By Sungho Park
In November, 1996, Myungsoo Kim, an international student at Emerson College, could not attend his brother’s wedding in Korea.
“At that time, my F-1 visa was expired, so I couldn’t get back,” Kim said. “I still feel sorry about that.”
He said that if he had known more about the immigration law, he could have attended the ceremony.
It is the time of year when most of the 435 international students at Emerson become excited about returning to their countries. But before packing, they have to be aware of the changes in the immigration law.
Last September, President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The act includes some laws that impact international students.
This new immigration law requires that schools report to the Immigrant Service the identity, address, visa date and status and academic status of all international students.
“Before getting ready to travel this summer, international students should [make sure] that the visa stamp is valid in their passports,” Virga Mohsini, an international student adviser at Emerson, said. She added that there are severe penalties for foreign students who violate their immigration status.
“I’m in trouble,” Hyejong Ryu, a transfer from Suffolk University, said. “I’m going back to my country to renew my F-1 visa, but at this point, I am not sure whether I will get a new visa or not.”
Her problem is that Suffolk University did not report to the Immigration Service that she had been a full-time student. If her record is not corrected, she will be considered an illegal alien when she applies for her new F-1 visa in Korea.
“If I can not get my new visa, I can not reenter the U.S. to finish my college degree,” Ryu said.
According to the new immigration law, anyone who is unlawfully present in the United States for a period of more than 180 days and less than one year, and voluntarily departs the country, is not eligible to reenter within three years of that date.
Those who are unlawfully present in the U.S. for one year or more are not eligible to reenter within 10 years of their departure.
“From April 1, 1997, the clock has been ticking,” Mohsini said. “Unlawfully present can mean being in the U.S. one day after the authorized expiration of your period of stay.”
She said that at least the old laws provided international students the chance to correct their being out of status. Now they cannot even get the chance at all.
In addition, new immigration laws apply to other violations of non-immigrant status, such as working without authorization. International students must make sure they do not work without authorization and stay aware of when their immigration forms expire.
If an international student has a Social Security card which indicates “Not Valid For Employment” and employment authorization on or off campus, he or she needs to go to the Social Security Office with proof of work permission. The student then has to obtain a new unrestricted Social Security Card.
“Do not work at any place without your working permission,” Mohsini said. “I am here to assist you on all matters of immigration status. If you realize you made that mistake, you need to come and see me. My role is to help you to clear up with the Immigration Service. I am not here for government service, but to help students to get out of that mess.”
Ryu in now waiting for a decision from the Immigration Service. The service told her it was not sure if her immigration record will be corrected before her departure to Korea.
“If my record will not be corrected, I won’t go back to my country until I graduate,” Ryu said.