Guide for Advising International Students

Thank you for your role in supporting international students and the international community at Cornell. The International Students and Scholars Office is dedicated to supporting the international community: registered students, scholars, their spouses and children, and alumni who are still under Cornell’s immigration certification. This guide will focus on degree-seeking international students, and will address some common questions and problems that those supporting this community face.

What does the ISSO do, and when can I contact you?

Our staff has been authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to advise internationals, disseminate information to them and maintain their immigration records in the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) database. We help admissions offices on the Ithaca and NYC Tech campuses issue immigration documents, we advise students how to stay in status while they’re here, we facilitate year-round workshops on pertinent topics to the international community, and we maintain the immigration records (both paper records and electronic records) of over 5,000 students, more of their families, and 1500 alumni. We are open when the University is open, and can be contacted either in-person, during walk-in advising hours, via phone or via email.

We can answer general immigration questions but we usually cannot talk about specific student’s status or record unless the student is present, or has given written permission for us to speak to you, or there is an issue that creates a specific need to know on the part of a faculty or staff member.

If you need resources for travel abroad, visit the University’s Navigate Cornell website, an invaluable resource for faculty and staff who are planning off-campus research, instruction, and engagement.

What is visa or immigration status, and what does it mean?

There’s a veritable alphabet of immigration categories that the US government uses, but for the most part, students that you’ll come in contact with will be in one of two categories: F1 or J1 student. The category in which the US government assigns to an international is that person’s “visa status,” and until the individual changes status or ends that visa status, all the laws applicable to that category will apply. For the rest of this guide, we’ll refer to F1 students only, as the majority of students at Cornell fall into this category.

Is “having F1 visa status” the same as “being on an F1 visa”?

Visa status and an entry visa stamp are two different terms that are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably: “Visa” generally refers to a visa stamp, or sticker, placed in the student’s passport by an embassy or consulate official after a student (1) is admitted to a school, (2) certifies that she has the necessary funding for the program, (3) receives an I-20 form from the school and (4) pays a SEVIS registration fee to the US Department of Homeland Security. (Note: this fee goes to the government, not Cornell, and is not an “international student fee,” which some schools have, but that Cornell does not have at all.) This I-20 (or DS-2019, for J-1 students) is issued by the admissions office to which the student applied in conjunction with the ISSO. Once the student is ready to begin his/her program, he / she will present travel documents at the border and then will be granted status, which is recorded on the I-94 record .

A special note: even if the student has followed all proper procedures, mistakes can happen at the border that results in the student having a problem with their immigration status: if the student finds a mistake on their I-94, they should tell the ISSO as soon as possible, so that we can help correct it.

My student brought me a CPT application: what is it and what does it do?

F1 and J1 students are automatically eligible to work for Cornell in an on campus job up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session and the student is registered.  They complete the same I-9 paperwork that any new hire would. On the other hand, off-campus work is treated differently by the US government.  In order to work off campus, the student must (1) be eligible for and (2) apply for and be approved for off campus work authorization before starting a job.  Before graduation, the most common off-campus work authorization is called Curricular Practical Training (CPT). If a student hands you a CPT application for your signature, she will need help deciding how she’s eligible:

  • is the work required for a program (think of the Hotel student who  require or ALL students to do 500 hours of internship in order to graduate)?
  • required for a particular course (independent study courses, or “American Job Experience” courses, for example)?
  • required for an established co-op program (like the Engineering co-op program, a co-op must be an understood part of the curriculum for all students, international or domestic)?
  • or required for a graduate student who needs practical experience in order to write a chapter in her thesis or dissertation?

Once you have determined the appropriate method of eligibility for the student, your signature is the attestation to this work requirement, and the student MUST fulfill the terms promptly.  Please don’t leave anything on the application blank before you sign it. 

What does it mean to sign an I-20 extension?

An I-20 is a reflection of the student’s F1 visa status, and it records the program information including the student’s degree level and start and end date (graduation date).   The program end date can be changed if the student submits a completed I-20 extension application to us. When a student needs another semester in order to graduate, he’ll need to extend that I-20 before his I-20 end-date - not doing so is a violation of immigration status and cannot be fixed easily.

The I-20 extension form has a required section for Academic Advisor. Please do not leave any portion of your section blank – including the line “when will this student actually complete his/her studies?” This line should be completed with the month, day year of the LAST SEMESTER the student will be a registered student at Cornell. A scan of your completed section is fine, but we cannot except an email in lieu of the completed extension form.

“I want to bring a student to work with me, or be a non-registered/visiting student: what should I do?”

Cornell University policy requires that all sponsored international visitors are as either a student or as faculty/staff. When Cornell Faculty and Research Staff wish to bring an international visitor who is a student in their home country and who does not clearly fit into a Cornell student or Cornell faculty/staff classification, the ISSO is happy to discuss the parameters of the case and to offer a preliminary recommendation to either:

  • Work with the Department/Unit HR contact - if a staff appointment seems most appropriate.
  • Work with the GFA and/or appropriate admissions office - if non-degree student status seems most appropriate.

Please note that ISSO can provide advice around what is possible from a regulatory perspective, but that Cornell faculty and Staff must follow whatever policies and procedures are set in place for international visitors within their Department, College, School or Division.

The invitation process is detailed; please visit our website for further information.

How can I help the undocumented student in my classroom or office?

Cornell admits students independent of immigration status. If you know that have an undocumented student under your supervision because he or she offered this information to you, there are a few (!) things that will pertain to them:

  • They might not be able to be paid for work or to study abroad,
  • Their ability to get funding is severely limited,
  • There are periodic workshops led through the Law School on DACA status; the student should get on the Law events listserve if they want to stay informed

There may need more support from you than their counterparts who are citizens or have valid legal status – be sure they understand that the ISSO will not disclose their status to any party, and that resources like EARS or Let’s Talk are open to them if they need emotional support.