You should become familiar with the following documents and be aware of their importance in relation to your immigration status.
Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future at all times. You can apply for a renewal of your passport in your own country during a vacation abroad, or through your country’s consulate or embassy in the U.S. Regardless of your visa type, be sure to bring your passport to the International Student Services Office soon after you arrive so that copies can be made for your file.
When you go to the U.S. Embassy nearest your home in your country and present the Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 form for F-1 Students; IAP-66 form for J-1 Exchange Visitors), the Consular Office will place a visa stamp on a page inside your passport. This visa is a travel document that gives you permission to apply for entry to the U.S. at an airport or other port of entry to the United States. It indicates the type of visa you have been given for your stay in the U.S. and when it will expire. Also, it will indicate how many times you can enter the U.S. using that visa (e.g. single/two/multiple). Please read the following section entitled "Renewing or Changing Visas".
A visa does not determine the length of time you may stay in the U.S. after entry. It does not need to remain valid after you have been admitted into the country. Your approved program of study, as indicated on your I-20 for F-1 students or IAP-66 for J-1 exchange visitors determines the length of time you are authorized to stay in the U.S.
This is the Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 student immigration status in the U.S. If you are an F-1 student, it is issued to you by Purchase College, State University of New York when you have been accepted and have provided financial documentation which shows your ability to pay for your education and living expenses. The I-20 is used to obtain your F-1 visa at the U.S. Embassy in your country. It is also required for all entries to the U.S. After your initial entry into the U.S., your I-20 ID (student copy, the page returned to you by the immigration officer at the U.S. port of entry), must be properly signed by the International Student Advisor before you leave the U.S. because it will be needed for reentry to the United States. Endorsements or signatures are usually valid for six (6) months.
This is the Certificate of Eligibility for J-1 Exchange Visitors. If you are a J-1 student, it is issued to you under the same circumstances as the I-20, though many exchange visitors have government support and may be professors, researchers or scholars as well as students. If you plan to travel outside the U.S. before your IAP-66 expires, you must bring it to the International Student Services Office at least two weeks before your departure date so the form can be sent to SUNY Buffalo, International Student and Scholar Services to be signed by a Responsible Officer before leaving the U.S. If you hold an IAP-66 form issued by another agency, you must have it signed by a Responsible Officer (RO) of that organization. Signatures for travel may be valid for the length of your stay in the U.S. Check with the International Student Services Office for processing assistance.
For F-1 students, the expected date of completion of study noted on the I-20 Form is an estimated date and includes a one-year grace period. It may take you more or less time to complete your program of study. You must be enrolled full time and making "normal progress" toward completion of your program at all times. If you will not finish your studies by the completion date on your I-20, you need to contact the International Student Advisor at least 30 days before that date (See Program Extensions). For J-1 exchange visitors, please note that the date on the IAP-66 does not include a grace period. You have an additional 30 days beyond the completion date on the IAP-66 during which you may legally remain in the U.S.
The I-94 card
A small white card should have been stapled inside your passport by immigration official at the U.S. port of entry. On it is your admission number, your immigration status, date of entry, and the length of time that your status is valid. A notation of "D/S" means that your F-1 or J-1 status is valid for "duration of status" or the time it will take to complete your current degree program as a full-time student. This I-94 card will be removed each time you leave the U.S. and a new one will be issued on your reentry to the U.S. (Exception: Canadian students for whom the initial I-94 is not removed.) If your I-94 card is green, you must see the International Student Services office immediately for advisement.
All foreign citizens are issued the I-94 when they arrive at a U.S. port of entry. Therefore, all international students, regardless of visa type, should have this form stapled into their passport or other travel documents. Do not throw it away.