Unique Steps in the International Student Journey

All first year college students have multiple steps which they must follow for admissions, enrollment, and attendance at any college.  JMU students are no different – beginning with the application and continuing to One-Book steps, to placement tests, to enrollment in classes, to residence hall selections, and the list goes on.   Most international students complete all these steps without ever setting foot on JMU’s campus until they arrive for orientation and classes.   (Note that international students entering JMU through the International Study Center will complete some of these steps after arriving on campus and during their first year in ISC.)

In addition to all the “normal” first-year steps, international students are required to complete many additional steps, prior to arrival at JMU, and throughout their educational programs.  The sections below briefly outline these additional steps.  This outline is intended to give a quick glance into the added responsibilities international students carry in their journey through U.S. higher education. 

Steps taken prior to acceptance into JMU:
  • Translation of educational documents into English;

  • Credential evaluation of any previous post-secondary education, if taken outside the U.S;

  • Testing of English as a Second Language, to determine eligibility for, and most appropriate path to, JMU’s undergraduate and graduate programs;

  • Application to JMU;

  • Secure financial documentation to prove the ability to pay out-of-state tuition for the duration of their studies. (Typically this is a bank statement that shows enough to pay at least the first year’s fees, in addition to verification that the family is in a position to continue to pay that amount for the duration of studies.  Regulations require that ISSS has evidence that the education can be financed before issuing a Form I-20 to the student.) 

Steps taken after acceptance into JMU but prior to orientation:
  • Receive Form I-20 from ISSS;

  • Pay SEVIS fee (currently $200 for F-1 students);

  • Make an appointment for a visa interview with the U.S. Embassy in the student’s home country and pay the visa fee (currently $160);  

  • Attend visa appointment with at least the following documents :Allow digital fingerprint scanning and background check to be performed;

    • Passport valid for travel to the U.S.; Nonimmigrant Visa Application; application fee payment receipt; photo; Form I-20; evidence of academic preparation, such as transcripts, etc.; evidence of intent to depart the U.S. following graduation; and financial evidence to show that education, living and travel costs will be covered;
  • Wait for decision on the visa request – this may be an immediate decision, or it may require “administrative processing” which allows the U.S. State Department to perform additional background checks lasting anywhere from a few days to several months; 

  • Once visa is approved, make arrangements to fly to the U.S.  (Note: If the trip is coordinated with ISSS to arrive at Dulles during certain days preceding Transitions, (Link to Transitions page) a bus is made available for the drive to JMU.); and

  • Upon entry into the U.S., present all relevant documents (see note above under visa appointment) to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, who will determine whether the student is eligible for admission into the U.S. 

Steps after arriving at JMU
  • Attend international student orientation, Transitions, which occurs in the days immediately prior to 1787. Transitions includes the following:

    • Securing JACards for all students;

    • A shopping trip to secure bedding and other items not easily brought on an airplane;

    • Setting up bank accounts;

    • Immigration session to review regulatory requirements for maintaining legal status in the U.S., including the SEVIS registration process;

    • JMU classroom session to introduce American classroom culture, the structure of a syllabus, plagiarism, etc.; and

    • Information about health insurance requirements and the healthcare system in the U.S.

Steps after beginning classes
  • Complete a social security number application (eligible only to students who have accepted employment); 

  • Each semester, register with ISSS so the SEVIS record can be updated. (Federal regulations require that each student’s record is updated at the beginning of each semester to verify the student’s continued enrollment in a full course of study and update his/her U.S. address);

  • Throughout the semester, the student must notify ISSS of the following:

    • Changes/additions to major and minors;
    • Changes to living address;
    • Requests to drop below full-time status (only permitted in rare circumstances);
    • Requests for ANY off-campus employment (including unpaid internships); 

Any time a student wishes to travel outside the U.S., ISSS staff must provide a new travel signature on the student’s I-20, verifying that the student is in good standing with the university.  If the student’s visa has expired, s/he will need to apply for a new student visa at the U.S. Embassy in their home country, following most of the same steps taken for the first visa.  (Note that visas cannot be renewed in the U.S.)

Steps prior to, and beyond, graduation
  • Obtain any necessary extensions to Form I-20, should graduation not occur when originally anticipated;

  • Make decision about next steps: 

    • If the decision is made to return home, make plans to leave the U.S. no later than 60 days after the end of classes; 
    • If the decision is made to remain in the U.S. and seek employment, the following steps must be taken:
      • 90 days prior to graduation, submit an application for Optional Practical Training (OPT),  following instructions given by ISSS; Link the bolded word to: http://www.jmu.edu/global/isss/forms-pdf/opt-post.pdf
      • Upon receipt of a job, notify ISSS so SEVIS can be updated, along with justification of how employment is related to their field of study;
      • Notify ISSS with any change of job situation and change of address;
      • Prior to the expiration of OPT (typically one year after its start) either file for a STEM extension (if eligible), secure admission to a graduate program, transition to a more permanent visa (available only in limited circumstances), or make plans to leave the U.S. within 60 days of the end of the OPT.

Note:  Until the expiration date of the final OPT, or the date that the student leaves the U.S., s/he is considered a JMU student for SEVIS purposes, and ISSS is responsible to report on his/her whereabouts and continued employment in the U.S. ISSS also has responsibility for providing the student with current travel signatures any time the student wishes to travel outside the U.S.

    • If the decision is made to remain in the U.S. and further their education (e.g., graduate school), student must submit proof of acceptance into their next institution to ISSS for transfer of their immigration record to that institution. 

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