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FAQ for Faculty & Staff Working with International Students & Scholars at UNC

The International Student and Scholar Services Team (ISSS) in the Office of Global Engagement supports international students and scholars in certain visa statuses at UNC, and is also responsible to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State for meeting regulatory requirements related to hosting those students and scholars.   
Staff members who are Designated School Officials (DSO) or Alternate Responsible Officers (ARO), are directly responsible to these government agencies for reporting certain activities and monitoring the well-being of exchange visitors.   DSOs and AROs have access to the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information database (SEVIS) and immigration records for students and visitors in certain statuses.  The Director of ISSS is the Principal Designated School Official and Responsible Officer, and carries additional reporting and regulatory compliance responsibilities. 

The ISSS team uses a holistic approach to student development, building and sustaining ongoing educational relationships with students that promote persistence, encourage resiliency, and improve academic achievement, while maintaining regulatory compliance.  The team leverages multifaceted expertise in providing guidance to international students, Exchange Visitors and academic partners on federal regulations and institutional policy, as well as acting as a liaison for international students and Exchange Visitors between university offices, sponsoring organizations and government agencies.

International student and Exchange Visitor outreach and support is the foundation of our work, from assisting with arrangements for arrival, integration to campus community, understanding US education system and UNC, working with sponsoring agencies, student success and retention support,  while helping students and scholars identify academic and engagement opportunities that meet their personal and academic objectives.  We also provide support in emergent and emergency situations.

  • If I remember only one thing, what should it be?

    The most important thing to know is that faculty and staff  should send international students to International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) if there is any question about any changes in their academic program or full time status to confirm that these changes will not violate their status.  Really, everything a student or scholar does in the US has a potential impact on visa status -- it's important for our international students and scholars to maintain contact with ISSS throughout their time at UNC.

  • What are the common visa types for international students and scholars at UNC?

    UNC is authorized by The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) to issue immigration document through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that is used by foreign nationals to apply for a student (F-1) visa in the United States. We are also be authorized by the Department of State (DOS) to use SEVIS to invite exchange visitors to come to UNC to study, teach, or perform research with a J-1 visa.  
    F-1 student  
    F-1 is the most common immigration status for degree seeking international students. Prospective F-1 students will receive a Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility) document from UNC after admission and documenting that they have the funds to live and study in the US for a minimum of one year.  In most cases, student then apply for an F-1 visa at a US consulate or embassy. F-1 students are then admitted to the United States in F-1 status to study and must attend school full time except for their vacation break.  
    F-2 dependents are the children and spouses of F-1 students.  Children may study full time (until they “age out”), but F-2 spouses may only study part time. 
    J-1 student  
    The J-1 student category is also used by international students. J-1 students will receive a Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility) document from either UNC or another Department of State  designated program sponsor, in order to apply for a J-1 visa. The J-1 exchange visitor visa category is regulated by the U.S. Department of State. J-1 students are in the United States to study and can be degree or non-degree seeking and must attend school full time in their program except for their vacation break.  
    J-1 scholars may also take classes recreationally or if it fits into their program goals (verify with ISSS).  Many scholars take an English language class or two to strengthen their skills after arrival.  
    J-2 dependents are then children and spouses of J-1 exchange visitors may study full time. 

  • Do all international students have to follow the same rules?

    No.  Although F-1 and J-1 status students have similar rules, there are important differences.  There are also other “international” students at UNC who do not fall under either the F or J categories. Students in the U.S. may have a variety of statuses.

    Some may be here for another reason besides studying, but are allowed to attend classes in their current status. In these cases, study does not maintain their immigration status and is considered "incident to status" (e.g., H-1B, H-4, J-2, E's, etc.). Unlimited study (part or full time) or not studying at all would be acceptable for these students. 

    Some types of immigration statuses do not allow studying, so in order to start a formal program of study, a future student might have leave and reenter in a student status or apply for a change of status within the United States. Examples of statuses that do not allow study are B tourists and business visitors. Students in categories that do not allow study who would be considered in violation of their immigration status if they begin study before their status is changed, so it is important for them to discuss plans with ISSS before enrolling. 

    Many dependent statuses (given to individuals who are accompanying the principal nonimmigrant) are limited by age— most dependent children "age out" at 21 (e.g. J-2, H-4, etc.), and can no longer enjoy derivative status based on their parents' status. This can obviously impact university  students; they will be in one status through age 20, and then need to change to another status that might have different requirements, before they turn 21. Again, it is important for those students to reach out to ISSS early to make plans for the change.

    Immigration & Customs Enforcement has a chart of what visa statuses are permitted study while in the U.S.

    It is important to understand that no federal or Colorado law prohibits schools from enrolling students who are not eligible according to the chart.  It is up to the individual to follow the rules of their own visa status. 

  • What is full time enrollment for international students?

    International students in F-1or J-1 status are here for the primary purpose of study, and therefore required to enroll in a full course load during the academic year as a condition of maintaining their immigration status.  

    The rules for maintaining a full course of study for immigration purposes are complicated, and do not always conform to the what might make the best academic sense. Because of this, academic and program advisers should recommend that students seek advice from the ISSS team before dropping a course or planning any other schedule variations.

    In general, “full time” at UNC is

    • 18 clock hours for Intensive English Program students
    • 12 credits for undergraduate (and post-baccalaureate) students
    • 9 credits for graduate and doctoral students 
  • Can international students ever enroll less than full time? 

    Under specific circumstances, F and J international students may register less than full time during a semester, but they must have permission from the ISSS office in advance in order to maintain valid immigration status.

    Permissible reasons are documented illness/medical/mental health condition (with a current recommendation from a US licensed MD/OD, or licensed psychologist), and some academic difficulty reasons (almost always limited to the first term of study).  

    Graduate and doctoral students can request a reduced course load while working on theses or dissertations, however, they must remain enrolled in a minimum of one credit bearing course (usually a thesis or dissertation class for one credit).

    Summer is not a required term for academic international students, unless it is the first term of enrollment.  If summer is the final term of study, they need to be in face to face classes and should reach out to ISSS.

  • Can international students take classes online?

    Because they are inside the United States for the purpose of study, the Departments  of Homeland Security and State require students to be in a classroom setting during the academic year.  Academic F-1 students may take one online class up to 3 credits per term towards their full-time requirements.  J-1 students must be in face to face classes to be considered full time.

    Students taking more than the minimum number of credits may take additional online courses if they wish, but must always be enrolled in the minimum number of face-to-face credits.

    F-2 and J-2 students are not restricted in the kinds of classes they can take, because their primary purpose for being in the US is not studying. 

    *Sponsored Students:  Some financial sponsors, like the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM), do not permit their students to take any online classes, or seriously restrict the number that can be taken during a degree.  These sponsors usually provide a special financial guarantee to cover approved online classes, so students should be cautioned to get authorization and a financial guarantee before registering for any online class.

  • Can international students take classes at another institution? 

    Permission to attend some classes at other DHS approved colleges and universities can be granted by ISSS if there is good reason for doing so.  Students should consult with their immigration advisor to discuss options and processes. 

  • What if an international student changes major or degree level -- do they need to do anything?

    Yes, students need their immigration documents to reflect their current degree program and level of study at all times. 

    Students changing level have a limited period to get updated immigration documents, and must show financial documents in order to have those documents issued.  It is important that they begin the process as soon as possible. 

  • Can F-1 and J-1 Students Work On-campus?

    Under certain circumstances U.S. immigration regulations allow international students to pursue part-time or full-time employment during the course of their studies. Campus employment authorization ceases immediately when a student completes his or her course of studies for falls out of valid status.

    F-1 and J-1 students pursuing a full course of study may work on campus up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session. When classes are not in session, they may work more than 20 hours. J-1 students need advance authorization from a Responsible Officer or Alternate Responsible Officer (RO/ARO) of the exchange program that issued their DS-2019 before beginning on-campus employment – this may or may not be UNC.

    If students have specific questions about working on-campus, have them consult their immigration advisor prior to accepting any employment. USCIS considers unauthorized employment more or less unforgivable and can make a student subject a student to arrest, detention and even deportation.

  • Who do I contact if I have questions?

    Kara LaSota, the Director of International Student and Scholar Services is also available to assist and has primary responsibility for immigration compliance.  Kara's extension is 1-3017.

    CIE's main extension is 1-2396.

Adapted with permission from “Immigration Basics: FAQ for Academic Advisors advising International Students” by Chris Bargerstock, Michigan State University; Kasey McCarthy, Gemological Institute of America