Mercyhurst University

Immigration

Welcome to Mercyhurst University (MU)! We are very pleased that you have chosen to attend MU and we look forward to meeting you. International Admissions Office (IAO) is here to help you learn about and follow the F-1 student visa regulations. There are many benefits and restrictions associated with F-1 status, and we’ll help you with understand these immigration regulations. Please read carefully.

Pre-Arrival Checklist

  • Obtain Your Visa and Plan Your Travel to the U.S.

If you are residing outside the U.S. you must obtain a passport from your government. Next, you must apply for an F-1 student visa. As soon as you receive your I-20, schedule your visa appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country to apply for an F-1 visa. At the consulate, include the following items:

  • Visa application: Complete the form provided by the U.S. consulate in the country where the application will be submitted. You will be charged a fee for the visa application.
  • Receipt confirming payment of the SEVIS fee (please visit https://www.fmjfee.com to pay the fee)
  • Valid passport: Your passport must be valid for at least six months when seeking admission or readmission to the United States. For a list of countries under this agreement, see the list on the Immigration Customs Enforcement website. Your passport should remain valid throughout your stay in the U.S.
  • Passport-size photos.
  • I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1 students) forms: (be sure that your PDSO/DSO has signed the travel validation section of the form within the past year. (Newly admitted students do not need a travel signature for the initial visa interview.)
  • Financial evidence: detailing source and amount of funding. The Certification of finances form and bank affidavit. Prepare documentation that is thorough, consistent, credible and varied.
  • Official academic transcript and official acceptance letter. Proof English language proficiency may also be requested (TOEFL or IELTS results)

Canadian citizens do not need a visa, but simply present the I-20 or DS-2019, SEVIS fee receipt, financial documentation, and proof of admission to MU to the immigration officer at the U.S. port of entry. A passport may be required depending on your method of travel. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State's travel pages.

Students applying for initial entry may be issued the visas up to 120 days before the academic program start date as noted in item 5 on the I-20. You may not enter the U.S. earlier than 30 days before the start date noted in item 5 on the I-20 form or item 3 on the DS-2019 form. You should make your travel arrangements with this date in mind.

 

SEVIS Transfer Students

If you are transferring to another school within the U.S. and transferring your SEVIS record to MU, there are visa and travel policies unique to your situation:

You can travel with your current F-1 visa and MU I-20, even if the visa has your previous institution’s name on it, as long as the visa is not expired and you are not outside the U.S. more than five months between academic programs.

You can use your MU "transfer pending" I-20 to enter the U.S. once without a travel signature before the start date, even earlier than 30 days before the I-20 start date. The 30-day rule is only for travel with "initial" I-20s, not "transfer pending" I-20s. It is recommended that transfer students wait to receive a MU "transfer complete" I-20 before traveling outside the U.S. as the "transfer complete" I-20 is issued with a travel signature.

 

Sign Up for Health Insurance

All international students MUST maintain health insurance while attending Mercyhurst University. The university offers some very good plans. If you currently have a plan or contemplating purchasing an “outside” plan, it must meet or exceed the requirements of the University plans. Please contact International Admissions to request for more information.

 

Post-Arrival Checklist

  • Submit photocopies of all your travel and Immigration documents. This includes your passport biography page, visa page, copy of your I-20 and your I-94 (arrival record).  I-94 record can be printed out at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov.
  • Updated Local Address. You must report any changes to local address to the International Office at all times.
  • Attend Orientation
  • Sign up for Health Insurance if you did not prior to arriving in the U.S.

 

Immigration Information for F-1 Students

International Students are responsible for understanding the terms of immigration status during their stay in the United States. A violation of the immigration regulations (for example, failure to maintain a full-time credit load or unauthorized employment) could jeopardize your F-1 status and legal stay in the U.S.

F-1 Status

“Status” is your nonresident category officially granted by an immigration official. To be in F-1 “status” means that you are legally in the U.S. and have benefits and restrictions specified in the immigration regulations for the F-1 visa category.

Period of authorized stay

Your admission to the U.S. is for a specific "duration of status," that is, for the length of your F-1 status. F-1 status covers the period when you are a full-time registered student making normal progress toward your degree, plus an optional practical training following completion of studies (for 12 months), plus a 60-days "grace period" to prepare to depart the U.S. or change to another status. Your length of authorized stay is not related to your F-1 visa expiration date. The F-1 visa is specifically for entry into the U.S. The F-1 visa might expire before your status expires, and your status might end before your visa expires. It is very important to work with the International office to stay current on these matters.

Documents to Carry

If you are travelling locally or internationally you must always carry your original travel documents such as your passport with your valid F-1 visa, I-20 signed by your DSO/PDSO, I-94 arrival and departure record. If you are traveling by air, train, bus, or ship, you may be required to produce these documents before boarding. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location, in the event your documents are lost or stolen.

 

Events that Require You to Update Your I-20

Any updates to your record must be reported to the Department of Homeland Security through SEVIS and must be changed on your I-20. Please notify IAO of the following changes and request an updated I-20. Keep every I-20 for your permanent record, even after you graduate. Do not discard the old ones, even from previous schools if you are a transfer student. It is your responsibility to keep your I-20s in case you need them to apply for future immigration benefits.

Program Extension

If you are unable to complete your course of study before the completion date noted in item 5 on your I-20, you must request an extended I-20 before your current I-20 expires. Please contact IAO if you have any questions.

Changing Schools

  • You must register full-time at MU to maintain your status. If you decide to transfer to another school, contact IAO prior to completing your final quarter at MU. The following rules apply:

The start date at your new school must be within 5 months of your "transfer out" date in SEVIS (Student and Exchange visitor Information System) or your program completion, whichever is earlier. For students authorized for post-completion OPT, the new program start date must be within 5 months of your SEVIS "transfer out" date or the end of the OPT authorization, whichever is earlier. If the period of time between programs is longer than 5 months, your SEVIS record does not need to be transferred. Your new school will issue a new initial I-20 and new SEVIS number.

  • You must currently be maintaining F-1 status.
  • If you have already graduated, you must be within your 60-day grace period.

Change of Level

If you will complete your current program of study and plan to continue at Mercyhurst University in another program (for example, change from a Master’s degree program) your I-20 must be updated.

Change of Major

If you are accepted into a major or if you change your major (for example, pre-major to History or History to Biology), you must request a new I-20.

Change of Address

If you change your address, you must report to your PDSO/DSO so that they can update your SEVIS record.

Change of Funding

If there is a substantial change in the source or amount of your funding, report this change to IAO and a new I-20 will be issued to you.

Name Change

The name on your I-20 should match the name on your passport. If you change any part of your legal name—first/given name, middle name, or last/family name—on your passport, this change should reflect on your I-20. IAO will wait for you to change your passport first, before updating the I-20. 

 

Full-time Registration Requirements

F-1 students must be registered full-time. Only one online class may count towards the minimum credit amount each quarter. Do not register for fewer than the required number of credits or withdraw from a course without first receiving permission from IAO. Part-time studies could jeopardize your stay in the U.S. and make you ineligible for F-1 benefits. If you run into a situation like this please contact IAO and your academic advisor for guidance.

Final Quarter

You may take as few credits as required to complete your degree in your final quarter. However, an online class or a CPT (Curricular Practical training)-related credit cannot be the only class on your final quarter schedule. Please notify IAO regarding quarter/final quarter enrollment.

However, there are exceptions under special circumstances. Please stop by and speak to your PDSO/DSO for more information.

 

Change of Address

Any change of address must be reported to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days. Please call or stop by at Egan 115 to report any changes. If you are on OPT, email us your new local address along with your full name and student ID number. Please note that your local US address must be your physical address, not a P. O. Box.

To update your permanent foreign address, which must be a non-U.S. address, email us and include your name and student ID number. 

 

Employment

Unauthorized employment is taken very seriously by U.S. immigration officials; familiarize yourself with your F-1 employment eligibility options and always contact IAO before accepting any work that you are not sure is authorized. This does not apply to on-campus work-study jobs.

 

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

 CPT or Curricular Practical Training is temporary authorization for practical training directly related to your major. Your major field of study is listed on your I-20. "Practical training" can include employment, internship experience (paid or unpaid), cooperative (co-op) education experience, practicum participation, etc. You can apply for CPT during the regular academic year (you must remain registered full-time) and during your annual vacation quarter.

CPT may be part-time (20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week).

If you accumulate 12 months of full-time CPT authorization, you lose your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT), another type of employment authorization for F-1 students. Part-time CPT and fewer than 12 months of full-time CPT authorization does not affect your OPT eligibility.

Eligibility

You may be eligible for CPT if you:

  • Currently in valid F-1 status.
  • Have been enrolled at MU on a full-time basis for one full academic year.
  • Are in a major (undecided students, who are not yet admitted into a major, are not eligible for CPT. CPT cannot be authorized based on a minor or certificate program).
  • Will earn your degree from MU

Credit Requirement

You may request authorization for CPT to participate in training that is integral to your curriculum. Training may be required or optional for your degree. Required training must be clearly identified and described in our course catalog. IAO requires academic credit be earned in order to authorize CPT. The credit must be earned in the same quarter for which CPT is authorized, though exceptions may be granted for students pursuing CPT during their vacation quarter. You must earn at least one CPT-related credit for each quarter of authorization granted. Graduate students may not use thesis or dissertation credit to fulfill the credit requirement.

Please visit: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/practical-training for more information.

 

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT or Optional Practical Training provides F-1 students with an opportunity for hands-on work experience (work authorization) related to the academic field of study. You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are currently in F-1 status.
  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (You have not exceeded 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization. (Part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.)
  • You do not need a job offer first; you can apply for OPT without a job offer.

You are eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level. For example, you may apply for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor's degree and then another 12 months after completing a master's degree. You may apply for OPT authorization during your academic program, after your program completion, or a combination of both. An additional 17-month extension may be possible if you are a STEM major.

There are two types of OPT application. OPT used while you are still enrolled in a course of study is called "pre-completion" OPT. Pre-completion OPT is rather uncommon because it is deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility. Therefore, most students prefer to save OPT for after program completion. OPT authorization that begins after completion of your academic program is called “post-completion” OPT. This is the most common type of OPT. Post-completion OPT is full-time.

Please visit: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/practical-training for more information.

OPT Application Checklist:

Please gather the following documents and make an appointment with your PDSO/DSO to complete the application.

  • Completed I-765 Form (http://www.uscis.gov/i-765)
  • Photocopy of all previously issued I-20s
  • Photocopy of passport identification page
  • Photocopy of F-1 visa page
  • Two passport-style photos (white background)
  • Electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at i94.cbp.dhs.gov
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)
  • $410 money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
  • Completed G-1145 Form (optional; it signs you up for email/text message notification of your application's arrival at USCIS)

The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail from USCIS if the address on the envelope does not match the name on the mailbox. Consider using IAO address on the I-765 application. We will send you an email when the card arrives.

If you requested your EAD be mailed to you directly, submit a photocopy to IAO via email.

 

Travel and OPT

If your pre-completion OPT application is pending or approved, you may travel and reenter the U.S. After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you may not re-enter the U.S. unless you have evidence of employment.

You should carry the following documents with you:

  • I-20 signed for travel within the last 6 months
  • Valid EAD card
  • Valid passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (unless returning from a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean)
  • Evidence of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)

It is always a good practice to familiarize yourself with the F-1 immigration guidelines to maintain your status. The International Office is always there to help if you have any questions or concerns.

 

Passport

Your passport is an official document issued by your home government that certifies your identity and citizenship and grants you its protection when you travel abroad. International students require a valid passport to enter the United States. As this can take up to a few months to obtain, we recommend that you initiate the process as soon as possible.

I-20

An I-20 is issued to students once they have proved their ability to finance their education and living costs and serves as the financial statement for the F-1 Visa.  After you send your confirmation deposit, the Office of International Admissions and Services at Mercyhurst University will mail your I-20 to you. The I-20 form is necessary to obtain the F-1 visa, gain entry into the United States, and once in the U.S., to leave and re-enter and prove your legal status. Do not lose this document. Be sure to keep your I-20 in your carry-on bag when you travel, not your checked luggage. You will need to show it at ports of entry.

F-1 Visa

Your visa permits entry into the United States for purposes of academic or language training and is issued by a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. International students require F-1 Visas to enter the United States. Visas are obtained from U.S. Embassies and/or Consulates in your home country and are stamped in your passport. You will be required to present your passport, I-20, original Bank Affidavit (guarantee of financial support), original acceptance letter from Mercyhurst University, original financial aid award from Mercyhurst University, and a completed visa application form.

The F-1 procedure is not the same for every country. You should contact your consulate/embassy in advance to determine whether you will require additional documentation or an interview, as well as to get an idea of the time frame for the visa application process.

I-94

This card is issued by U.S. Customs and Immigration that serves as an arrival/departure record and lists your immigration data.  When you enter the United States, have your passport, I-20, F-1 Visa, financial documentation, and acceptance letter ready when you arrive at Immigration. The Immigration Officer will have you complete an I-94. This certifies your lawful admission into the United States, lists your admission number, entry date, and your F-1 entry status. The I-94 is typically stapled into your passport.

The I-94 is required for travel outside the United States and is your proof of legal entry into the U.S. Do not lose this document.

The officer will also process your I-20 and make the same notations as on the I-94: admission number, F-1 stamp, duration of status (D/S), and entry date.

Keep your I-20 and I-94 in a secure place and carry these documents with you when traveling.

Canadian Students

If you're a Canadian citizen, the Office of International Admissions and Services will mail your I-20 to you. At your point of entry, you must present your I-20, passport, bank affidavit guaranteeing funds for your education, financial aid award from Mercyhurst University, and original acceptance letter from Mercyhurst University.

You will complete an I-94 and the immigration officer will record your admission number, date of status (D/S), entry date and F-1 visa status on it. The I-94 will be attached inside your passport or to your I-20.

When traveling between the United States and Canada , you will not be re-admitted into the U.S. if you do not have both your I-20 and I-94 with you. You risk having these documents revoked should you attempt to gain entry without them and will therefore not be permitted to return to Mercyhurst University until they are reinstated.

Keep your I-20 and I-94 in a secure place and carry these documents with you when traveling.

When you receive your I-20 in the mail, verify that all information is valid and correct:

  • Check all spelling. For example, your name on the I-20 must appear exactly as it does on your passport, including middle initials/names.
  • Check your birth date and country of birth.
  • Check your academic program, reporting and completion date, and financial information. The I-20 cannot be used if the reporting date has passed and is therefore expired.
  • Verify the I-20 has been signed by the Principal Designated School Official (PDSO or DSO)

If any information on your I-20 is incorrect, request a new one by contacting Missi Berquist, Interim PDSO, at (814) 824-2430 or Eric Evans, Director of International Admissions and Services, at (814) 824-2478.

 

Helpful Resources

EducationUSA - Information on pre-departure planning, student visas, traveling to and arriving in the U.S. , beginning your U.S. education, publications, glossary of terms.

Study in the States - An "official source of information about U.S. visa policy and procedures.... This site serves as a single point of access to U.S. visa information. It will connect you to additional, in-depth information found on Web sites managed by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Provides information on citizenship, immigration, fees, procedures, as well as immigration forms, related news updates and links to other relevant web sites.

EduPass - Financial information for international students, visa and passport info, living in the U.S. , scholarship search, financing University, and other information.

International Student - A comprehensive web site providing international students with helpful information on travel and health insurance, scholarships and loans, pre-departure information, test preparation, the application process, essay preparation, international calling cards, and more.