Legal Status in the U.S.

The documents you need to establish your legal status

We’re happy you have chosen to pursue your education at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in beautiful Arizona. We want to make sure you have all the documents you will need to travel here and stay as long as your academic program requires. While it is your responsibility to make sure you’re complying with all U.S. regulations to maintain your legal status, CGCC’s Office of International Education Programs (IEP) is here to assist you. Please call the IEP office if you have any questions: 480-732-7391 or send email to:

To establish your legal status as an international student in the U.S., you need four important documents:

  1. SEVIS I-20 ID
  2. Your passport
  3. I-94 card (Arrival/Departure card -small white form attached to your passport)
  4. U.S. Visa (stamped inside your passport, or official letter from USCIS)

We strongly advise you to make a photocopy of these documents (except the blank pages of your passport) and keep them in a separate place from the originals, as a backup. The IEP office will also keep a copy in our files. Let’s look at each of these documents, one by one.

SEVIS I-20: Certificate of Eligibility

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an electronic reporting system that provides the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with information on international students and scholars in the United States who hold F, J, and M visas. The system also tracks entries into and departures from the U.S. Every school, college, and university that admits students or scholars on F, J, or M visas is mandated to use SEVIS. The I-20 Certificate of Eligibility from SEVIS gives you permission to study in the U.S. for the time it takes to complete your educational program. You need the I-20 to obtain the F-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your country. Students must finish their schooling on or before the completion date stated on the I-20. You will have 60 days after completion to leave the U.S., apply for another visa, apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or transfer to another school. Please bring the stamped I-20 and passport to CGCC’s Office of International Education Program (IEP) as soon as you enter the country so we can make a photocopy to keep in your file. SEVIS requires daily reporting on full course enrollment and changes you may make in your academic program, for example, a change of major or degree. The following information is reported as well, and includes academic status, employment, and residential address. You need to make sure that all information printed on your I-20 remains accurate. Update it if any information has changed, such as your name or the source and/or amount of your financial support. SEVIS reporting requirements include:

  1. Whether the student has enrolled at the school or failed to enroll
  2. A change of the student or dependent's legal name or address
  3. Any student who graduates prior to the end date listed on the I-20
  4. Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to a criminal conviction
  5. If the student drops below a full course of study without prior authorization from IEP
  6. Termination date and the reason for termination
  7. Any student who fails to maintain status or complete his or her program
  8. Other data generated by standard procedures such as program extensions, school transfers, changes in level of study, employment authorizations, and reinstatement

The U.S. government requires that international students keep their passports valid for at least six months into the future. If you are working on campus, you will learn that the college payroll office is unable to issue your paycheck if your passport is expired. Only your government can renew or extend your passport. Contact your country's embassy or consulate in the United States for information. Addresses and telephone numbers for foreign embassies in the United States are available on the web at

A visa is a sticker placed in your passport that gives permission to enter the United States. F and M visas can be obtained only outside the U.S. at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. As an international student, you should have an F-1 visa to study in the U.S. If your visa expires while you are here, you do not need to renew it unless you plan to travel outside of the United States. You are encouraged to renew your visa in your home country. Your visa stamp also includes information on the number of entries allowed. If your visa allows one entry only, you will need to obtain a new one if you travel overseas. Updated information about applying for a visa at many U.S. embassies and Consulates around the world is available on the web at Look for information about nonimmigrant visas.