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All you need to know when attending political protests on a F-1 visa

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First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of expression of one’s beliefs. International students are also protected by this first amendment and are welcome to participate in lawful public protests and demonstrations. Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

If you’re studying in the US, you’re most likely a F-1 visa holder.

If you’re studying in the US, you’ve most likely witnessed the many causes championed by people, students and professors, in your campus and beyond.

Apart from being home to some of the world’s best colleges and unis, the US is also known for their active advocacy groups that support powerful causes ranging from civil rights to public health to political activism. It’s “The Land of the Free,” as they say.

Among the earlier social movements in the 60’s and 70’s included feminism, civil rights movement and gay rights. These significant events still continue to shape American politics and culture today with an increasing number of advocacy groups speaking up against social and political issues.

What’s more, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects demonstration, peaceful protest, and freedom of expression of one’s beliefs. International students are also protected by this first amendment and are welcome to participate in lawful public protests and demonstrations.

For international students under the F-1 visa, there are certain restrictions you have to abide by. If you’re passionate about participating in organised protests, you might be wondering if you can with your visa status. Short answer is yes. But sometimes, law or immigration enforcements might stop you to ask about your immigration status. 

As a rule of thumb, don’t resist. In these situations, you are trying to reduce the risk to yourself. The best thing to do is to comply, even if you think you are being violated.

You have the right to remain silent and not discuss your citizenship or immigration status with the police, immigration agents, or other officials. 

Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself in those situations as a F-1 visa holder: 

f-1 visa holder

F-1 visa holders have the right to participate in peaceful, organised protests. Source: Ronda Churchill/AFP

If you are stopped by law enforcements: 

As mentioned, stay calm and don’t resist or do anything that will obstruct the officer, even if you believe your rights are being violated. Keep your hands where police can see them. Don’t lie about your status or provide false documents.

Some of your rights F-1 visa holder include: 

  • Remaining silent. You are not obligated to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with police, immigration agents, or other officials. Anything you tell an officer can later be used against you in immigration court.
  • If you are not a US citizen and an immigration agent requests your immigration papers, you must show them if you have them with you.
  • You have the right to say no if an immigration agent asks if they can search you. Agents do not have the right to search you or your belongings without your consent or probable cause.
  • If you’re over 18, carry your papers with you at all times. If you don’t have them, tell the officer that you want to remain silent, or that you want to consult a lawyer before answering any questions.

If you’ve been stopped by the police or ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement): 

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Know your rights as a F-1 visa holder if you are ever stopped by the police or ICE. Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Again, whatever happens, remain as calm as possible and do not lie or give false documents. 

Some of your rights as a F-1 visa holder include: 

  • Remaining silent. In some states, you may be required to provide your name if asked to identify yourself. 
  • Refuse a search of yourself or your belongings, but do note that the police may pat down your clothing if you’re suspected of carrying a weapon. 
  • You have the right to a government-appointed lawyer if you’re arrested by the police
  • If you are detained by ICE, you have the right to consult with a lawyer, but the government is not required to provide one for you. You can ask for a list of free or low-cost alternatives. You also do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country.

In the case you are arrested or detained, say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. It is in your right to make a local phone call. 

As for non-citizens, don’t discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer. You may also ask your lawyer about the effect of a criminal conviction or plea on your immigration status.

While you are in jail, an immigration agent may visit you. Do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to a lawyer. Read all papers fully. If you do not understand or cannot read the papers, tell the officer you need an interpreter.

For more details, read here.