Purpose of the U.S. Immigration System

The United States immigration system regulates the entry of foreign nationals into the country and provides pathways for academic study, employment, and naturalization.

Regulations governing the U.S. immigration system are published in the federal register of the United States Congress. Interpretations, commentaries, and guidance may also be provided by related government agencies.

Immigration Status

Foreign nationals are admitted into the U.S. in an immigration category that is appropriate for the purpose of their visit. Common visa categories at OSU include:

  • Academic Study (F-1 student)
  • Academic Exchange (J-1 student)
  • Research (J-1 research scholar or student intern)
  • Employment (H-1B, TN)

The immigration status, also sometimes called the "visa status" is established at the Port of Entry upon arrival using a visa issued at U.S. consular office or embassy abroad and the appropriate accompanying immigration documents. A foreign national may change to another immigration status by making a new entry into the country, or in some cases by petitioning to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services).


A visa allows a foreign national to request entry into the U.S. Foreign nationals must apply for a visa at a U.S. consular office or embassy abroad. A visitor may hold several different visas but may only enter in one immigration status.

Administration of Programs and Benefits

The U.S. Department of State administers the J-1 exchange program. This program is designed to foster cultural and academic exchange between the U.S. and other nations.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administers the F-1 student program. This program is designed to allow foreign nationals to complete a specific academic objective, such as a degree program, in the U.S. There are three branches under DHS with which a student or faculty will interact; These are the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), under ICE, administers the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is used to issue immigration documents to F-1 and J-1 students and to report certain information about their program to USCIS.

USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) is responsible for processing petitions for employment benefits, resinstatement to a valid visa status, and permanent residency.

Enforcement of Immigration Regulations

ICE is responsible for ensuring compliance with immigration regulations by schools, employers, and foreign nationals. Students who violate immigration regulations may be investigated by ICE and lose their visa status. Schools and programs that violate immigration regulations may lose their ability to host international students and exchange visitors.

The United States immigration is governed by federal regulations and administered by difference agencies and programs. The information below provides a general outline of the immigration system.