International students and exchange visitors have legal concerns that are very particular. F visas, J visas, and M visas are subject to very strict terms of compliance. It is also extremely complicated to change status from these visas to another visa status, such as the H-1B visa or an EB-1, EB-2 or EB-3 visa. International students and exchange visitors should always consult an immigration lawyer if they are concerned about compliance with their visa terms or if they want to change their status.
The Designated School Official, or DSO, is the most important resource international students and exchange visitors have. Each University or College that accepts international students and exchange visitors has a DSO. The DSO collects and maintains information on international students and exchange visitors (including their derivatives) to ensure compliance with U.S. immigration law. If you have a F visa, J visa, or M visa, you should first consult with your DSO before attempting to work, obtain training (such as CPT, OPT or STEM OPT), travel, change schools, or if you need to reduce your credit hours. However, there are many issues that are beyond the purview of the DSO. For example, if your application for OPT or STEM OPT was denied, you will need to hire an immigration lawyer to represent you during your appeal. If your issue cannot be addressed by the DSO, you should be advised to seek help from an immigration attorney.
The nightmare scenario for any F visa, J visa, or M visa holder is to be expelled from their Institution. It is critical to understand that being arrested or accused of a crime will often cause your school to institute an expulsion proceeding against you even if you are not ultimately convicted. However, being expelled is possible for any alleged violation of your Institution's Code(s) of Conduct, real or imagined. Being expelled will cause students to fall out of status and potentially cause them to be deported. In such cases, students must seek help from an immigration attorney as soon as possible. If you have been arrested or accused of a crime, you will also need representation with regard to your criminal matter. The Bogdany Law Firm has worked with students from around the world to resolve criminal and other matters to protect their visa status.
In an August 9, 2018 Policy Memorandum, USCIS changed the rules regarding how accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for F visa, J visa, and M visa holders. According to this memo, you will immediately begin to accrue unlawful presence if you stop pursuing a course of study or activity authorized by your visa, if you engage in activity that is not authorized by your visa, if you remain in the U.S. after you complete your course of study or program beyond the applicable grace period, if you remain in the U.S. after your Form I-94 expires, or if you are ordered to be removed from the United States by the Immigration Courts. It is important to understand that immigration officials can now retroactively decide whether you have accrued unlawful presence. If you have any reason to suspect that you have accrued unlawful presence while on your F visa, J visa, or M visa, you should consult an immigration lawyer as soon as possible.