United States: Your Immigration Obligations: Guidance for Foreign Nationals in the United States

In the current climate of increased enforcement, foreign nationals must be sure to comply with their immigration obligations and responsibilities in the United States.

Go to the profile of Fragomen
Feb 23, 2017

In its first weeks, the Trump Administration has taken significant steps to increase immigration enforcement at the U.S. border and within the United States. Though these measures concentrate largely on undocumented foreign nationals, the government's intensified focus on enforcement means that foreign nationals who are authorized to visit, study, work or reside permanently in the United States must make sure they are meeting their immigration responsibilities.

If you are a foreign national in the United States, familiarize yourself with the following important compliance obligations.

Carry Documentation of Your Immigration Status

U.S. law requires every foreign national age 18 or older - including lawful permanent residents - to carry documentation of their immigration status in the United States. Depending on your status, you should carry:

  • A valid, unexpired I-94 admission record. You can print out a copy of your I-94 online at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website;
  • A foreign passport containing a valid CBP admission stamp;
  • A Form I-551 permanent resident card or a passport containing an I-551 stamp;
  • A USCIS employment authorization document (EAD); or
  • A Border Crossing Card, if you are a citizen of Canada or Mexico.

Failure to carry a required document is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $100 or 30 days in prison or both. Convictions for this offense have not been common, but in the current climate of increased immigration enforcement, you should carry the appropriate document (or a copy) at all times.

Check Your Admission Record

If you are a nonimmigrant, make sure to check your I-94 arrival record and your passport stamp each time you return from abroad to ensure that your visa classification and your period of admission are entered correctly. Contact your designated Fragomen team immediately if there are any inaccuracies. If you are still at the port of entry when you notice an error, speak to a CBP officer immediately.

Make sure to note the expiration date on your I-94 record. This date marks the end of your authorized period of admission in the United States. Overstaying this period has serious consequences, and could trigger laws that may result in the cancellation of your visa or cause you to be deemed unlawfully present. If you overstay your expiration date by more than six months, you may be barred from reentering the United States for three years. If you overstay by more than one year, you may be barred for ten years. Overstaying by as little as one day could result in the cancellation of your visa, requiring you to apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate in your home country.

Understand the Implications of Illegal Activity

Criminal activity - including violations of federal, state and non-U.S. law - can have a significant negative impact on your U.S. immigration status. This includes criminal convictions, as well as criminal charges and commission or admission of criminal acts, even if there is no court conviction. There may be immigration consequences even if a charge or conviction has been dismissed, expunged or sealed, or a pardon has been granted.

If you are arrested or charged with any crime, however seemingly insignificant, you should consult with immigration counsel before offering a plea or admitting to criminal acts. This includes, but is not limited to, arrests or charges involving petty theft, domestic violence or driving under the influence of alcohol or while intoxicated (DUI/DWI), or any drug-related crime. If you have been arrested or charged, no matter how minor the offense, you should consult with immigration counsel before traveling abroad or filing any application for an immigration benefit.

The potential consequences of criminal activity can include removal (deportation), inability to enter the United States or to adjust status to permanent resident (inadmissibility) or denial of naturalization to U.S. citizenship. An arrest or conviction for DWI or DUI can result in the revocation of your visa and may prevent you from obtaining a new visa to reenter the United States until you have been cleared by a physician recognized by the State Department, a process that can take up to one year.

Make Sure to Notify USCIS of Changes in Your U.S. Address

All non-citizens are required to notify USCIS of changes of their U.S. address within 10 days of the change. The only exceptions are nonimmigrants who are not required to hold a visa and are in the United States for less than 30 days, and foreign nationals who hold a diplomatic visa.

You may notify the government of a change of address online at the USCIS website. If you are an applicant for an immigration benefit, you must include the receipt number for your pending application. In the alternative, you may file a paper address change form , but if you choose a paper filing, you must separately notify USCIS about the change of address for any pending applications.

Comply with F-1 Student Reporting Obligations

If you are an F-1 student working in optional practical training (OPT), you are obligated to notify your designated school official (DSO) of a change in your name or address or interruption of your employment that occurs during your OPT. If you are working on a STEM extension of OPT, you must notify your DSO of changes in your legal name mailing or residential address, changes in your employer's name or address or loss of employment within 10 days of the change. You must also report to your DSO every six months to confirm the accuracy of reporting information in SEVIS.

During OPT, make sure that you do not exceed government limits on unemployment. During your first 12 months of OPT, you must not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment. If you are working on a 24-month STEM OPT extension, you must not accrue more than a total of 150 days of unemployment during your entire OPT period (or a total of 120 days if you were approved for a 17-month STEM OPT extension). Reporting to your DSO when you begin employment can help ensure that your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) accurately reflects your days of employment, among other obligations.

Make Sure You Have the Appropriate Travel Documents

If you are planning to travel internationally, make sure that you and your family members have the required documentation for travel and reentry to the United States, including valid passports, visas and other necessary documents.

  • If you are an F-1 student, make sure you have a valid I-20 that is endorsed for international travel.
  • If you are an applicant for adjustment of status, check with your Fragomen professional to determine whether you need advance permission to travel (advance parole) before you depart.
  • If you are a lawful permanent resident planning to depart the United States for a lengthy absence, work with your Fragomen team to determine whether you need a reentry permit and other documentation, to ensure that your residence status is not abandoned, preserve your residence for naturalization purposes or both.
  • If you are a national of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen, contact your designated Fragomen professional before you travel, to ensure that you are not subject to travel restrictions.

For more information on travel documents, visa applications and immigration obligations, review Fragomen's detailed guidance.

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen.

© 2017 Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, Fragomen Global LLP and affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

Go to the profile of Fragomen


Immigration Alerts, Fragomen

Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, Fragomen Global LLP and affiliates, (collectively known as “Fragomen Worldwide”) is the world’s largest firm dedicated to corporate immigration, and is recognized as the leading global immigration services provider.

No comments yet.