Immigration Basics


International students studying in the United States will need several immigration documents, including a visa, I-94 card, passport, and an I-20. Immigration rules and regulations are covered in depth during orientation, but here are some key terms to help you get started: (Detailed immigration information can also be found in the International Student Handbook.)


F-1 Visa and F-1 Visa Status

A visa is an approval stamp that allows you to enter the United States. As an international student, you will hold an F-1 visa. International students are usually admitted to the US for the duration of status, meaning that you may stay in the US as long as you are a full-time student. As long as you maintain your immigration status and have a valid I-20, you may stay in the US, even if your F-1 visa expires while you are still studying. However, if you leave the US with an expired visa and plan to re-enter, you must obtain a new F-1 visa from an embassy abroad before returning to the US.

When you enter the US on an F-1 visa, you have F-1 visa status. You must follow all regulations associated with your F-1 visa in order to maintain your immigration status. More details about maintaining your immigration status will be covered during orientation.


Cascadia College issues an I-20 to students who are admitted to the college for full-time study. The I-20 is generally sent with along with your acceptance letter, and allows you to apply for a visa and to enter or reenter the United States. You must have a valid, unexpired I-20 at all times. If your I-20 will expire before you finish your studies, apply for an extension before the expiration date.

I-94 Card (Arrival/Departure Record)

The I-94 card is a small white paper that you will receive when you enter the United States. You will be issued a new I-94 card each time you enter the United States. The I-94 card records the date and place you entered the United States, your immigration status (for example, F-1), and the authorized period of your stay (usually written simply as “D/S,” meaning the duration of your F-1 status). Do not lose your I-94 card. We highly recommend that you staple the I-94 into your passport.


SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) is a government database that collects and maintains information on F-1 international students. Schools enrolling F-1 students must update student information every quarter through the SEVIS database, and use this database to generate I-20s. The Department of Homeland Security, US Embassies and Consulates, border officials, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Social Security Administration, and international student advisors have access to the SEVIS system.

Carrying Your Documents

For day-to-day purposes, we recommend that you carry copies of your immigration documents and keep the originals in a secure location such as a safe-deposit box. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location, in case the documents are lost or stolen. We also recommend that you keep electronic copies of your documents.