Important Immigration Terms

Below you will find some common immigration-related terms and acronyms used on our website and elsewhere. We strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with these terms and their definitions. And when in doubt, always feel free to email us.


Customs and Border Protection (CBP): The CBP is the U.S. government law enforcement agency responsible for the oversight of national border security. When you travel to the U.S. and request entry at an airport or another border crossing, a CBP officer will examine your documents for entry.


Department of Homeland Security (DHS): The DHS is the U.S. government agency responsible for the oversight of national security. The DHS oversees several other government offices including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


Designated school officials serve as liaisons between international students, the school and the U.S. government. DSOs issue necessary immigration forms, guide students through the process of studying in the U.S., maintain records in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).


As an F-1 student in the United States, you have a certain amount of time to arrive in the country, complete your studies and return to your home country. This is your duration of status. When you arrive at a U.S. port of entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will provide you with an admission stamp that will list the date in which you must depart the United States. As an F-1 student, you will most likely have duration of status (D/S) listed on your admission stamp. D/S means you may remain in the United States so long as you maintain your nonimmigrant student status.

As an F-1 student, to maintain your student status you should complete your program of study by the program end date listed on your Form I-20. If you need more time to graduate or complete your program, you must request a later program end date by contacting your designated school official (DSO), who can print an updated Form I-20 for you. If you participate in optional practical training (OPT), your duration of status will extend to the end of your OPT. After your program or OPT ends, you will have 60 days to depart the United States, unless you are changing your status or starting a new program of study.


Employment Authorization Document (EAD or EAD Card): An EAD is a card that provides evidence of authorization for employment. You would receive an EAD card if, for example, you are an F-1 student who applied for and was granted Optional Practical Training (OPT) for off-campus employment.

A sample EAD card can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.


Entry Stamp: An entry or passport stamp is the stamp that you receive when you are permitted entrance into a country. It typically includes information about your Port of Entry (POE), the date of your entry, the visa status under which you were granted entry, and the length of time you are permitted to stay. For an F-1 student, for example, the entry stamp should include the notations “F-1” and “D/S” (“Duration of Status”).


Grace Period: Your grace period is the length of time that you are permitted to remain in the U.S. and prepare for your departure or a change of immigration status at the end of your program or other change in your current status. The allowed grace period can differ depending on your individual circumstances, so please consult with International Student Programs & Services if you are unsure about which grace period applies to you.


Form I-20: The I-20, also called the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” is the primary document required for individuals applying for an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa and for current F-1 students to provide proof of their current student status. The form is issued by the institution in which you are enrolling/enrolled and will outline important personal details, program information, and relevant immigration regulations.

A sample I-20 form can be found on Study in the States, a helpful international student resource site maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.


Form I-515A: The Form I-515A, also called a “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor,” is a form that may be issued to you at the discretion of a CBP officer upon requesting reentry without all of the proper documents for your visa status. Rather than deny your entry, the officer may issue this form to you which allows you conditional reentry to the U.S. for a period of 30 days. During that 30 day period, you must resolve the issues documented on the I-515A. Failure to comply with the requirement could result in the termination of your SEVIS record and thus also your status. If you receive a Form I-515A, please email us immediately for guidance.


I-901 Fee: The I-901 fee, also called the SEVIS fee, is a fee that you must pay prior to applying for an F, M, or J visa. Please note that this is separate from the visa application fee. It can be paid online via the FMJFee website.


I-94 Record: Your I-94 is your U.S. arrivals and departures record. It can be accessed online via the I-94 website, and provides additional proof of your legal entry into the U.S. or proof of your exit date. Each time you travel in or out of the U.S., it’s important to make sure that your information is correctly reflected on your I-94. If you find that your I-94 is incorrect, please email us and we will help you get it corrected.
NOTE: I-94 system only keeps track of 5 years of travel at a time. 


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): ICE is the U.S. government agency with oversight over the enforcement of federal laws pertaining to immigration, customs, border security, etc.


Passport Biographical Page (Bio Page): The “bio page” in your passport is the primary page of your passport. It typically provides key information such as your full name, date of birth, and citizenship information. See an example of a passport bio page.


Principal Designated School Official (PDSO): Serves as the main point of contact for SEVIS and SEVP. They serve as liaisons between international students, the school and the U.S. government. PDSOs issue necessary immigration forms, guide students through the process of studying in the U.S., maintain records in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).


POE (Port of Entry): Your POE is the specific location through which you entered the country. It could be, for example, a particular airport or a land border crossing.


Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): SEVIS is a web-based U.S. government database that maintains critical information about nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors. Your host institution is responsible for providing certain personal and program details to the government via the SEVIS system. This information can also be viewed by select other government agencies.


Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP): SEVP is a program through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees the SEVIS system and acts as a liaison between host institutions and relevant government agencies.


Unlawful Presence (ULP): Unlawful presence is time spent in the United States without proper authorization, and accrual of more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay in the U.S. can lead to the issuance of 3- or 10-year bans on re-entering the country. Individuals admitted for duration of status (D/S) do not begin accruing unlawful presence until an immigration judge finds a status violation in the course of an immigration proceeding, or a USCIS immigration officer finds a violation of status in the course of an application for an immigration benefit.

Being “out of status” and being “unlawfully present” are two different concepts and conditions! A violation of nonimmigrant status still puts an individual “out of status” and subject to removal from the United States, even though “unlawful presence” may not have started being counted. Students are advised to consult an experienced immigration attorney if they have questions about how the unlawful presence rules impact their individual situations.


United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): USCIS is the branch of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees petitions and applications pertaining to U.S. citizenship and naturalization, certain types of visa categories (such as H-1B), and employment authorization. This is the government office through which you would apply for OPT and an EAD card, for example.


Visa Stamp: A visa “stamp” (not to be confused with an entry stamp) is a special document affixed to a page in your passport and is issued by the embassy or consulate through which you applied for your visa. A visa stamp functions as a travel document, and permits your entry or reentry into the U.S. (provided that it is unexpired and you are maintaining your relevant visa status). See an example of a U.S.-style visa.