This week, Lou Farrell, Director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) in the US explains its oversight role and activities in the international education sector.

SEVP oversees international students studying in the US

“Each year, an increasing number of international students enter the United States. Based on international student data from February 2015, there were 1.13 million international students with an F (academic) or M (vocational) visa enrolled at U.S. schools, an increase of 14.18 percent over the previous year. With that comes the need for oversight to ensure these individuals are legitimate students, enrolled in legitimate schools or vocational programmes.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), housed within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, assumes this responsibility. The program works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who oversee international student admissions at U.S. ports of entry, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers who process international student benefit applications and U.S. Department of State consular officers who issue international student visas. SEVP manages the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an internet-based system and national security tool that includes information about international students and the schools that enroll them. SEVP collects and shares SEVIS information with its government partners so only legitimate international students and exchange visitors gain entry into the United States.

Nearly 9,000 SEVP-certified schools can currently enroll international students. If a school wishes to enroll international students, they must first apply and be granted SEVP certification. The certification process includes filing the Form I-17 ‘Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student’, providing required evidence, receiving a site visit from SEVP and undergoing a comprehensive adjudication process. As part of this process, schools must also designate a school official, known as a DSO, as the point of contact for international students and SEVP. DSOs are responsible for entering information about F and M international students into SEVIS.

SEVP uses SEVIS information entered by DSOs to monitor schools and F and M students’ activity for the duration of their programmes. Each month, Homeland Security Investigations special agents, part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, analyse SEVIS records and refer cases with potential national security or public safety concerns to its field offices for further investigation. Additionally, SEVP’s Analysis and Operations Center reviews both student and school SEVIS records for administrative compliance with federal regulations related to studying in the United States. If a school doesn’t comply with federal regulations, it can lose its SEVP certification and ability to enroll international students.

Recently, SEVP began to modernize SEVIS, making it easier to use and more effective in supporting national security. For instance, SEVP improved system performance during peak times and made several enhancements for the U.S. Department of State and their monitoring needs. SEVP also released major changes including standardised information requirements for schools and students to enhance searches within the system, better alert lists, advanced reporting functionally for law enforcement analysis, and the validation of international students’ U.S. addresses.

In addition to making SEVIS enhancements, SEVP continually grows its outreach programme for international students and schools so they have the latest information about the programme and the international student process. Stakeholders from a variety of schools, including English as a Second Language (ESL) programmes, can participate in free webinars, attend conference presentations and engage with SEVP via social media.  For example, SEVP presentations provide updates on items affecting the intensive English program (IEP) community, such as providing guidance on the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act (Accreditation Act) and general programme updates. SEVP’s goal is to alleviate confusion and hear from our stakeholders on how the interpretation and enforcement of government rules and regulations affects their industry.

SEVP also manages the Study in the States website – a Department of Homeland Security resource for international students and school officials, offering government news, videos, archived webinars and current information regarding school and student compliance with immigration rules.”

If a stakeholder has a specific question about studying in the United States, they can contact SEVP through its Response Center by calling (001) 703-603-3400 (Mon-to-Fri from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m). Learn more about SEVP.

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