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Over 5-months absence affects visa status

Over 5-months absence affects visa status
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More than five months of absence from America affects not only the F-1s visa status but also his/her future employment opportunities in the countryA ...

More than five months of absence from America affects not only the F-1s visa status but also his/her future employment opportunities in the countryA raoThe biggest challenge for international students pursing higher education in the US is nothing but staying away for longer duration from their families and friends in the home country. Huge expenses on air travel and also the immigration law that mandates uninterrupted classroom attendance for F-1s to maintain their visa status generally prevent non-resident alien students from availing longer breaks from the university to visit relatives abroad. However, emergencies as well as certain extraordinary situations compel number of international students to leave the US for a longer stay either in their homeland or any other foreign country. It wouldn't pose a problem if their stay outside the US hasn't exceeded five months and the absence from the university has also been properly endorsed and reflected in their I-20s. And, it would present them with hell of a problem if their absence from the US has exceeded five months. More-than-five month's absence from America affects not only the F-1's visa status but also his/her future employment opportunities in the country. The US Department of State, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and several US universities have made available a wealth of information about this issue through their websites as well as handouts in international students' offices on various campuses. You will read a gist of all that here this week:
  • The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers an F-1 student as "has abandoned his/her student visa status" if he/she has been absent from the US for more than five consecutive months.
  • Benefits like practical training employment are awarded to those students who were on full-time studies with valid non-immigrant status constantly for nine months. A student who abandons his/her F-1 status will involuntarily postpone his/her eligibility for such benefits. These benefits will be available only after they have completed a new nine-month course of study.
  • US Consulates abroad and the US Border Security officers at port of entries in America consider the reentry of an alien student into the U.S. after five-months or longer absence than that as a "completely new arrival." only. As in the case of an F-1 who is arriving for the first time at a US airport, the returning student should also submit a new I-20 form and await decision regarding his/her admission into the United States. Hence, returning students to America (after a gap of five months or more) SHOULD NOT submit their old I-20; they should land in the US only after receiving a fresh I-20 from their university.
  • As you need to obtain a new I-20 from the university after a prolonged stay of more than 5 months outside the US, you should also see to it that your financial documents must be less than 12 months old.
  • As per the DHS regulations, study abroad programs under the aegis of an accredited US university are an exception for this 5-month rule for returning students.
  • This rule also applies in equal strength to all foreign students in the US you opt to transfer their courses from one university to the other. All full-time academic (F-1) and vocational students (M-1) should restart their studies within five months after they have transferred their records from one university to the other. Else, they will lose their visa status.
  • Prior to travelling abroad on a long break of absence from the university, students should be prudent in consulting their Designated School Officials (DSO) for obtaining permission for such an absence and accurately endorsing it in the current SEVIS Form I-20.
  • A Students reentering the US after a gap of more than 5-months are not only required to get a new F-1 visa from a US Consulate abroad but also pay SEVIS fees afresh before receiving new I-20 from the university (also, should pay visa fees again!).
  • Though you have a new F-1 visa and a fresh SEVIS Form I-20, please understand that your reentry into the United States is not guaranteed. A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official at the port of entry will only determine whether you are eligible to reenter America after your prolonged absence from the university for more than five months.
  • And, the CBP official's decision in your case would be the final and ultimate. He/she is beyond bias and could not be influenced by way of sending recommendations from prominent people or exerting influence from "higher authorities" as being done on similar occasions in India and several other countries (the President of the United States even wouldn't intervene with the authority of a CBP officer!).
  • To sum up, returning students should take every precaution possible to avert longer absences of more than five months from the United States. In extreme cases where they need to be outside America beyond the 5-month limit, they should not hesitate to discuss the issue with their school DSO's very much in advance of their travel abroad.
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