FAQs

Prospective Students

1. How do I start?

Congratulations on your decision to study in the United States! A very rewarding and life-changing experience awaits you! If you need more information about the types of American education that are available to you, please see EducationUSA.

If you already know what you want to do, the first step is to apply to a school in the United States. The school must be an SEVP-certified school.

Once you are accepted to an SEVP-certified school, your school will give you a document called a Form I-20.  The Form I-20 is a paper record of your information in our database called SEVIS. Each school that accepts you will mail you a Form I-20.  Before you apply for your visa, you must select one school’s Form I-20.

Check your Form I-20 against your passport information to make sure that your name and date of birth (DOB) are correctly listed and spelled.  If it is not correct, contact the school official who sent you the Form 1-20.

Once you have your Form I-20, you are ready for the next step – paying your SEVIS I-901 fee.

2. How do I pay my SEVIS I-901 fee?

The SEVIS I-901 fee is required for all F and M students as well as J exchange visitors. Paying your SEVIS I-901 fee is very important. Without this fee, you will not be eligible to apply for a visa. To learn more about SEVIS I-901 fee, click here. 

  • FMJfee.com – This is the website to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.

3. How do I get a visa to enter the United States?

After paying the I-901 fee and getting a receipt, you can apply for a visa at any American embassy or consulate before you leave for the United States. Visit our visa interview page for useful links.

Check to see that you received the right type of visa. Make sure your name and date of birth are also correct.

4. How should I prepare for my trip to the United States?

Before you leave for the United States, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of documents you might need. It is always a good idea to carry your original documents at all times. Do not put them in your checked baggage.

It is also a good idea to make at least two sets of copies of these documents: one copy to leave with your family or friends before you depart and one copy to give to your school officials. Here is a list of the important immigration documents:

If your school official has not given you a pre-arrival packet that explains the Form I-94, please consider reviewing the following:

5. What should I do when I arrive?

Arriving in the United States is a very important step, which you should to prepare for. If you have everything ready, it should be a very smooth experience. The following documents give a good outline of the arrival processes and exceptions:

If the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry cannot initially verify your information, or if you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

The inspector will first attempt to verify your status by using the Student and Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In the event that the CBP officer needs to verify information with your school or program, we strongly recommend that you have the name and telephone number of the designated school official (DSO) at your school. In the event you arrive during non-business hours (evening, weekends, holidays), you should also have an emergency or non-business hour phone number available for this official.

Failure to comply with U.S. government entry-exit procedures may result in your being denied entry to the United States. Under certain circumstances, the CBP officer may issue a “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor” Form (I-515A), which authorizes temporary admission into the United States. Work with your school without delay to submit the proper documentation required by the Form I-515A.

The port of entry gave me a Form I-515A. What does that mean?

  • Form I-515A Tool Kit will help to ensure a smooth travel experience for International Students and Exchange Visitors.
  • NSEERS - Some individuals may be asked to provide additional information under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). A packet of information will be available at the port of entry explaining the registration procedure.

6. When do I have to report to my school?

You have 30 days to enter the country before your official program start date, which is registered in SEVIS by an official at your school. You must report to your school by your program start date, or you are not maintaining your status. We suggest that you contact your school immediately once you enter the country so that there is no question of your arrival.

If you cannot enter the United States for the term listed on your Form I-20 or if you will be late by a few days, immediately contact your school officials so that they can accurately reflect this information in your SEVIS record.

7. What are my benefits? Can I work or drive in the United States?

of these benefits are working, getting a Social Security number, training after your program is completed (OPT – optional practical training), and getting a driver’s license.

Social Security Number (SSN)

  • F/M Nonimmigrants: Getting a Social Security Number

Driver’s License

Practical Training

If you are an F student, you have the option of working in the United States by doing practical training during your program or after it ends. Click on one of the links below for more information.

Working in the United States

Travel and Reentry to the United States

Current Students

8. Maintaining Status

As an F or M student, you will often hear the phrase “maintaining status” because it is very important! Maintaining status means that you are doing everything you are supposed to do to keep your records up-to-date in our SEVIS database.

For more information visit Study in the States

9. Do I have to attend Orientation?

Orientation is mandatory for every new international student at Lamar University. At orientation, you will receive a lot of important information on staying in legal visa status, getting a bank account, working while you are here, safety, staying healthy and many other topics. In addition, you will have the opportunity to meet other international students, as well as the OISPS advisors. If you do not attend, a registration hold will be placed on your account.

10. Do I have to carry medical insurance while I am here?

Yes. As of June 4, 2015, all international students taking at least one credit hour are required to have health insurance that is comparable to the coverage provided with the Lamar University sponsored student health insurance plan. Not only is having medical insurance a requirement when you are studying at Lamar, it is very important to have, as well. More information can be found on our  Bacterial Meningitis Evidence of Vaccination or Medical Exemption.

11. I have questions about immunizations and health requirements for studying at Lamar University. Who should I ask?

 If you have questions such as these, please visit Student Health Center or call them at 409-880-7703.

12. Do I have to schedule an appointment to meet with an OISPS advisor?

At times, yes you do. Other times, you are able to meet with an advisor during walk-in hours. Please refer to the advising schedule.

13. As an international student, can I open a U.S. bank account?

Yes. You may open a bank account at any bank you choose. The most common bank that our students choose is PNC. There is an on-campus branch in the Student Center.

14. How do I get a Social Security Number (SSN)?

You cannot get a social security card/number without a job offer. As a new international student, it may seem like you need a social security card to open certain accounts (phone, bank, electric); however, most providers WILL allow you to sign up for an account without one. If a company (such as a cell phone provider) will not let you sign up without an SSN, you will be unable to get a phone with that provider. If you have a job offer, you will have to get a Social Security Employment Verification Form and complete an I-9 form. OISPS can help you with these.

15. How many credit hours are required to be a "full time" student?

In order to be a full-time student and meet the enrollment requirements to maintain valid F-1 student status, undergraduate students must be enrolled a minimum of 12 hours and graduate students must be enrolled a minimum of 9 credit hours.

16. Can I drop below full time?

Only in certain situations. Do NOT drop any classes before coming to the Office of International Student Programs & Services to speak with an OISPS advisor. If you drop below full time without our approval, you will be considered out of status and your immigration record could be terminated.

17. Can I take the summer term off?

If you are enrolled full time in the fall and spring semesters, and intend to continue your studies full time, you are eligible to take the summer term off.

18. I want to travel outside the U.S. What should I do?

If you want to travel outside the U.S., you must have a valid F-1/J-1 visa, a valid I-20 or DS-2019 with a travel signature on page 2, and a valid passport (valid at least 6 months into the future). If you are planning to travel to a country other than your home country, view this link: www.embassy.org for travel guidelines and visa requirements.

19. I'm an international student. I have to go to another country for my research during the summer break. What should I do before I go there?

OISPS is not able to give any advice on entering a foreign country; you need to check the entry requirements with that country's embassy. However, to return make sure you have a valid passport, valid entry visa (not expired, issued for multiple entries), and that you have had your I-20 or DS-2019 endorsed for travel by an OISPS advisor. International students are not required to register for summer unless it is their first or last semester so there are no registration issues when traveling over summer. Note: If you plan to be out of the country for more than five months, please see an OISPS advisor.

20. Do I need a new signature on my I-20/DS-2019 every time I travel?

No. Travel signatures on I-20s are valid for one year, and travel signatures on DS-2019s are valid for 6 months. If you are on OPT or an OPT STEM Extension, travel signatures are valid for only 6 months. We recommend having OISPS review your documents any time you plan to travel outside of the country to make sure that everything is correct. You can leave your documents with OISPS for review and pick them up the following day.

21. My I-20 was not stamped upon reentry into the U.S. What should I do?

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) no longer stamps I-20s/DS-2019s. You should have received a stamp in your passport indicating your date of entry and visa status. If you do not have this stamp, please contact us.

22. What happens if my visa expires?

A visa is an "entry document" used to enter the U.S. If it expires in the U.S., there is no need for concern as long as you are maintaining valid F-1 status. However, if you plan to leave the U.S., you will need a valid visa for reentry into the U.S. Visas are issued at the U.S. Embassy abroad. Check with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country regarding visa renewal requirements. Students must obtain a visa revalidation letter from OISPS before attempting to renew their visa, and are advised to take a copy of their next semester's school schedule with them.

23. What happens if my I-20/DS-2019 expires before I complete my program?

You must come in to OISPS as soon as possible and BEFORE your I-20/DS-2019 expires to have your document extended. If your I-20/DS-2019 will expire earlier than your anticipated program completion date, you may request an extension of your I-20/DS-2019 no earlier than 120 days prior to the end date on your I-20/DS-2019.

24. I am out of status. What should I do?

If you are out of status, you must make an appointment immediately to review your options for returning to status.

25. Can I work full time on campus?

You can work up to 20 hours per week during the fall and spring terms. During summer, winter break, and spring break, you can work up to 28 hours on campus if you are not taking classes. You do not need any special approval from OISPS to work on campus if you already have a social security number.

26. Can I work off campus?

You can only work off campus if you have been approved for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT), or Academic Training for J-1 students. All of these require authorization. You can find more information on CPT, OPT, and Academic Training in the OISPS Guides and Forms Library. Internships are work and, as such, authorization must be obtained if you plan to have an internship at any time. In times of financial trouble, it is possible to apply for off-campus work authorization. If you would like more information, please make an appointment with an advisor to talk about Severe Economic Hardship.

27. Is it possible to obtain OPT without a job offer?

Yes. You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.

28. How many hours do I need to register for if I am applying for CPT?

During the spring, summer, and fall, you must be registered for a minimum of 1 credit hour. Reminder: CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training. Its intent is to be used as a supplement to what you are learning, such as through a required internship in your program. It must also be recommended by your academic advisor. Please read the CPT information found under the Employment and Immigration section.

29. How can a dependent in F-2 status obtain permission to work?

They cannot. Anyone in F-2 status is not permitted to work under any circumstances.

30. Are there any programs for which your office cannot issue an I-20?

Yes, there are a few programs we cannot issue I-20s for because the programs' curriculum conflicts with current restrictions on online or distance learning coursework for F-1 students. Students are still welcomed to apply to these programs and take the courses from their home countries.

U.S. Executive Order

31. What does the executive order say that could affect me as an international student or scholar at Lamar University?

U.S. Executive Order

Concerning the U.S. Executive Order: "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States" (revised and reissued March 6).

The revised order was scheduled to take effect March 16, 2017, but the U.S. District Court of Hawaii on March 29 issued a preliminary injunction that effectively blocks the implementation of certain sections of the Executive Order for the present time. The injunction is under appeal.
Page updated March 30, 2017

Among its directives, the new, revised order issued on March 6, 2017, suspends for a period of 90 days from the order's effective date (March 16, 2017), the entry into the United States by foreign nationals from six designated countries--Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (Iraq was one of the countries names in the original order, but was excluded from the newest order) who:

  • are outside the United States on the effective date of the order;
  • did not have a valid visa at 5:00 p.m., eastern standard time on January 27, 2017; and
  • do not have a valid visa on March 16, 2017

Several exceptions and waivers are described in the order--see below.

Am I subject to the suspension?
If you are a student from one of the designated six countries already in the United States and studying at Lamar University, you are not affected by the order so long as you maintain a valid visa.

What are the exceptions?

  • any lawful permanent resident of the United States;
  • any foreign national who is admitted to or paroled into the United States on or after March 16, 2017
  • any foreign national who has a document other than a visa, valid on March 16, 2017 or issued on any date thereafter, that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission, such as an advance parole document;
  • any dual national of a country designated under section 2 of this order when the individual is traveling on a passport issued by a non-designated country;
  • any foreign national traveling on a diplomatic or diplomatic-type visa, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visa, C-2 visa for travel to the United Nations, or G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-4 visa; or
  • any foreign national who has been granted asylum; any refugee who has already been admitted to the United States; or any individual who has been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

What are the "waivers"?
The order described certain situations in which the consular officers can use case-by-case discretionary powers to determine whether to allow entry to individuals otherwise banned from entry. To be granted a waiver, individual must prove three criteria: 1) that denial of entry would cause undue hardship; 2) that they do not pose a threat to national security; and 3) that their entry would be in the national interest. The Order provided examples under which a waiver could be granted; several of which may be relevant to our international student population:

  • The foreign national has previously been admitted to the United States for a continuous period of work, study, or other long-term activity, is outside the United States on the effective date or this order, seeks to reenter the United States to resume that activity, and the denial of reentry during the suspension period would impair that activity;
  • The foreign national has previously established significant contacts with the United States but is outside the United States on the effective date of this order for work, study, or other lawful activity;
  • The foreign national seeks to enter the United States to visit or reside with a close family member (e.g., a spouse, child, or parent) who is a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or alien lawfully admitted on a valid nonimmigrant visa, and the denial of entry during the suspension period would cause undue hardship;
  • The foreign national has been employed by, or on behalf of, the United States Government (or is an eligible dependent of such an employee) and the employee can document that he or she has provided faithful and valuable service to the United States Government;
  • The foreign national is traveling as a United States Government-sponsored exchange visitor.

I am a Lamar student or scholar from one of the named countries and currently attending or working at Lamar. What should I do?
As you are already in the United States, we suggest that you do not travel outside the United States for the time being as the possibility exists that you would not be allowed re-entry to the United States or experience difficulties during you re-entry. At this time, the best thing you can do is to remain at Lamar and continue your studies or work.

Will the suspension end?
As stated at the beginning of this FAQ, a nationwide ban is currently in effect with regard to the implementation of this Order. However, in the event that a Federal court determines that the Order is permitted to move forward, a possible end date would be June 14, 2017 (90 days from the original effective date of the Order).

Could the suspension be extended?
There is always the possibility that the suspension for entry of the selected foreign nationals could be extended. In addition, the order compels DHS to seek additional information from other foreign countries necessary for the consideration of U.S. visas or immigrant processes abroad. In the event DHS determines that a country failed to submit such information within 50 days of the request to the country by DHS, entry by nationals from that country may also be suspended as well upon an order by the president.

I am an international student or scholar attending or working at Lamar who is NOT from one of the seven countries named in the order. Am I affected by the order in any way?
It remains to be seen because among its many directives, the newest order requires Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to analyze and scrutinize current immigration procedures to determine whether adjustments are necessary. As a result, delays in visa interviews or changes to other similar immigration processes related to your current status could occur based on that analysis.

What happens now?
We encourage you to stay updated on any direct changes to your status by monitoring the Department of Homeland Security website at www.dhs.gov and the Department of State’s U.S. Visa website at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html. As with the original order, a number of legal challenges are also being pursue with regard to this Order, so stay tuned to reliable media sources such as NPR.

I am currently a Lamar student from one of the named countries. A friend from my home country is considering attending Lamar. What should I tell them?
We strongly encourage you to tell your friend to apply to Lamar for the fall 2018 semester. In theory, the suspension under the current order might be over at some point in the future. The faculty and staff of Lamar University as well as your fellow students affirm our longstanding commitment to be a welcoming, inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated and everyone feels at home. 

32. Departure

If you have completed your program, you have a number of options:

  • Change program levels – For example, you can apply to a graduate program after you finish your bachelor’s.
  • Transfers – You can transfer to a different program at the same school or another school.
  • OPT – You may participate in optional practical training (OPT) which allows you to work in the United States after your program end date.
  • OPT STEM – optional practical training for science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).
  • Change to a B or other visa classification. Please visit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for more information.
  • Leave the country.

33. Who can I talk to if I have concerns or questions about my status?

Please contact the Office of International Student Programs & Services to talk with an OISPS advisor.

If you have questions about International Undergraduate and Graduate Admissions, please refer to International Admissions.