Jun 15, 2024  
International Student Handbook 
International Student Handbook

How to Avoid Violating US Laws

 US and Immigration Laws & Regulations

While international students are in the United States (US), they are subject to all of the country’s laws and regulations that govern US citizens. They are also subject to immigration laws, which define and limit their activities as a nonimmigrant. Failure to comply with immigration laws can lead to a request for a student’s voluntary departure or forced deportation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Students that find themselves in a legal situation should enlist the help of a competent criminal attorney who is familiar with immigration regulations. Please review Know Your Rights for resources regarding your legal rights in the US.

 What Happens If You Violate US Laws

Criminal activity, arrests, and convictions can have serious immigration consequences. Students need to be aware of the law, and what is considered criminal activity, and avoid it at all costs. However, they should know what to do if arrested or convicted.

Equal Protection & Due Process

All persons in the US, regardless of citizenship, are entitled to the same protection of the law and procedures of law enforcement. This means that, with a few exceptions, students will be treated the same as American citizens in their relationship with law enforcement agencies. 

 What “Criminal Activity” Has Immigration Consequences?

  • Arrests and/or convictions even for crimes that may not be serious for US citizens.

    • If you are fingerprinted, this can delay visa issuance even if you are not convicted or if your record is expunged (meaning it no longer appears on your record).

  • Willful misrepresentations on immigration or visa applications that result in immigration benefit fraud.

    • This can also include an application for admission to school if an I-20 / DS-2019 was issued and the student uses the document to enter the US.

  • Drug-related offenses that may or may not result in a conviction.

  • A conviction for, or admission of crimes of moral turpitude (these are generally serious crimes).

  • Suspension or expulsion from school as a result of criminal activity, whatever the nature of the crime.

What Are the Consequences of “Criminal Activity”?

  • Delays in obtaining visas - any arrest or conviction will cause a positive “hit” in National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and delay new visa issuance.

    • It does not matter if the record of your arrest or conviction is taken with you to the consulate; they will still have to wait for the NCIC report.

  • Denial of visa or entry into the US.

  • Removal or deportation from the US.

  • Denial of immigration benefits in the US including extension, change of status, and practical training.

How Do I Avoid These Consequences?

  • Do not drink and drive; this is taken very seriously in the US. 

    • Take a taxi or have a designated driver when you go out and plan to drink. the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21 years old.

  • Do not do drugs.

    • Being arrested with even a small amount of illegal substances can deem you deportable.

  • Do not lie or misrepresent your actions on immigration applications or to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or other US government employee.

    • If you have concerns about something you have done, it is recommended to contact an immigration attorney before you are interviewed or complete an application.

  • Do not assume that they the government will not find out; there is cooperation among government agencies.

  • If you are arrested, just like on TV, you do have the right to an attorney and anything you say can and will be used against you.

  • Make sure that you have a criminal attorney who is aware that there may be immigration consequences to any plea bargain or guilty plea and who works with an immigration attorney.

  • Remember that it is your responsibility to know the law and avoid committing crimes.

Illegal Drugs

The possession, use, or sale of drugs or narcotics, including marijuana, hashish, amphetamines, hallucinogens, barbiturates, cocaine, heroin, and a wide range of other drugs, are serious offenses under Florida law and immigration law. Those who choose to use illegal drugs run the risk of expulsion from the university, imprisonment, and/or deportation from the US. See visit Florida Poly’s Drug-Free Campus page, an initiative intended to promote a safe, productive, and drug-free work and learning environment for our faculty, staff, and students.


The minimum legal age for drinking alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, liquor, etc.) in the State of Florida is 21. You cannot be served alcoholic beverages unless you are 21 or older. You will be asked to present an identification card with your photograph and your date of birth before you can purchase alcohol from a store or enter a bar, nightclub, or another establishment that serves alcohol. Students who are over age 18 but under 21 will be admitted, but these students are not allowed to purchase alcohol.

Driving a car after drinking alcoholic beverages is also illegal in Florida, regardless of age. Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol carries severe penalties and can result in the loss of your driver’s license, heavy fines, imprisonment, disciplinary action by the university, and/or deportation. NEVER DRINK AND DRIVE.


Smoking has become socially unacceptable in many places. Smoking is not permitted in Florida Polytechnic University buildings (or dorm rooms). Smoking is also forbidden in hospitals, many restaurants, and other public places. It is always best to ask where you are permitted to smoke. 

 How to Avoid Breaking Visa Rules

Once you’re in the US on a student visa, your right to stay depends not only on when your permitted stay expires but whether you are maintaining your student immigration status. 

If you violate these rules, you are said to be “out of status” meaning that your right to be in the US disappears automatically, and if your spouse and child dependents are living in the US with you on F-2 visas, they will simultaneously lose their right to be here also. You and your family could be deported, and your unlawful stay in the US would be entered into your permanent immigration records.

The most important rules are rather simple; you must:
  • Maintain full-time enrollment and attend class.

  • Make sure that your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) or US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves any changes in your overall plan.

  • Do not work without prior authorization.

Students that break these rules and lose their student status by reducing their course load below full-time study (or just dropping out altogether), working off-campus without permission, or switching schools or programs without advising the right people (your DSO or USCIS).

You will also be violating your status if you lie or give false information to USCIS or are convicted of a crime of violence.

Unfortunately, one violation tends to cause another. For example, if your expected completion date as shown on your Form I-20 passes by and you do not notice, and you continue working at your on-campus job, you will technically be working without an authorization-on top of having overstayed your student status. In fact, any employment becomes unauthorized as soon as you fall out of student status. This compounding of violations can create problems because different violations may have different legal consequences.

 What Happens If You Violate Visa Rules

Unauthorized employment is the worst sort of status violation because it is the only one that you cannot overcome by applying to be returned to student status, through a process called reinstatement.

If USCIS catches you in a status violation, it could place you and your spouse and children in removal proceedings. If you do not have a defense, you could be deported. On top of this, even if you avoid deportation, the judge will likely find that your violation caused some of your time in the US to be “unlawful.” Once your “unlawful presence” has added up to six months or more, the first time you leave the US you could find yourself prevented from reentering for three years. With the unlawful presence of one year, you’d be barred from returning to the US for ten years.