For information on COVID-19 and International Student issues, please see this page.

Maintaining your Visa and Immigration Status

It is important to maintain your visa and immigration status while you are in the US and to keep yourself informed about the different regulations that affect you. Be sure to keep up with the regular guidance issued by the International Center as immigration regulations can change. GEO does not offer official immigration advice but we have compiled some resources here in consultation with relevant University offices. 

If you have more questions or need assistance, you should check the International Center website, or contact them at (734) 764-9310 or icenter@umich.edu. They provide immigration support for all campuses and their website has a lot of helpful information. 

For campus specific support, students at UM-Dearborn can contact the Office of International Affairs, or email umdoia-international@umich.edu. Students UM-Flint can contact the Flint International Center, or email International.Flint@umich.edu

While in the US: Your I-20/DS-2019 is the most important document for remaining in the US; make sure you keep it in a safe place and apply for an extension well before it expires.  Your F or J visa (the sticker in your passport) is an entry document; you do not need a valid F or J visa to remain in the US. 

To maintain your status, you need to meet certain legal obligations, especially around your enrollment as a student at UM (see here for specific requirements for F1/J1 students; see here for issues surrounding remote enrollment and COVID). We encourage you to familiarize yourself with these requirements, and how they apply to your specific situation, to avoid any unintended violations. Be sure to keep your address up-to-date in Wolverine Access: You must report any change of your current address (US residential address) and permanent address (home country residential address) within 10 days.

Before leaving the country: Make sure your I-20/DS-2019 has a valid travel signature from the International Centre,; travel signatures are only valid for 1-year.  You should apply for your travel signature to be renewed well in advance of your scheduled travel. You should let your department know when you are leaving, where you are going and for how long. You should also find out who in your department you should contact if you encounter immigration or visa problems. Additionally, it’s a good idea to register with the university at the International Travel Information and Registry

If you will be gone for an extended period of time (not just spring/summer term, but a fall or winter semester), or are from a country under a travel restriction/ban, make an appointment with an International Student Advisor at the International Center prior to your travel to ensure continuation of your immigration status or other options available to you. 

Documents while traveling: When leaving the US, make sure all your documents are valid and will not expire before you return. Always take your passport (with US visa/visa stamp) and I-20/DS-2019 with valid travel signature. You should make sure you have your UMID with you, and you may want to carry your admission letter and proof of your funding with you (electronic is usually fine). If you do research that may be considered a security concern to the US or the country you are traveling to, ask your department to provide you with a letter of support that explains your work clearly in ordinary language. You may also want to take department administrator contact names and the contact information for your academic advisor, research advisor and employing department contact.

At the Border: Present yourself simply and confidently. Only answer the question you are asked, no matter what stage of screening. Make sure any answers you give the border officers match the information on your documents (passport, I-20/DS-2019 etc.). Familiarise yourself with the conditions of your visa (especially work hours and online classes) so you can answer questions. Refusing to talk will most likely mean you will be denied entry; asking for a lawyer might have the same effect. You may want to consider adding a passcode to your phone (as opposed to thumbprint or facial recognition) and uninstalling sensitive apps on  your phone while transiting the border as your phone and other belongings can be searched. 

Immigration Help at the Border: 

During business hours: Call the International Center (734) 764-9310. The International Center has a on-call advisor who will respond immediately to calls from law enforcement

After business hours: Call UM DPSS Department of Public Safety and Security) (734) 763-1131. UM DPSS has information to verify your identity and access to a 24/7 immigration lawyer (if needed, but this is very rare). 

Immigration officers will probably not let you make a phone call, so if they need contacts, share these numbers with them so that they can call the International Center or UM DPSS.

Issuing/Renewing your visa:  If you plan to travel outside of the US with an expired visa, you need to apply for a new visa while outside of the US. (1) Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to renew/issue your visa and familiarize yourself with the procedures for issuing/renewing a visa (Do you need to make an appointment? What documents are you required to bring?). You can usually obtain this information by visiting the website for that embassy or consulate. Visit the U.S. State Department’s Embassy Directory to find the web address for specific embassies and consulates. (2) Make the necessary appointments as far in advance as possible. (3) Carefully review the visa information provided by the International Center at their Information for International Students page. 

If you are experiencing problems related to obtaining or renewing a visa, you should fill out the Visa Assist Program Webform. The University is unable to affect the actual issuance of a visa, but can help you manage the consequences of your visa problems. Stay in touch with your department and advisors about any delays to your arrival to the US due to immigration or travel restrictions. 

Hours and Visa Restrictions

If you are on an F1/J1 visa, you are only allowed to be employed by the University; you cannot work for a third-party. During the semester, your visa does not allow you to work more than 20 hours in any given week. 

Because of these restrictions, while you are teaching, your supervisor cannot expect you to work more than 20 hours per week in any given week. You should track your hours each week and, once you hit 20 hours for that week, stop working. We recommend that you plot out your contact hours each week in advance (so class time, office hours etc) so that you know how much time you can spend on preparation and grading each week – you don’t want to run out of hours before you finish your actual teaching for the week. If you find yourself running into that weekly limit without being able to complete your work, we recommend you talk to your professor about extending grading deadlines or other alterations to the course. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your professor, or have been unable to solve this issue, you should reach out to us to talk about other possible solutions. GEO can help you figure out the next steps so that you don’t feel pressured to violate the terms of your visa. 

SEVIS Fee Reimbursement

As you know, all international students at UM are required to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor and Information System (SEVIS) Fee.  As an international graduate employee (GSI/GSSA) working under the contract negotiated by GEO, you have the right to have the University reimburse you in the amount of the fee. This right does not currently apply to GSRAs, as they are not covered by the current contract.

Under the UM/GEO Agreement for 2011-2014, Article X, Section H, “upon Employee request, and within the first four (4) terms of employment as a GSI/GSSA, the SEVIS fee paid by an Employee to attend the University of Michigan will be reimbursed by the Employee’s appointing unit, unless that fee has already been paid or reimbursed by another source.” You can read our full contract here.

All you should have to do to get the reimbursement is to contact either the key administrator or the grad student services coordinator for your appointing unit (employing department).  Different departments use different administrative procedures to handle the reimbursement.  If your department is unsure what procedures should be followed, refer the key admin/grad coordinator to Academic Human Resources.  They can be reached at 734-763-8938 or the Academic Human Resources website.

Unless the appointing unit has their own form, please use the SEVIS Fee Reimbursement form.

You will need the following information:

  1. A copy of your SEVIS fee receipt. This should include your name, the amount paid, and the payment date. You can obtain a copy of your SEVIS fee receipt by following these steps:
    • Go to FMJFEE Website and click “Check I-901 Status”
    • Fill in your SEVIS identification Number (can be found on your I-20), Last Name, and Date of Birth
    • Click “Check Status/View Payment Confirmation”
    • Click “View Payment Confirmation”
  2. If difficulties are encountered, call the U.S. Department of Homeland Security customer service hotline at (US) 1-212-620-3418 or email fmjfee.SEVIS[at]dhs.gov. Put “Copy of Receipt” in the subject line and include your SEVIS ID number, your original receipt number (if available), your full name and date of birth. Include the address where you would like to have the receipt sent.
  3. The date (term & year) of your first appointment as a GSI/GSSA. If this is your first time working as a GSI/GSSA, put this semester and year.
  4. Other identification data, such as your name, UM ID# (found on your ID card), your appointing unit (the department that hired you as a GSI/GSSA), and other information.

This right to SEVIS fee reimbursement was obtained through the hard work of graduate employees, who, through GEO, negotiated for this right to appear in the contract. GEO continues to work for the rights of all graduate employees, both international and domestic, and continues to build on our past successes in order to improve the working conditions of graduate employees at the University of Michigan.

If you have any questions or difficulties in obtaining your reimbursement, please contact your department steward or the GEO office (umgeo@3550.org).

International Student Fee

In Fall 2019, the University of Michigan Board of Regents instituted a new $500 per term fee for international students studying on an F or J visa in Ann Arbor. This is reduced to a $250 per term fee if you are enrolled in Spring/Summer classes. You can read the University’s FAQ about the fee here.

When you are a GSI/GSSA you will not have to pay this fee, regardless of your fraction. In accordance with the GEO contract Article  XX, GSIs and GSSAs “will pay no fees other than Michigan Student Assembly, school and college government, course fees and lab fees, and Registration fee; the amount of the Registration fee assessed to the Employee shall be no more than eighty dollars ($80.00).” This applies to both Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer appointments. 

You may have to pay this fee when you are not a GSI/GSSA. If you are employed as a GSRA, your department may pay the fee for you. If you are funded by an external grant, it may cover the fee for you. The UM’s Provost Office covered the fee for PhD students in good standing in accordance with their offers of admission for the 2019-2020 academic year, but has announced no plans to cover it beyond this; in some cases, your department may also cover the fee (commonly covered for PhD students in good standing and within their guaranteed funding). International PhD students in the process of defending and submitting their dissertation during the Spring/Summer terms may be assessed the fee. 

We encourage you to reread your offer of admission closely and reach out to your supervisor and department administrator to gain clarity on your specific situation as soon as possible, including before enrolling in any Spring/Summer classes or planning a Spring/Summer defence.  

Background Information on the Fee: The fee was recommended by the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Martin Philbert, and approved by the Regents on June 20, 2019 in order to “raise general fund revenue” to support “the continuing success” of international students. The university has stated that the revenue from the fee “will be allocated to help cover the cost of sustaining and enhancing services to support the success of international students and compliance and reporting requirements.” However, there were very few additional details about how the university planned to allocate the estimated $3-5 million the fee will generate annually, or has allocated it thus far. The university has stated that the International Center (IC), which has a budget of less than $1.5 million, will not receive additional funding, but that the IC will be “ involved in helping to determine the best use of these funds.” The IC remains under-resourced and no public account of the money’s use has thus far been shared. There was no consultation with international student groups about the need for further funding or the use of these funds. Despite the lack of information demonstrating need by international students, intended use, or clarity over which students will be affected, the university administration approved the $500 international student fee for Fall 2019. 

Taxes

If you were present in the US at all during a calendar year, you are required to file taxes for that year, even if you did not work. Taxes are due April 15th of the following year (so April 15 2021 for the calendar year 2020). 

GEO does not provide official tax advice, but there is information available from the International Centre on determining your tax status, filing taxes, and getting a Social Security Number (SSN). We also encourage you to attend tax-specific orientations offered by the International Centre in collaboration with the Payroll Office, especially new students as there is some initial tax paperwork. 

If you are a non-resident alien for tax purposes (this is most students in the first five calendar years of their time in the US), different tax rules apply. Taxes will be withheld from all money that passes through your student account (including stipends) in addition to from your wages. GLACIER Tax Prep software (for federal taxes) is available free of charge. You may also have to file state taxes in Michigan (if you have worked), and can purchase SPRINTAX software or complete them manually. 

If you are a resident alien for tax purposes, tax will only be withheld from your wages, not from your stipend. You might get hit with a large tax bill, so be sure to save money from your stipend. You are probably eligible for FREE tax prep software for federal taxes! You may also have to file state taxes in Michigan (if you have worked), and can purchase SPRINTAX software or complete them manually. 

If you are working remotely from outside the US, taxes will not be withheld from your paycheck, but you will be responsible for paying tax in your home country. Check in with your employing department’s administrator about updating your tax paperwork (Alien Certificate). 

English Language Testing and Training

Your department may require you to undergo training in English before you are able to teach. This will usually involve taking a communicative skills test (the GSI-OET) and, if necessary, enrolling in an approved training course (ELI 994) prior to starting your teaching appointment. LSA students can always enroll in ELI 994 (space permitting) even if not required.

Waiver criteria are different for each college, and you should receive the waiver criteria in writing when you are informed that you need to take the training. Your department should be able to exempt you from the training if they feel you have the requisite language skills. 

For LSA, waiver criteria are more strict. You are exempt if you hold an undergraduate degree from a U.S. college or university, or an undergraduate degree from a college or university where English is the exclusive medium of instruction. Your department chair can still require that you attend the training, even if you meet these waiver criteria. 

If you have not received written waiver criteria, feel that you have been treated unfairly or have any questions about your requirement to undergo training or testing, please contact your department steward or email umgeo@3550.org

ELI 994 (College Teaching in the U.S.: Pedagogy, Culture and Language) is usually offered in the Winter and Summer semesters. For any graduate student who is required to attend the Summer LSA ELI 994 course, the University provides housing in a designated University facility and a living allowance of $45 per day to assist with food, insurance costs, and other expenses. For those who do not choose to live in the designated facility, there are no cash alternatives.  Non-LSA students must be nominated by an LSA department to participate in the Summer LSA ELI 994 course. 

If you do not successfully pass the communicative skills test before the start of your teaching appointment, your department needs to find alternative support that doesn’t require the same level of proficiency (such as fellowships, GSRA, or a different position). They should not involve a loss of pay that would jeopardize your visa status. You will need to keep working on your English language skills until you can pass the appropriate tests.  

Bereavement Leave Extension

You are entitled to extra bereavement leave, which can be used to cover time needed to travel to and from your home country. On top of the 3 days of paid bereavement leave, you are entitled to 2 additional paid days (for “extenuating circumstances”), and 3 days taken from your medical leave. You are also able to take another 11 days unpaid leave.  

Leave for Immigration Proceedings

If you, your spouse, or other close family member, need to attend any immigration procedures while you would otherwise be working, you are entitled to paid leave. You will need to provide your department with written verification from the involved governmental agency, including relevant times and dates.