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Information for Current International Students

F-1 Visa Regulations

In compliance with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations, international students are required to carry no fewer than 12 credit hours each semester (excluding the Summer semester). Students must have the approval of the International Student Advisor before dropping classes. Failure to maintain the required credit hour minimum will affect your F-1 status.

F-1 students are permitted to work on campus up to a maximum of 20 hours per week. Students can inquire about positions on campus at GRCC's Student Employment Services Office.

Students changing their address are required to submit their new address to Admissions Office within 10 days of moving.

All F-1 visa holders are required to pay the Out-of-State/International student tuition rate throughout the duration of their status at GRCC.

Maintain a 2.0 or higher grade point average (GPA) each semester and make satisfactory progress toward completing requirements for a degree program.

Any student wishing to leave the country for either travel or vacation must have the back of their I-20 endorsed by the International Student Advisor (or a Designated School Official). Please allow a minimum of 5 days for this signature.

Detailed regulations are available at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Web Site

Academic Advising at GRCC

Academic Counseling appointments can help students to clarify academic goals, understand course placement, and plan their class schedules. Counselors can assist students in exploring majors, meeting course prerequisites, and understanding transfer requirements.

Counselors are available by appointment. Call the Career and Counseling Center at 616-234-3900 to make an appointment. Be sure to arrive on time, as appointments are only 30 minutes long.

Visit the Career and Counseling Center website for more information on how your counselor can help you and how to prepare for your appointment. The Counseling and Career Center is located on the 3rd floor of the Student Center building.

New international students at GRCC are required to meet with a GRCC academic counselor to enroll in classes during their first academic year at the College.

International students should meet with either Fatima Nieves, Katie Hughes or Patrick Kamau. Please request one of these advisors when scheduling your appointment. It is strongly recommended that students meet with an academic counselor at least once each semester. Receiving guidance from an advisor is essential for success in college, especially for transfer students who likely need assistance selecting courses needed for Bachelor’s degree requirements.

GRCC counselors are also trained to support students with personal issues. Several workshops are offered throughout the academic year.

Change of Academic Program

Sometimes your academic plan or educational goals change and you may decide to select a different program of study than what you initially came to GRCC to pursue. There are important immigration as well as GRCC implications for changing your program. Here are some steps to follow:

Meet with your academic (program) advisor to learn about the additional courses you will need to take in order to complete your new degree program. Create an Academic Plan which maps out the courses you will take and the number of semesters required for you to complete this program of study. Have your advisor verify your expected graduation date and note it on this sheet. Submit a copy of your academic plan to an International Advisor in the Admissions Office.

There is also a Change of Major Form (found online) that you must submit to the GRCC Student Records Office. Allow 1-2 weeks for processing of your new I-20. An International Advisor will change your SEVIS record to reflect this change in program of study and amend program dates if necessary.

Contact Information Form

Each semester all GRCC international students are required to submit an updated contact information form. This online form (a link will be sent in an email during the first week of each semester) will provide the international student advisor (PDSO) with your current local address, phone number, preferred email address as well as an emergency contact person. It is SEVIS regulation to provide current information regarding a student’s residence within the U.S.

If you move and/or experience a change of address at any point, please notify the international student advisor within 10 days so that the SEVIS database can be updated.

Failure to comply with this requirement will result in a hold placed on the student’s account preventing enrollment in subsequent semesters.

Health Insurance

Proof of health insurance is required of all GRCC international students every semester. Your international admissions advisor will share a list of providers that offer various health insurance coverage packages specifically for F-1 international students. The student is at liberty to select a health insurance provider of their choosing, purchase health insurance and then provide documentation indicating proof of coverage. It is ideal to purchase ongoing health coverage, throughout the academic year and during the summer. Medical care costs in the United States are extremely expensive and in the event of an emergency, accident or unforeseen illness it is extremely beneficial to the student to be covered. Please carry documentation of health coverage (usually a card) with you at all times.

The following links will provide you information regarding various health insurance providers.

These plans are not endorsed by GRCC. The links provided are for student information and research purposes only. Final responsibility for plan selection, cost, and benefits lies with the student.

This is a College requirement and failure to comply will block a student from enrolling in future semesters.

On Campus Employment

F-1 students are eligible for on campus employment for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and up to 28 hours per week during school vacation and holidays.

Follow the steps below to apply for a job on campus:

  1. Consider your current class schedule and the hours you are available to work. International students are permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours a week during the Fall and Winter semesters.
  2. Browse current student employment job openings on Blackboard. Under “My Organizations”, click on “Student Employment Services”, then on the “Jobs” icon.
  3. Carefully read the job descriptions to make sure you fit the hiring criteria and fully understand the requirements. International students are eligible for Student Assistant positions only.
  4. When you find positions you are interested in and qualified for, complete the On Campus Student Employment Application.
  5. Go in person to Student Employment Services in Room 103 of the Main Building to turn in your application and for an interview.
  6. Prepare a resume and cover letter for the job opening. Be specific in your descriptions of your qualifications and background.

    Student Employment Services staff is available to help with resumes, cover letters and job searching. Call the SES office at 616-234-4170 or email Christopher Allen (callen@grcc.edu) or Haley Spencer (haleyspencer@grcc.edu) to set up an appointment. Click here to view the Resume and Cover Letter Advice Guide. Student Employment Services also hosts workshops throughout the year. Topics and dates can be found on the SES Blackboard site or Facebook page.
     
  7. Follow instructions for interviewing and/or follow up your application with a visit to the office to which you are applying. Be sure to dress professionally and call ahead to be certain the supervisor will be there for you to meet.
  8. If you are offered employment, be sure to ask for a job offer letter that you can take to the local Social Security Office to get your Social Security Card (required for work in the U.S.)

Find out more on the Student Employment Services website

Academic Support & Tutoring

The Academic Support Center at GRCC offers a variety of services to help you become a better learner and to support you in achieving your academic and personal goals. In addition to several tutoring options, on campus subject-specific tutoring labs offer academic guidance as well as use of computers.

Tutoring is a beneficial resource for any student seeking to enhance his or her academic performance and understanding of the material presented in class. Students may choose to access tutorial assistance when they are struggling in a class and finding it difficult to comprehend the material or they may need support and assistance preparing for an upcoming test or exam or they desire to improve their grades. Tutoring is FREE to all GRCC students and will likely be a positive enhancement of any successful students’ academic experience… Ask for help!

On Campus Tutorial Labs

OPT/CPT

Practical Training

F-1 students may participate in two types of practical training: curricular practical training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). These types of practical training allow an F-1 student to work off-campus in a job related to his or her major field of study. The international student advisor will assist you in completing the necessary paperwork for both types of practical training.

Curricular Practical Training

CPT is allowable prior to completion of program. The student must have completed one full-academic year at the institution. This type of practical training allows students who are still registered for classes to participate in an internship experience. The practical training must be a required, integral part of your academic program or degree. It may be authorized either part time (20 hours or less) or full time (40 hours or less). Any student who participates in one year (12 months) of full-time curricular practical training is not eligible for any post-completion practical training. Part-time curricular practical training does not count against post-completion practical training. Students interested in curricular practical training should consult with their international admissions advisor and academic counselor. A copy of a job offer letter (indicating start and end date, location of internship, and number of hours per week) is required in order to complete the CPT request and receive an updated I-20 with CPT employment authorization.

Optional Practical Training

This type of training is intended to provide hands-on practical work experience (off campus) complementary to the academic program. Employment should be in the student’s field of study. The student must have completed one full-academic year at the institution or completed their program of study. While on optional practical training, individuals are still considered to be F-1 students at Grand Rapids Community College even though they may be working elsewhere in the U.S. An F-1 student is eligible for (12) twelve months optional practical training. Optional Practical Training is available in the following cases:

  1. part-time (20 hours per week or less) prior to the completion of a program of study
  2. full-time after completion of the program of study (file 90 days before program completion).

A student should file to request OPT work authorization up to 90 days prior to your program end-date and not later than 60 days after the program end-date.

After the OPT application has been submitted students SHOULD NOT leave the U.S. until they receive their OPT card. Students who have to leave will forfeit their application and will need to re-apply. Students may travel while on OPT. They must have a signed I-20, valid passport, F-1 visa, I-94, and a job offer to re-enter the U.S.

Students on OPT are eligible to take classes at any institution in the U.S. as long as they are also working. If a student has concluded their OPT status, and is pursuing another degree(transferring to another school), they must contact the GRCC international student advisor so that their SEVIS record may be transferred. Students on OPT are required to complete tax forms.

OPT approval process:

  • DSO recommends OPT in SEVIS.
  • Student files I-765 application for EAD with USCIS Lockbox Facility. OPT applications typically take 3 months to process though 120 days is the time allotted.

Work can begin only after receiving EAD issued by USCIS, and on or after the start date on the EAD. All GRCC international students on OPT should report to the Intl. Student Advisor the following information: receipt of EAD card, confirmed OPT start & end dates, change in address or employer and supervisor information, any interruption of employment, etc). Students must obtain employment 90 days after their OPT start date (the date chosen for their I-20). Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during OPT.

Option Eligibility Criteria And Requirements

Documentation
Required

Fee

Curricular Practical Training

One academic year in lawful F-1 status (9 months); must be either: required/necessary to complete academic program. Can be part time (20 hrs or less) or full time (21 hours or more). Form I-20
Passport
Form I-94
Job offer letter
None
Optional Practical Training

One academic year in lawful F-1 status (9 months);

  • Part-time while school is in session
  • Full-time when school not in session, during annual vacation semester or after graduation.
I-765 (file online)
Form I-20
Passport
Form I-94
$380.00

Applying for a Michigan Driver’s License

If you plan to drive in the U.S., you are required by law to obtain and carry a valid Driver’s License.

A list of the required documents, as well as the application can be found on the Michigan Secretary of State website.

Residents who have temporary legal presence are issued a limited-term driver's license. A limited-term license is valid for only as long as the person is authorized to remain in the country.

In order to get a Michigan driver's license, you must pass a written test, a road sign test, a vision test, and a driving test. The first step is to prepare for the written test and road sign test by studying the booklet What Every Driver Must Know.

The Written Test and Road Sign Test

Test Information: You can take the written test and road sign test at any Michigan Secretary of State Office. (Tests are available in a number of different languages.) You will also be asked to take a vision test.

Identification requirements: You will need the following documents:

  • Evidence that you have a valid Social Security number or letter of ineligibility.
    • If you are not eligible for a social security number (see Determining Eligibility for a Social Security Number and Card), you can request a "letter of ineligibility" from the Social Security Office. You will receive the letter right away; you will not have to make a second trip to the Social Security office.
  • Passport
  • Paper or print-out of electronic Form I-94
  • Proof of Michigan address
    • Two documents showing your Michigan address are required. See Column 4, Proof of Michigan residency list for acceptable documents. Students can use an unofficial transcript printed by the Office of the Registrar as one of the two documents.
  • Your I-20
  • Permit fee: $25.00 that must be paid with cash, check or money order.

The Road Test

Practice Period: After you pass the written test and receive a temporary instruction permit, you are required to wait for a 30-day practice period before taking the road test. However, if you have in your possession a Driver's License from your country, the 30-day practice period will be waived. Your license must be translated into English by a translation service unless the parts of the license that list the name, date of birth, country of issue, issue date, type of license and expiration date are in English.

Taking the Road Test: Prepare for the road test by practicing and by studying the Road Skills Test Study Guide.

Choose a company authorized to give the road skills test. These are private companies and may charge different fees. If you want, you can call several companies to compare fees.

Other Requirements for the Road Test: You must also have a passport and a valid registration for the vehicle to be used in the road test, along with proof of its insurance. The vehicle must be in good mechanical condition.

Applying for a Social Security Number

A Social Security Number is generally assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States.  You may also need a Social Security number if it is requested while you are applying for automobile insurance or a bank account. It is used by the U.S. Government for tracking and income tax purposes. Social Security will not assign you a number just to enroll in college or school. 

Students must be in the United States for at least 10 working days before applying for a Social Security number.

  1. Complete an application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
  2. Gather original supporting documents including:
    • Your current signed I-20
    • Your passport with visa inside
    • Your I-94 record, printed from www.cbp.gov/I94
    • A job offer letter from an office on campus of which you will be employed (obtain this from GRCC Student Employment Services).  This letter must:
      • identify you by full name
      • confirm your current student status at GRCC
      • identify your employer and the type of work you will be doing
      • list your employment start date and number of hours you will be working
      • provide your supervisor’s name and contact information
    • Letter from international advisor verifying immigration status and enrollment
  3. Take your completed application and supporting documents to the Social Security Office in Grand Rapids:
    • 3045 Knapp St. NE
      Grand Rapids, MI 49503
    • (616) 742-2373
    • Toll Free 1-800-772-1213

In general, people who are in F-1 status who are working legally in the U.S. are not required to pay into the Social Security fund. (FICA). IF you are legally employed in the U.S. as an F-1, you should make sure your employer is NOT withholding Social Security from your check.

Letter of ineligibility

If you do NOT have a job and, therefore, you cannot get an SSN. A Social Security “ineligibility letter” may be used whenever you are asked for your SSN to show that you are unable to get an SSN, allowing you to provide other proof of your identity and legal presence in the U.S.

To obtain a letter of ineligibility go to the Social Security Administration Office with the required documentation:

  • Passport (including visa)
  • I-94 record, in passport or printed from online
  • I-20 (F-1 & F-2 students/dependents)
  • GRCC Student ID card
  • Michigan Driver’s License or ID Card (if you have one)

Find Housing Off Campus

Grand Rapids Community College does not provide on campus housing for students. If you’re in need of housing accommodations, be sure to review important information regarding the process of acquiring the ideal living environment for you. For links to downtown and nearby off campus living options (apartments and houses for rent) GRCC students have used in the past, please visit www.grcc.edu/housing. Be sure to check reviews by former tenants, if available, and look at the pictures of the apartment online. Please note that GRCC does not inspect or endorse any of these housing options.

After you find an apartment online that interests you, contact the company or landlord listed for more information. It is important to set up a time to visit the apartment in person also.

Before you begin searching for a place to live there are a few questions you should consider:

Will you rent your apartment or house alone or with a roommate?

Off campus housing rates vary widely and you can expect to pay $500-$800 for a 1-bedroom unit and $600-$1,000 for a 2-bedroom or larger unit. www.roommates.com is a helpful resource to find roommates in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Do you have reliable transportation to and from campus?

Making your way to campus can be a challenge if you do not own a car of your own. Be sure to check the location of the closest bus stop, if needed, and factor in travel time to campus.

Do you have furniture and kitchen supplies to furnish your apartment off campus?

Apartments will not be furnished, so if you do not already have these items, this will be an added expense for you. Be sure to budget accordingly and plan for how you might deliver your furniture to your new apartment.

Will you have sufficient funds to pay for your GRCC tuition and fees as well as monthly rent?

Plan your budget accordingly and don’t forget to factor in costs for utilities (internet access, heating/cooling, water, electricity, natural gas, and garbage collection). Also plan ahead for parking and fuel expenses.

Important questions to ask:

  • Which units are available?
  • When can I move in?
  • Where can I park or where is the closest bus stop?
  • What is the cost per month? Is there a security deposit I will need to pay up front?
  • Are utilities (heat, water, electricity, trash, etc.) included in the monthly rent?

For more information about renting in the U.S. go to http://www.usa.gov/topics/family-homes/renting.shtml

When you decide and are approved for renting an apartment, you will be asked to sign a lease. A lease is a document that outlines the responsibilities of the apartment owner and the tenants. Leases are typically 12 months, but sometimes shorter. A lease is an agreement that outlines the obligations of the owner and the tenants of a house or apartment. It is a legally binding document that courts will generally uphold in legal proceedings, so it is important for you to know the exact terms of the lease agreement before you sign it.

Obtaining a GRCC Transcript

Transcripts are available from the GRCC Student Records Office in two different forms, “unofficial” and “official”. There is no charge for either type of transcript.

Unofficial transcripts are for students who wish to see which classes they have taken, their grade point average (GPA), how many credits have been earned, etc. Students can view and print their own unofficial transcripts online using the Online Student Center or obtain them in person at the Enrollment Center.

Official transcripts are for college or university transfers, job applications, scholarships, etc. Official transcripts are usually sent directly to institutions.

To request a transcript, please use one of the following methods:

  • Online at the Online Student Center. Processing time is next business day.
    • Note: If you need assistance obtaining your student ID number to log in to the Online Student Center, please call the Enrollment Center 616-234-3300.
  • Fax, mail, or scan and email the Official Transcript Request Form to the address/number listed on the bottom of the form. Processing time is five business days.
  • Visit the Student Records Office. Processing time is five business days.

Credit transferred in from other institutions will be posted to the GRCC transcript after 5 business days. A viewable transcript is available via the student’s Online Student Center account.

Please note: Allow additional time for the United States Postal Service and receiving institution's processing time.

Renewing F-1 Visa

If the entry visa stamp in your passport has expired, you will need to apply for a new stamp at a United States Consulate/Embassy in your country before you reenter the United States. It is not possible to renew the entry visa stamp inside the United States. To obtain a new visa stamp, you must take the following to the United States Consulate/Embassy:

  • A current or new SEVIS, Form I-20 with updated academic and financial information, endorsed by the International Student Advisor within the last six months.
  • Documentation of funding. For example, a signed bank statement verifying amount in the account, a letter and bank documents from a sponsor, proof of employment on campus, scholarship letters, etc.
  • Evidence that you intend to return to your home country when you complete your studies.
  • Updated transcript and a printout of courses for which you are enrolled for the next semester.
  • All visa applications require a personal interview at the consulate. It can take several weeks to schedule an interview. Do So Early!!!

When applying for a new entry visa stamp, there is always a risk that it will not be granted. If you are in good academic standing and in the middle of your degree program, you will probably be able to obtain a new visa. If you are on OPT, your visa application may be denied. If you are married to, or intend to marry a United States citizen or permanent resident, it is possible that your F-1 visa request will be denied. Denial means that you will not be able to enter the United States as an F-1 visa holder. If you have concerns about your visa application, discuss them with the International Student Advisor before you make your final travel plans.

My Degree Path

My Degree Path a web-based tool designed to help students stay on a clear path to graduation. It enables the student and his or her advisor to review their coursework – past, present, and future – and evaluate which degree requirements have been completed and which remain to be completed.

How does My Degree Path work?

For students, My Degree Path will:

  • Provide real-time advice, 24/7 for students
  • Outline a path to graduation for a specific GRCC program
  • Allows for the creation of semester by semester degree plan
  • Provides self-service capabilities
  • Allows exploration of other GRCC programs (what if)
  • Allows direct access to multiple related services and advice
  • For Counselors/ Advisors, My Degree Path will:
  • Support real-time delivery of academic information
  • Helps to minimize errors through consistency
  • Reduces paperwork and manual program check

Students & faculty/staff see the same information in the same format

Log into your Online Student Center HERE to access and start taking advantage of MyDegreePath today!

I-20 Program Date Extension

If you are unable to finish all degree requirements before the completion (program end) date on your I-20, you must apply for a PROGRAM EXTENSION with the GRCC International Advisor at least 30 days before the I-20 expires. You will also be required to meet with an academic counselor and develop an academic plan worksheet that indicates which courses you have remaining to complete at the College before transferring or completing degree requirements. A copy of this worksheet must be turned into the International Advisor to be granted the I-20 extension.

Reinstatement Process

Reinstatement is a process in which you apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be restored to legal student status after a violation. Reinstatement is for individuals who, through no fault of their own or through circumstances beyond their control, have violated the terms of their immigration status and can show that not being reinstated would cause a significant hardship. The student also has to verify that they have not worked illegally. Students have the best chance of approval if applying within five months of violating status.

You should apply for reinstatement if:

  • You have failed to extend your program before the I-20 expiration date.
  • You withdrew from classes without prior approval or did not enroll for a semester.
  • You did not carry a full course of study and did not obtain prior approval from the international student advisor.
  • You did not attend school during a required semester (unless you were excused for medical reasons before to the beginning of the semester).
  • You failed to attend the school you were authorized by the USCIS to attend.
  • You did not notify USCIS of a transfer or change of educational levels in a timely manner.
  • You remained in the US beyond the time authorized on your I-20 did not request an extension of stay.
  • You violated the immigration regulations in any other manner.

Application Procedures

Prepare the following materials to complete the Reinstatement Application.

  • Letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) explaining why you are out of status, and stating that you are eligible to apply for reinstatement. The letter must show how falling out of status was beyond your control and how failing to be reinstated would cause severe hardship.
  • I-539 marked "Reinstatement"
  • Application fee made out to the Department of Homeland Security
  • New proof of financial support
  • Transcripts of all schools attended in the U.S.
  • Copies of your passport and visa
  • Copies of all previous I-20s
  • Copies of your I-94 (Front and Back)
  • SEVIS Update I-20

Alternative to Reinstatement: If you are not eligible, or are a poor candidate for reinstatement, you may consider obtaining a new I-20 marked "Initial Attendance" and then using that new I-20 to travel outside of the U.S. and re-enter.

Entry at the Border

United States Customs will require that you present your I-20 along with your financial documentation as you reenter. They may also want to review any previous I-20 documents. United States VISIT is a new system that gathers digital photos and fingerprints at the Consulate or Port of Entry. Allow sufficient time between flight connections for customs, immigration, and entering data at the United States VISIT site.

If your current entry visa stamp will be valid at the time you reenter the United States, you will not need to visit the United States Consulate. For reentry you will need the following:

  • Valid I-20 that reflects your current program as well as a completion of studies date that is in the future
  • A signature for reentry by the International Student Advisor on your I-20 (to make a request for a reentry signature, present your I-20 to the International Student Advisor at least one week before departure).
  • The reentry signature is valid for six months only and must be renewed if it has expired or will expire soon. Also, if your entry visa stamp was issued for a school other than GRCC, you should be prepared to present documentary evidence of your finances to the USCIS when you reenter.

If you are currently pursuing OPT and plan to reenter the United States, you must present the following documentation for reentry:

  • A valid I-20 that has been signed for reentry within the last six months.
  • Passport with valid entry via stamp, unless you are reentering from Canada or Mexico (see previous)
  • The OPT card (your EAD)

CAUTION: If you are on OPT and need a new entry visa stamp, be aware of the risk that your visa request may be denied. Consulates do not like to issue new visas for OPT.