International Students

There is no doubt that being an international student can be an exciting, but also a very stressful experience! This is especially true during the first academic semester when the amount of coursework and university-related paperwork reach their culmination. The purpose of this page is to help incoming international students transition better to their new life at the University of Oklahoma, while making use of the amazing opportunities the university has to offer. Throughout this page, you will find useful tips and guidelines intended to relief the stress of settling down in a foreign country. The information presented here will be updated regularly in order to reflect all outstanding issues faced by incoming international students. Therefore, all international students are encouraged to share their views and opinions with SAC’s International Representative – Hristo Chipilski, who can be reached at hristo.chipilski@ou.edu.

Preparing Your Arrival at OU

Prior to starting the academic year at the School of Meteorology, international students will be required to complete the following 5 things:

Immunizations: part 1

OU has strict regulations with respect to the immunization record of incoming international students. If you do not provide the required immunization documents, a hold will placed on your account preventing you from enrolling in classes. It is highly advisable that, prior to your arrival, you get the following two immunizations:

  • Hepatitis B (3 shots over the course of 6 months).
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR; 2 shots separated by 28 days).

As you see from the provided information, the timelines for getting these shots can be fairly tight. This is why the Immunizations section was placed as a first item on the to-do list. I recommend that you get your first Hepatitis B shot at least 7 months before your departure to U.S. There is also a third requirement regarding your student health record, but this requirement is typically fulfilled upon your first visit to the Goddard Health Center on OU Campus.

get I-20

This is one of the most important documents for international students. The I-20 document, also known as the Certificate for Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student F-1 Status, certifies your eligibility for an F-1 visa. It is used for a variety of purposes: visa application, I-901 SEVIS fee, obtaining an Oklahoma drivers’ license, etc. You should always carry this document when you travel outside of USA – it is almost equally important as your visa-stamped passport and acts as an identification/proof of your legal/academic status.

In order to get your I-20, you will need the following 2 documents:

    • Copy of your passport’s biographic page.
    • Proof of funds. To see the fund requirements applying specifically to the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, go to http://www.ou.edu/content/cis/iss/immigration-visa/financial-documentation.html. Example of acceptable documents include: scholarship letters, bank statements, certificates of deposits, etc. Keep in mind that the provided documents should not be more than 90 days old.

Once you submit the required documents, wait for the International Student Services (ISS) to give you instructions on how to pay for express shipping.

apply for a visa

Together with the I-20, your visa is the most important document when you enter the U.S. To apply for a visa, you will need to do the following:

  • Pay your SEVIS I-901 Fee, which amounts to $200. The payment can be made at http://www.fmjifee.com. This is an administrative fee, which supports the expenses of SEVP (Student Exchange Visitor Program) and SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System).  Once you make a payment, keep a copy of the SEVIS I-901 Fee for your visa interview. A copy of the payment can be found at the website listed above.
  • Set up a visa interview. Details about this process can be found at the U.S. Department of State (DoS) website. Remember that conducting a visa interview does not need to take place in your home country. You can schedule a visa interview in the country you are currently inhabiting as long as there is an U.S. consulate there.
  • If acceptance to an academic program at OU requires a security check, plan to apply for a visa earlier than recommended since the process an take weeks to months and potentially lead to delays in issuing your visa.
complete the New International Student Orientation (NISO) course

Go to http://www.canvas.ou.edu and complete the course prior to departing for U.S. Access to the course will be granted about a month before the start of classes. More information about NISO can be found here.

notify ISS of your address 

As soon as you make your housing arrangements in Norman, email your address to ISS so that they can make appropriate changes in your SEVIS record. In case you change your address, ISS needs to be notified at least 10 days of moving. In addition to corresponding with ISS, you should also enter your valid address at  http://one.ou.edu.

What to Do Once You Arrive at OU?

You are allowed to enter the U.S. 30 days prior to the program start date indicated on the I-20 document. While the exact arrival dates depend on your individual needs, ISS recommends that international students arrival at least a week before the start of classes (check academic calendars at  http://www.ou.edu/content/admissions/academic_calendar.html).  Once you move into your new place, please complete each of the individual to-do items listed below.

make an ISS Appointment

You need to schedule an appointment with ISS in order to maintain your visa status. Follow the instructions on https://canvas.ou.edu/courses/179/pages/iss-arrival?module_item_id=9820. To schedule an appointment with ISS, you can either call +1 (405) 325-3337 or go to http://iadvise.ou.edu/iss.

attend crimson connection

Crimson Connection is an in-person orientation program, which introduces new students to the academic community at OU. The informal games organized by the Crimson Connection mentors are an excellent opportunity to make new friends and learn something about the culture of Oklahoma. During your time at Crimson Connection, you will be also introduced to the Friends to International Students (FIS) program (http://www.ou.edu/cis/sponsored_programs/fis.html), which allows new international students to become acquainted with an American host family. Keep in mind that assignments for FIS are made on a first come, first serve basis.

Obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) 

One of the first things to sort out when you first arrive at the School of Meteorology is to initialize the process of obtaining a Social Security Number (SSN). Prior to receiving a SSN card.

What is SSN?
The Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit number that is issued by the Social Security Administration and used to track individuals’ earnings. It is your national identification number for taxation and other purposes. With a few exceptions, all J-1 and F-1 international students that are employed in SoM  or other organizations (CAPS, CIMMS, NSSL, etc.) need to apply for SSN.

How to apply for a SSN?
Regardless of who you are affiliated with, the first step towards obtaining a SSN would be to contact the International Student Services (ISS) and

Only after your on-campus employment is verified with ISS, you will be in position to go to the Social Security Administration (SSA) in Moore, Oklahoma. Before you head there, don’t forget to bring the aforementioned documents, i.e. employment confirmation letter and Social Security Letter.

Although it is possible to go straight to the SSA without an ISS letter, I would strongly advise against it. The latter could severely delay the issuing of your SSN. Bear in mind that even without a SSN, international students are eligible to work at OU. The only noticeable difference is that international students will receive their monthly stipends by depositing checks with their representative banks.

International students who do not have cars can travel to the SSA in Moore by either taking the N44 Social Security Route from the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit (CART; more information on http://www.ou.edu/cart/schedules/socialsecurityroute.html) or messaging Hristo Chipilski who will kindly offer you a ride.

  • SSA address: 200 Ne 27th St, Moore, Oklahoma 73160
  • Phone number: 1-866-964-4260
enrollment

Before you enroll to classes, you will need to complete the Title IX Sexual Misconduct Awareness Training @ http://onpoint.ou.edu and discuss courses with your academic advisor.

It is really important to complete full-time credit in both your fall and spring semesters to maintain lawful immigration status. The enrollment requirements are:

  • Undergraduates – 12 credit hours in Fall/Spring semesters.
  • Graduate students without assistantship or 0.25 FTE (full-time equivalence) – 9 credit hours in Fall/Spring semesters.
  • Graduate students with GA/RA/TA assistantship and 0.5 FTE – 5 credit hours. For more information on the definition of the assistantships, please check the Graduate Student Handbook.
  • Only 3 online credit hours can count towards minimum full-time enrollment.
  • If international students begin their program in the summer, they need to be enrolled in 6 credit hours.

The following does not count towards full-time enrollment:

  • I/N (Incomplete/not assigned) grades.
  • If you have only audited classes.
  • If you withdraw from a class.

Under-enrollment consequences can be as serious as the termination of your immigration status, so you want to make sure that you adhere to the aforementioned rules. Exceptions to under-enrolemt are limited and should be discussed with both your academic advisor and ISS. Providing an agreement for a reduced coarse workload has been achieved, international students should fill out the Reduced Coursework Request (RCL) form.

Immunizations: part 2

The first part of this section explained the importance of timely planning two important vaccinations: Hepatitis B and Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR). I also mentioned that there is a third medical requirement that students usually meet during their first visit to the Goddard Health Center – a tuberculosis  (TB) testing. You can receive a free TB blood test at the TB testing clinic in Goddard Health Center (Goddard Health Center, Immunization Office, 620 Elm Ave; phone number +1 (405) 325-6039). Alternatively, you can also provide a proof of TB Testing. This proof needs to be issued at most 6 months prior to the beginning of classes and can be in the form of a medical record from a physician, clinic or a hospital, a chest X-ray or a medical statement indicating a successful treatment of the TB disease.

For more general information about required immunizations, please visit http://www.ou.edu/healthservices/medical-services/immunizations/ or email the Immunization Office at immunizations@ou.edu.

Health insurance

Medical care in the U.S. is expensive and having a valid health insurance to cover most of your medical expenses is a necessity.

If you have a qualifying medical insurance from your home country, you will need to fill out a waiver form at the beginning of each semester (i.e., filling out a waiver application is not a one-time application process). Waiver requirements are summarized on this webpage.

In case you are not covered by a qualifying insurance policy, you will need to purchase the university-sponsored insurance plan managed by Academic Health Plans (AHP; https://ou.myahpcare.com) and administered by BlueCross BlueShield (https://www.bcbsok.com). Unless you submit a waiver application, you will be automatically enrolled to the OU Student Health Plan at the beginning of each semester.

Other useful links:

 

Other Things You May Find Useful

International student services (iss)

The ISS will most likely be the first institution to  contact when you have visa- and immigration-related questions. You can follow all ISS activities on their Facebook page. The key responsibilities of ISS are:

  • Advise on immigration laws (e.g., travel in and outside the U.S.).
  • Recommend and approve immigration benefits.
  • Assist in filing applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Keep in mind that if such requests need to go through USCIS, processing times can be high. More information on USCIS processing times can be found on https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplayInit.do.
  • File reports required by the federal government.

At https://www.ou.edu/content/cis/iss/immigration-visa/forms.html, you can find various immigration- and visa-related request forms that can be processed by ISS.

To contact ISS, you can either:

The ISS office is located in Farzaneh Hall (which hosts the College of International Studies), 729 Elm Ave, room 144.

arriving at will roger’s airport

Do not forget to make use of the Airport Transportation provided by OU, which is available for all new international students and takes them from the Oklahoma City Will Rogers Airport to Norman, OK. You can request this service while going through the New International Student Orientation (NISO) course. For further questions, refer to niso@ou.edu.

traveling outside U.s.

If you plan to travel outside U.S., make sure you get an updated travel signature from ISS at least a week prior to your international flight.

Moreover, remember to bring the following documents when you fly back to the U.S.:

  • Passport.
  • A valid visa.
  • I-20.
  • Proof of admission to OU or an academic transcript.
  • Proof of financial support (RA/TA letter or a bank statement).
  • SEVIS fee receipt.
obtaining an oklahoma driving LICENSE

Driving in Oklahoma with a license issued by your home country (not an international driving license) is permitted. However, you may want to consider obtaining an Oklahoma driver’s license. Despite not being compulsory, a locally issued driver’s license is useful since it serves as your official identification document. This means that you can forget about bringing your passport every time you go to a bar with friends. Furthermore, certain car insurance companies may require you to have a U.S.-based driver’s license. Having an Oklahoma driver’s license tends to greatly reduce your insurance premiums, which are at the highest possible rates for international students (international students are assumed to have no driving experience in the context of car insurances). In order to apply for an Oklahoma Driver’s License, check out the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) website. The following documents will be needed during your application for an Oklahoma driver’s license:

  • Original passport.
  • Original I-20.
  • Original I-94.
  • SSN (if you have one).
  • Height and weight measurements in feet/inches and pounds, respectively. It is important to convert your measurements to the aforementioned units before you submit your documents to the local DPS office.
register your bike

If you are not planning to drive a car during your stay at OU, riding your bike is a great way to get some exercise on your way to work. If you decide to use a bike, you will need to register it. For more information on how to register your bike, please visit http://www.ou.edu/content/police/psafe/bike-security/bike-registration.html.

Seeking medical assistance

Depending on the severity of your health condition, there are 4 ways to seek medical care in Norman, Oklahoma:

  • For a life-threatening situation, call 911.
  • For a medical emergency, go to the Normal Regional Hospital.
  • For all-nonemergency issues, visit the Goddard Health Centre. Contact the centre within 48 hours in order to receive a referral for the services received. Without a referral, your insurance benefits will be greatly reduced.
  • In case the Goddard Health Centre is closed, visit the Immediate Care of Oklahoma, which is open from 8am to 8pm every day and has the following 2 clinics:
    1. 3400 W. Tecumseh Road; phone number +1 (405) 307-6900.
    2. 800 24th Avenue NW; phone number + 1 (405) 321-7100.

The two clinics of Immediate Care of Oklahoma are much cheaper than the emergency room in the Normal Regional Hospital.

Working outside campus

Undertaking any working arrangements outside campus requires authorization from both the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ISS . You can apply for off-campus work authorization only if you have been a full-time student at OU for 1 academic year.

life after graduation

Successfully obtaining a university degree is a big personal achievement for international students alike. Nevertheless, it is equally important to consider the range of options after you graduate. Both F-1 and F-2 visa holders have a 60 days grace period during which they can:

  • Leave U.S.
  • Request a school transfer.
  • Begin a new program.
  • Change their visa status.

Bear in mind that F-1 and F-2 (and, for that matter, J-1/J-2) visa holders cannot reenter the U.S. during the grace period.

A typical choice for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) F-1 students is to conduct an Optical Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to work for 1 year in order to complement their university education. OPT can be initiated after students have successfully completed their degrees (but before the expiration of the 60-day grace period) or if they have been pursuing a degree for more than 9 months. More information regarding OPT can be found here.

information for f2 dependents

F-2 dependents are either the spouse or the unmarried minor children (under age 21) who accompany the primary F-1 visa holder. It is important to familiarize the F-2 dependents with their rights in U.S. Here we mention two of the most important ones:

  • F-2 dependents cannot work.
  • F-2 dependents can study part-time at a university/college.

If F-2 dependents decide to change their visa status, their request needs to be approved by USCIS. It is highly advisable to plan such a decision well in advance since USCIS approvals could take a considerable amount to time.

termination and reinstatement of visa status
  • In the unfortunate event of termination of your visa status, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is immediately notified of the termination of your SEVIS record. As a result, your immigration status, I-20 (or DS-2019) and visa are no longer valid.
  • If you wish to recover your visa status, you should consider  applying for the so-called Reinstatement of Status, which needs to be coordinated with ISS and sent to USCIS. If your status is pending reinstatement, you are legally not allowed to work in the U.S. Furthermore, restatement of visa status is not always an option – so be sure you do your best to maintain your legal immigration status by following the guidelines outlines in this thread.
filing annual income tax returns

One of the responsibilities for being an RA/TA at the School of Meteorology is to file an annual tax return. This usually happens in late winter/early spring each year. The process of filling the relevant tax documents can be intimidating, especially for international students who are not familiar with the U.S. tax system. In order to help international students prepare their tax documents in a timely manner, the ISS collaborate with Sprintax – a tax company specifically created for international students.

What do I need to do to file my taxes?

At the beginning of the tax filing season, you will receive an email from the ISS with specific instructions to follow, such as obtaining a one-time promotional code for filing your taxes using the Sprintax software.

Things to keep in mind

  • Using Sprintax is only viable if you are a non-resident international student. If the latter is not true, you should consider alternative options for filing your taxes.
  • Due to the early advertisement of tax-related software tools at the beginning of each tax filing season, international students do the common mistake of filing their annual tax refunds as Oklahoma residents rather than non-residents (e.g., filing form 1040 instead of 1040-NR for the federal tax return). If you run into such an issue, I recommend that you consult with a tax expert who will help you prepare the required tax amendment forms.

Definitions of important immigration documents/organizations

I-20

Certificate for Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student F-1 Status. This certificate applies to academic and language students (in contrast to M visa, which is specifically designed for vocational students). The document is issued by SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) and mailed by a DSO (Designated School Official).  I-20 is an identification/proof of legal/academic status. As discussed throughout this page, you can enter the U.S. 30 days before the start date listed on your I-20. Do not pack this document in your suitcase as you will be asked to produce it before a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer. If you are an international student transferring from another U.S. university, your I-20 cannot be issued until your old I-20 is transferred to OU.

I-94

Arrival and Departure record issued by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer to foreign visitors entering the United States.

SEVP

This stands for the Student Exchange Visitor Program. SEVP is part of the National Security Investigations Division and “acts as a bridge for government organizations that have an interest in information on nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students”.

SEVIS

The Student Exchange and Information System (SEVIS) is closely related to SEVP.  SEVIS is a data collection and reporting electronic system, which acts as an interface between universities and various governmental institutions including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of State (DoS), U.S. consulates and ports of entry. The following SEVIS information is reported to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement):

  • Address.
  • Financial funding information.
  • Academic enrollment.
  • Employment information.
  • Dependents.
  • Termination/Completion of Study.
USCIS

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a federal agency (part of DHS) that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.

ICE

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety.

DSO

The Designation School Official is a staff member in a SEVP-certified school who updates and maintains student records in SEVIS. The DSO is one of the people who signs the I-20 document.