Saturday, May 12, 2007

Visas, immigration, and the CIS: Part 1

Hello all,
Before you dive into my immigration guide please be aware that I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY. I am not qualified to give legal advice and nothing I say can be construed to be legal advice. Any examples I give on this page are fictionalized accounts of work experiences. The details have been changed to protect the innocent (Law & Order style.)

That said...

The F-1 visa
Most international students will obtain an F-1 visa to study in the United States. This is a strict nonimmigrant category. This means that you have to promise to return to your home country and should have no intent other than to do so after you complete your degree. In the alternative you must convince the consular official of the aforementioned nonimmigrant intent even if you want to get an H-1B, marry an American and live happily ever after.
What you need:
- I-20 issued by your university
- Proof of ability to pay
- All the other stuff (see the DOS website)
In order to obtain the I-20 you have to prove to your university that you can pay their estimation of tuition and living costs. Even if you swear you will only eat cereal for two years the school will require that you show you can pay for their outlined budget. Most students show proof of ability to pay through personal savings, loans, family funds and scholarships. For many international students family funds form and important part of this equation. I recommend your supporting relatives transfer money into an account in your name, or other similar action to demonstrate support. A letter of support only goes so far, particularly if it is from a non-parent relative. Once you are issued the I-20 you have to prove ability to pay all over again to the consular official. See the above linked website for helpful tips on what to bring to the interview (income tax forms, bank statements, etc.) The government is big on original documents.

There are several interrelated organizations that you will deal with in your quest to come to the United States to earn an MBA. Here is a brief run down.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Overarching cabinet level (it has a secretary that advises the president) organization that fights terrorism, protects our borders, etc. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the division of Homeland Security that handles immigration. It was formerly known as the INS.
Other DHS agencies include:

ICE: The people who track down illegal immigrants, illegal drugs, and handle other customs and immigration enforcement issues. They come up with clever phrases like "Operation Return to Sender." Confusing priorities. If George Bush is the Decider, ICE is The Enforcer.

CBP: The people who check your papers when you enter the U.S., amongst other duties. The frontline of security, immigration, and incompetence.

SEVIS: This is the wonderful little system used by universities to transmit information to the government for the purpose of tracking international students. This organization is under the control of ICE. Ice, ice baby.

Department of State: (DOS) The state department oversees and manages the U.S. consular posts. This department oversees the issuance of visas. Visa forms that start with "DS" are department of state forms and deal with some sort of nonimmigrant or immigrant visa application.

MYTH: All schools can sponsor foreign students.
FACT: Most schools can sponsor foreign students. Specifically, most real schools. I had a client one time who paid $400 for a bachelor's degree from a degree shop based in someone's basement in Minnesota as far as my internet research told me.
There's this thing called SEVIS. In the age of big brother, SEVIS is the U.S. government's way of tracking foreign students. Not all institutions of higher education can sponsor foreign students but it seems that way from the perspective of an American. I have seen many examples of students coming to the U.S. to take English courses and then moving onto a degree granting program.

MYTH: "The CIS is out to get me!"
FACT: The CIS is out to get EVERYBODY.
The CIS and the DOS do not discriminate based on anything. I once got a request for more evidence (RFE) on an immigrant petition for a nun. That's right, a nun. The government wanted a percentage breakdown of the nun's day. Our response went something like this: "30% in prayer. 10% social work with poor and homeless in the community. 15% cleaning the church. 10% cooking for fellow nuns and the poor." etc. I hope the RFE was randomly generated (many are) otherwise whomever sent that is going straight to hell. Probably either the sixth or the eighth circle.

MYTH: If I have been refused a visa I cannot reapply.
FACT: You can reapply as much as you want if your visa denial was not based on something that would make you inadmissible to the United States (having a communicable disease, practicing polygamy, committing a crime involving moral turpitude, etc.) Some of the inadmissibility issues can be fixed or waived.

MYTH: Money
FACT: Money is kind of a myth to me. I don't really have any and given my career goals in the non-profit sector I never will. The State Department requires that you prove financial ability to support yourself in the United States during your studies. Each school should require that you show ability to pay their defined tuition and other estimated costs. No matter what you actually budget for your education, you must show the university and the DOS for your visa interview that you have the ability to pay the full amount through a combination of savings, school based aid, outside grants, loans, and family sponsorship.

My next post will be about the elusive H-1B and staying in the United States after you graduate. I will also touch on how having a U.S. MBA can help you work in the UK.


icy said...

I've been waiting for this post ever since you mentioned it on your blog!! Thanks for sharing all of this info.. Looking forward to the sequel now ;)

HairTwirler said...

I hope it's helpful. There's so much to cover!

Anna said...

i dig the link to cinderella