Immigration Agencies & Documents

There are several federal agencies, immigration documents, and useful acronyms with which international students and scholars should be familiar.


The United State Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is comprised of several federal agencies and is responsible for defending the United States domestically (not overseas). President Bush created this new agency after the Crisis of 9-11 and it subsumed several previous agencies such as the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The agencies within which international students and scholars may have the most contact with include:

USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Oversees the naturalization process, employment visas (H-1B, TN, etc.,), employment authorization (EADs) for non-immigrants and pending permanent residents, change of status applications, F-1 re-instatement, and other immigration petitions.

CBP (US Customs and Border Patrol)

Found mostly at ports of entry (airports and seaports) and responsible for insuring only those individuals and goods that are permitted to enter the U.S. are allowed into the country. They oversee the inspections area at airports, process entry into the U.S., update SEVIS records for entering or departing international students, quarantine illegal substances or levy taxes and tariffs on controlled substances, etc.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

This is the investigative and enforcement arm of the Bureau and is responsible for maintaining the SEVIS system, investigating immigration-related crime and status violations (including “visa overstays” and unauthorized employment), detention and deportation.


The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a comprehensive database that serves multiple U.S. federal agencies and contains immigration, personal, contact, and academic information about international students and scholars in F or J status. SEVIS provides information to U.S. consular officers overseas who are adjudicating F or J visa applications, to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) inspectors at U.S. ports of entry (airports and border crossings) who are reviewing entry documents, as well as law enforcement and investigative agencies.  The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau maintains SEVIS, but schools and universities that have been authorized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to admit and enroll international students are responsible for creating (and updating and closing) the SEVIS records for their own students and scholars. Both the SEVIS system and the immigration regulations themselves do change from time to time – any changes that impact students and scholars will be posted on the OIS website and in our electronic newsletters.


The United States Department of State has numerous functions in the federal government – two of the most pertinent to international students include overseeing the J-1 Exchange Visitor program as well as operating the U.S. Embassies overseas which process and issue non-immigrant visas. Their website also has useful webpages and links about applying for visas, links to U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, U.S. Culture, and other interesting information.

DSOs & ROs

Designated School Officials (DSOs) are appointed international student advisors at SEVIS approved schools who are knowledgeable about student immigration regulations and are authorized to access SEVIS. DSOs can view the records of students at their own school (and only their own school) and are charged with updating SEVIS records, issuing SEVIS forms, reporting certain information, authorizing or recommending student immigration benefits, and advising international students in F-1 status. Responsible Officers (ROs) or Alternate Responsible Officers are authorized by the US State Department to serve similar roles and functions with the J-1 student and scholar community. The advisors in OIS are both DSOs and AROs.

Visa Certificates

A Certificate of Non-immigrant Eligibility is a pdf paper document that is generated in SEVIS when a DSO or ARO successfully creates or updates a SEVIS record for a student, scholar, or dependent family member. The original, signed visa certificate is an essential document when applying for an F (on Form I-20) or J (Form DS-2019) visa at the U.S. Embassy, requesting entry at a U.S. port of entry (going through “inspections” at Customs and Border Patrol), re-entry to the U.S. after a brief visit abroad, for showing proof of certain types of employment eligibility, and for identification purposes when traveling. Do not lose your visa certificate and bring it with you each time you meet with an OIS advisor. The visa certificate indicates which school you are authorized to attend and until which date, your level of study, your major of study (or research or internship), the estimated costs of attendance and your source of funding. Other than signing and dating the bottom of page one, you should not cross through, change, or add any information to the visa certificate. The visa officer at the U.S. Embassy will usually sign and date the visa certificate, as will the CBP officer during inspections. The OIS advisor should endorse the visa certificate for re-entry before you travel abroad (each signature is good for multiple trips for up to 12 months – see the travel section of this website).

You must request a new visa certificate from OIS each time you extend your program (when you are not able to complete your program by the end date on the visa certificate), transfer to another school or program, change your level or major, add a co-major or minor, are authorized to engage in off-campus employment, request re-instatement after a SEVIS termination event, add a dependent family member, run out of space for OIS travel endorsements, lose your original copy, or sometimes when you encounter a significant change in your funding.

You should retain and keep all your visa certificates in a safe place, but you will use only your current (most recent) certificate for travel. If you apply for a future change of status (e.g., apply for an H-1B visa or a green card), your attorney or HR representative will ask for copies of all your visa certificates to include with your application. OIS does not keep original visa certificates belonging to students or scholars and is not required to retain photocopies for more than 2 years.

Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Card)

The form I-94, for most non-immigrant visitors, notates information related to the international’s family name, first name, date of birth, and country of citizenship. This information will be provided to CBP during the inspection process along with the valid passport, certificate of eligibility document (I-20 for F-1 or DS-2019 for J-1) and visa stamp. The CBP Inspector should date-stamp the passport and write the visa type and “D/S” for all those entering in F or J status. The form I-94 is needed for employment eligibility as well as eligibility for the social security number and driver’s license.

Effective May 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has eliminated the paper form I-94 issued to internationals entering the U.S. in non-immigrant visa statuses. There is a new automated form I-94 process that will allow an electronic copy of the form I-94 to be printed after arrival in the US. The link used to print the form I-94 can be found on the CBP website.

There is also an I-94 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) tab on the CBP web page that provides information on what to expect, what documentation will need to be provided, and other topics related to the form I-94.

Please bring a printed copy of the electronic I-94 with you when you check-in with our office and be sure to keep additional copies for yourself. Also, if you are planning to bring dependents, please bring their documents to OIS when you check-in as well. If you are not able to print your form I-94 please visit the I-94 Factsheet for further instructions.