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The U.S. government recently stepped up its scrutiny of international students. From now on, U.S. Customs and Border Protection must verify that every foreign student entering the country has a valid student visa. The change is intended to correct a problem with the old procedures that allowed students with expired visas to enter the country. Under the new procedures, border protection agents verify a student’s visa before the student arrives in the country using flight information.

Although the increased security measures probably do not sound like good news if you are an international student, the new rules provide another incentive to renew your student visa on time. International students studying in academic programs are allowed to stay in the U.S on F-1 visas. The application process for the F-1 is relatively simple and there is no annual limit on the number that may be issued.

Student Visa: What You Need to Know

Once you receive the visa you can live in the U.S. as long as you maintain your status as a student. The U.S. government tracks the duration of your studies with a form your school submits called an I-20. The I-20 lists a completion date, which is the time by which your school expects you to finish your studies. If the completion date of your program is later than the date stamped on your visa, you will need to renew your visa in order to travel outside of the country.

Visa renewals can only be processed from outside of the United States. So if you are traveling home for a holiday, you can renew your visa from your home country and use the new visa for your return trip to the United States.

It is very important for international students — especially those hoping to work in the U.S. after graduation — to be sure not to overstay their student visas. This is because the penalties for staying in the country illegally are severe. Potential consequences include being prohibited from entering the U.S. for 10 years. Consult an immigration lawyer if you have questions about your immigration status as a student.

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