Various rules for obtaining student and tourist visas have changed or been added in the years since September 11, 2001. In addition, various changes to visa procedures in general will affect tourists and students.
Since September 11, 2001, Congress and the immigration authorities have introduced various security measures:
Another of the U.S. government's many post-9/11 security measures has imposed extra monitoring on certain people coming to the United States on nonimmigrant (temporary) visas. You probably won't know before you get here whether you'll be subject to this additional monitoring; the government is trying to keep its criteria secret.
If the border officer decides that you fall under the new registration rules, you will have to do all of the following:
You will be given a packet of information more fully explaining these requirements when you enter the United States.
The most significant change to the student visa application process affects would-be students who are already in the United States on another type of visa. These students will need to obtain approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly known as the INS) before starting school. Before, foreign students could submit applications for student status but begin school before receiving the USCIS's okay. Under the new rule, USCIS promises to issue its approvals (or denials) within approximately 30 days -- in return for which it requires applicants to wait for its decision before starting school.
Another major change for international students is the setup of the SEVIS system, a database into which the schools will enter information on students, which USCIS can then access via the Internet.
In theory, students should hardly notice this change, except that it puts them under pressure to inform their foreign student officers quickly of any changes in their address, student status, or other relevant information. In practice, the system has caused frustration, as information doesn't always get entered into the system accurately.
In addition, international students are being closely monitored. When a school issues an I-20 to a student, it will be required to notify the U.S. consulate in the student's home country. When that consulate approves the student's visa, it will be required to notify the USCIS. During the student's time at school, the school will have to keep the USCIS up to date on the student's status and whereabouts through a database called SEVIS.
To finance this database, international students now must pay $100 in addition to the usual visa fees. The information and documents that schools are required to make available to USCIS include each international student's:
The State Department has announced new requirements regarding the photos that must be submitted along with any application for a nonimmigrant visa (such as a student or tourist visa). The main difference is that the photos must be passport-style (showing a full frontal view of the applicant's face). Also, it must be bigger than before -- two inches square, with your head measuring between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches. In addition, the State Department emphasizes that they want to see the applicant's full head, including hair and, if possible, ears. Head coverings and hats are only acceptable when due to the person's religious beliefs, and even then may not cover any portion of the applicant's face.
Photocopies of photographs will not be accepted. Digitally reproduced photos must be of high qualify, with no visible pixels or dot patterns. The photo must be stapled or glued directly on to Form DS-156 in the designated space.
For more information on passport photo requirements, go to the State Department's website at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/info/info_1287.html.
In 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now know as the USCIS) started to enforce little-known provisions of the immigration law that make it a crime for immigrants not to submit immediate notifications whenever they change their address. The potential punishments include fines, imprisonment, or deportation.
Here's how to protect yourself: First, figure out whether the law applies to you. It covers all foreign nationals who've been in the United States for more than 30 days, including those with:
The easiest way to notify USCIS is online, at https://egov.uscis.gov/crisgwi/go?action=coa. It's also a good method in that you'll get confirmation that your notification was received. The other way is to mail in Form AR-11, by going to the Immigration Forms section of www.uscis.gov, downloading it, and following the instructions. Be sure to make a copy for your records.
Form AR-11 itself is fairly self-explanatory. If you don't have an A-number (a number the USCIS assigns to people who've applied for green cards or have been in removal proceedings), either ignore this question or supply your I-94 number. The question about your "last address" refers only to your last address in the United States, not overseas. The address you supply should be where you actually live, not a P.O. Box or work address.
If you have any applications on file that are waiting for a USCIS decision -- for example, you've applied for a work permit -- you need to file the change of address form at whichever USCIS office is handling your application.
The time window for filing your change of address is only ten days from the date of your move. What if more than ten days have already passed and you've only just discovered your responsibility? Most attorneys advise that you fill out the form now, to show the USCIS you made an attempt to comply and to assure that it has your current address.
For security reasons, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly known as the INS) now asks everyone submitting applications to write in their full middle name -- not just their middle initial. USCIS would like you to do this even if the form you're filling out only asks for your middle initial. If you forget, your application won't be denied, but you will get a letter asking for your full middle name, which is guaranteed to slow down the USCIS's final decision on your application.
Responding to concerns about the involvement of young men in terrorist acts in the United States, the State Department in 2002 instituted stricter visa requirements for males. All 16- to 45-year-old male applicants for "nonimmigrant" (temporary) visas now have to submit Form DS-157 in addition to the usual application materials. This will affect mainly those applying for student and tourist visas. To get a copy of the new form, go to the State Department's website at www.state.gov. Click on "Visas," then click "Visa Application Forms" and look for Form DS-157.
This new form will be mandatory for young men from all countries in the world, not just for men from countries suspected of terrorist links. However, men from Middle Eastern countries are facing longer waits for visas than other applicants.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly called the INS) and the U.S. State Department regularly revise the forms used for immigration applications--and you'll usually need to use the new versions. In addition, there are some new forms:
And there's one form you no longer need to send yourself: Form I-538, the certification by your designated school official (DSO) that must accompany applications requesting a school transfer, reinstatement of status, or various work permits. The new SEVIS computer system allows your DSO, in most cases, to transmit his or her certification directly to USCIS, without using the Form I-538. Your school may nevertheless ask you to fill out your portion of the form, for its files.
Copies of new USCIS forms (indicated by the initial letter "I") can be obtained from your local USCIS office or by calling USCIS at 800-870-3676. You can also access the latest USCIS forms online at www.uscis.gov (click on "Immigration Forms," and scroll down until you find the appropriate form).
Copies of new State Department forms (indicated by the initial letters "DS") can be obtained from your local consulate.
If you're planning to visit the United States using a visa waiver rather than an actual visa, you may need to get a new passport first. All visa waiver entrants must now present passports containing machine-readable biographic information and a digital photograph.
Unfortunately, not all countries whose citizens are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program have the technology to provide this type of passport yet. If your country doesn't create such passports, contact your local U.S. embassy and apply for a tourist visa.