. You must submit a JP-11 form on the OCC website in order to work as a student assistant.

Curricular Practical Training 

Prior to the program's commencement, CPT is permitted. Students who are still enrolled in classes can participate in this kind of practical training to gain practical experience that is supplementary to their academic curriculum. Any student who takes part in a full year of curricular practical training (12 months) is not qualified for any post-completion practical training. Post-completion practical training does not apply to part-time curricular practical training

Is There a Right to an Attorney in the US for International Students?

Yes, you have this right, even if a law enforcement officer does not tell you about this. If you are being questioned by immigration or law enforcement officials, you have the right to request a lawyer at any time. You have the right to remain silent if you are still being questioned. 

If you cannot afford counsel in a criminal case, you may be provided with one if you meet certain financial standards. In immigration cases, you must pay for your own attorney. There are numerous organisations that offer pro bono legal services.

If You are on a Student Visa and Commit a Crime?

Foreign individuals who commit crimes on US soil while on a student visa can face punishments if convicted of any criminal activity. Deportation is frequently one of the punishment alternatives available. Thus, it is critical to employ an attorney for one’s defence against the allegations and immigration authorities.

Anyone who commits a crime in a country that does not have diplomatic immunity is subject to arrest, arraignment, and probable imprisonment as a result of the crime, regardless of whether they are a citizen or not. Another complication is that the conviction will stay on the person's criminal record, which will have long-term implications for the foreign national's immigration record.

The school may see the arrest negatively and refuse to investigate the situation to determine if the person is guilty or not. The first step is frequently a suspension because of a link to criminal conduct or an arrest. The foreign national could then be expelled from the college. Absence from school will entail communication with immigration officials, which could result in the student visa being revoked.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, on the other hand, can place the person in a status violation, begin the removal process if the student no longer has a valid student visa, and remove the foreign national from the country for the violation. Deportation can be triggered by aggravated felonies, criminal, illegal behaviour conduct, and drug-related offences.

A person who is on a US student visa and has only a limited amount of time to stay in the nation before getting a degree is unable to depart until the matter is resolved by the court.

If a foreign citizen has been convicted of a crime, they will need legal representation to support them throughout the possibility of deportation and a conviction in the US criminal court system.

Now that you are aware of your rights as an international student in the US, you can easily start your journey by leaving tensions in the air. In case, if you are fortuitously caught by police or immigration officers while studying in the US, you can use the above-mentioned tips to avail your rights as an international student.

Disclaimer: This article is not aimed to provide legal advice or predict a certain outcome. Readers considering legal action should seek legal advice from an experienced attorney to learn about current laws and how they can affect their case.

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FAQs

What if you chose to remain silent?

If you are stopped and prompted to identify yourself, you may be required to give your name to law enforcement officers. If you want to remain silent, you must state directly that you want to remain silent or that you want to talk with your attorney before answering any questions.

What should you do if you are arrested and kept in jail?

If you are arrested and sent to jail as an international student in the USA, then you can invoke your rights. You have the right to defend yourself and you should take permission to speak to your attorney first. Before answering any questions from a cop or an immigration officer, consult your public defender. Also, do not sign any document unless your attorney has given you permission. You have the option of remaining silent or speaking with your public defender. 

What should you do if immigration officers or the police stop you while driving?

If immigration officers or the police stop you while driving on the roads of the US, then you should show your driver's licence as well as your automobile registration and proof of insurance.  However, you have the right to keep silent on all other matters. You have the right to refuse consent to a search of your person or vehicle. Also, you have the right to consult with an attorney before making any decisions or responding to any questions.

What should you do if you get arrested by the police?

If you get arrested by the cops or police in the US, then you should stay calm and not run away from the situation. You should take pictures and notes about the raid on your phone to protect yourself. Also, you have the right to remain silent. You must make a mental note that any word you spell could be used opposite of you as proof by immigration officers.

What should you do if immigration officers or the police stop you outdoors?

If immigration officers or police stop you outdoors then you should keep your head cool and you should not run. You should divulge your name to police or immigration agents if they ask. However, you have the right to keep silent on all other matters. Remember, anything you say might be used against you by the immigration officers.

What should you do if immigration officers or police come to your door?

If immigration officers or police come to your door then you should first think twice before opening the door. If somebody knocks on your door, you are not compelled to open the door for anyone. Without a warrant authorised by a judge, immigration and the police cannot enter your house. If immigration officers or police ask you anything, you have the right to remain silent.

Can international students in the USA be deported if they commit a crime?

Yes, international students in the USA can be deported if they commit a crime even with additional penalties. There are numerous legal infractions that can land any person in prison or a jail cell. Deportation may be one of the consequences for the foreign national, though.

What are my rights as an international student in the USA?

International students in the USA have a right to support services and information that cater to their specific needs, such as guidance on immigration laws, cultural acclimatisation, orientation to the host institution, and tax and insurance information.

Do international students in the USA have full working rights?

Work on-campus and in certain training programmes are permitted for international students with F-1 and M-1 visas. While their course is in session, students with valid student visas may work up to 40 hours a week. During designated course breaks, students may work an unlimited number of hours.

What happens if an international student in the USA works more than 20 hours?

If an international student in the USA works more than 20 hours then the study permit regulations are broken. By doing so, you risk losing your student status and risk having future requests for a study permit or work permit denied. There is even a possibility of leaving the country.

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