Change in United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy

by Daina Tagavi, Professional Development Peer
Tuesday, September 11, 2018 9:00 AM

A new United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policy puts UCSB international students at risk of being barred from entering the U.S. or even being deported for unintentional lapses in immigration status. Under the new policy, students may accrue “unlawful presence” without realizing it. While students were previously put on notice that they were in violation, the new policy allows for penalties to accrue even before official determination that a violation has occurred. 

OISS requests that all departments use extra care to ensure: 

  • International students stay enrolled full time. International students must not drop below full time enrollment without prior approval from OISS. Full time is 8 units per quarter for graduate students (no minimum is required for summer). 

  • On-campus employment for international students is limited to 20 hours or less per week for ALL paid or unpaid employment. International students (such as grad students with multiple assignments) are in violation if they work more than 20 hours. J-1 students must have approval for on-campus employment before beginning work. 

  • OPT participants stay in status. They are at high risk, especially during periods of unemployment. See below for more details about risks for students on OPT. 

The new policy was finalized on August 9, 2018. Accruing unlawful presence--that is, being in the U.S. after an immigration violation--may result in a three-year or ten-year bar from re-entering the U.S. or even deportation. The new policy allows unlawful presence to accrue even before a violation has been formally determined. Accrual of unlawful presence has always carried potentially devastating effects; now, it is much easier for international students to accrue unlawful presence inadvertently or due to administrative error. 

With these high stakes in mind, OISS reminds campus departments and faculty of important immigration regulations. Violating these regulations puts our students at great risk. 

International students must be enrolled full time at all times. OISS must terminate the immigration record for students who drop below full-time enrollment without prior approval. OISS can request reinstatement, but, if the request is denied, unlawful presence could be applied retroactively. 

International students must not work more than 20 hours a week, total. If UCSB payroll reflects work in excess of 20 hours per week, OISS must terminate the student’s record. Graduate students, often involved in multiple projects, are at greatest risk of this type of violation. As above, a denied reinstatement request could result in a retroactive accrual of unlawful presence. 

J-1 students have different rules than F-1 students. J-1 visa holders seeking on-campus employment must have written permission from OISS before the assignment begins. 

All OPT employment, paid or unpaid, must be reported and related to the student’s academic major. Students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completing their academic program are at risk of reporting violations, especially during prolonged periods of unemployment. 

Hiring departments must keep OPT STEM Extension students’ I-983 Training Plan updated. The Training Plan must be updated within 10 business days to reflect material changes including: 

  • a reduction in compensation

  • a decrease in hours

  • changes in commitments to the learning objectives

Changes must be reported to OISS or the sponsoring school within 10 business days

When the OPT student leaves or is terminated, the hiring department has 5 business days to report the change to OISS or the outside sponsoring school’s DSO. Failure by the department to report promptly puts the student at risk of unlawful presence accrual and can create issues with requests to work in the U.S., even years later. 

OISS understands that these regulations can seem confusing or arbitrary. ‚ÄčThey are here to support our campus as well as our international students and scholars, and are offering an upcoming workshop for staff and faculty to learn more about this policy and how best to ‚Äčassist students. Please contact the Office of International Students & Scholars at any time if you have questions or concerns about this new policy or any other issues.