Passport is a formal document issued by an authorized official of a country to one of its citizens that is usually necessary for exit from and reentry into the country, that allows the citizen to travel in a foreign country in accordance with visa requirements, and that requests protection for the citizen while abroad. (Definition by: Merriam-Webster dictionary)
You should always make sure that your passport is valid during your entire course of study in the US. If your passport will expire within 6 month before you plan to enter the US, we suggest you to renew your passport before you apply for a visa. If your passport will expire while you are in the US, you should contact your country’s consulate / embassy in the US to renew your passport. It is advisable that you contact your embassy / consulate 3-4 months before your passport expires. In most cases, you can simply send your passport application material to your country’s consulate / embassy (you do not need to appear in person). Please check with your country’s consulate / embassy regarding all requirements for renewing your passport while you are in the US.
Visa is an endorsement made on a passport by the proper authorities denoting that it has been examined and that the bearer may proceed. (Definition by: Merriam-Webster dictionary)
In order to enter the US, most citizen of foreign country needs a visa. In your case, it will be a student visa. There are three types of student visa:
Academic Studies (F visa) if you have been accepted into a program to study or conduct
research at an accredited U.S. college or university
Academic Studies as an Exchange Visitor (J Visas) if you have been accepted into a
program through a designated sponsoring organization to participate in an exchange
visitor program in the U.S. Example: Fullbright scholars.
Non-Academic or Vocational Studies (M Visa) if you have been accepted into a program to
study or train at a non-academic institution in the U.S.
Your student visa only shows that you are eligible to enter the US for a specific reason, in this case, to study. However, the immigration officer at the US port of entry will determine whether you can actually enter the US or not. If he or she has any reason to believe that you are not coming to the US for the specific reason specified in your visa, you might be denied to enter the US.
You can use your visa to enter the US as long as it is still valid. The number of time you can re-enter the US for the duration of your visa depends on your nationality. It can be as little as one entry to as many as unlimited entries.
lf your visa is expired while you are in the US, you can still legally stay in the US. However, if you go out of the US after your visa is expired, you need to apply for a new visa before you can re-enter the US.
I-94 and Duration of Status (D/S)
I-94 form is an arrival/departure form, which indicates the length and conditions of your stay in the US. You will get the blank I-94 form in the airplane sometime before landing to a US airport. You should fill out the form before you give it to the immigration officer at the port of entry. If the immigration officer approves your entry to the US, he / she will put the length and condition of your stay on your I-94 form.
In the case of student or exchange visitor visa, the immigration officer will put “D/S” (Duration of Status) instead of the length of stay. It means that you can stay in the US for as long as you are still doing the activity specified in your visa (e.g. study full time).
The immigration officer will keep the bottom part of your I-94 form for your exit / entry record, and he/she will give you back the top portion. You should keep your I-94 form securely. We advise that you attach the I-94 form to your passport. You need to return the I-94 form to the immigration officer when you leave the US. You will get a new one when you attempt to re-enter the US.
As an exception, when you travel to Canada, Mexico, or certain adjacent islands for 30 days or less, you may keep your current I-94 form. However, you should verify this information at the border.
I-20 / DS-2019 and SEVIS
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a web-based technology that tracks and monitors US schools and their programs, international students, exchange visitors, and their dependent, throughout the duration of their stay in the US
SEVIS will generate Form I-20 for non-immigrant student status. These students will get an F-1 visa status if their visa application is approved. For the exchange visitors, the SEVIS will generate Form DS-2019. These visitors will get a J-1 visa status if their visa application is approved.
You should receive either the I-20 (from the US college / university that gave you the admission) or form or DS-2019 (from or your financial aid sponsor). For I-20 and, in some cases, DS-2019, they will send it to you along with the admission letter. You will need this document to apply for your student visa. Therefore, if you did not get your I-20 or DS-2019 after you get the admission letter or financial aid contract, you should immediately contact the international student office of the university that gives you the admission or your financial aid sponsor.
The form I-20/DS-2019 must be valid during your stay in the US and reflect your current academic status. For initial admission, you must attend the school specified on this form. If you plan to transfer to another school, you should contact the international student advisor for both schools (old and new school), and request them to transfer your SEVIS status from the old school to the new school. The new school will then issue a new I-20 for you. For DS-2019 holder, contact your RO for more detailed info on transfer school in the US.