U.S. Immigration laws and regulations allow non-immigrant students to study in schools and institutions in U.S. Individuals can enter the U.S. on valid F or M visa and have to attend the school/institute certified by Student and Exchange Visitor Program in consonance with prescribed immigration rules and regulations.
Only the schools certified by Student and Exchange Visitor Program can enrol non-immigrant students. Thus, it is imperative that the public schools (grades 9 to 12), private schools (grades kindergarten-12), university, college, or vocational schools is a participant in SEVP. The school certification process in U.S is delegated by Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE). USICE has further delegated this authority to Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Thus, the certification by Student and Exchange Visitor Program is required for schools/institutions to be authorised to issue form I 20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) to admit foreign national students. Form I20 is the basis for foreign national students to apply for students visa.
Based on SEVP certification, the schools/institutions can enrol students on F visa (academic studies) or M visa (for vocational studies) or both. Student and Exchange Visitor Program has regulations in place dealing with the matter of certification to schools/institutions for enrolling foreign national students. Such regulations are called ‘SEVP’s governing regulations for students and schools’. S.214.3 talks about ‘Approval of Schools for enrolment of F and M non-immigrants’. Section 214.3 stipulates the school/institutes that are qualified to be approved for F visa, M visa and both. The section also classifies the schools/institutes that cannot be approved for admission of foreign students. First, the school system has to file a petition to the SEVP with proper names and locations of the school/institute by using the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). To be eligible to file a petition, the school must be a bona fide and recognised place of study, must possess necessary finance, personnel and facilities and should be engaged in instruction in the courses. Along with the petition, applicant also has to submit form I-17 along with supporting documents as required under the section. Form I- 17 is basically certifies that the designated school official has properly understood DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and intends to comply with all laws and regulations.
Once the application is submitted, there will be a thorough adjudication process. The adjudication process includes a review of the application, site visit inspection, research, review of supporting documentation, and adjudication of the entire submitted package. If the school or institution meets with all the requirements and regulations sufficiently then a certificate will be granted. If the petition is denied then the applicant will be informed of the reasons for denial and appeal rights. Apart from filing a petition, the applicant must follow stipulations laid down in s. 214.3 regarding recordkeeping, reporting, notice,recertification etc.
If the school is approved for enrollment of foreign students, further enrolment process runs as follows:
1. Prospective student applies and receives an offer of admission from SEVP approved school.
2. Then the student will need to pay SEVIS fees in order to be registered on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
3. Then the school will issue form I20 – Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status. Form I20 is very important and will be the basis of further visa proceeding.
4. The student will then fill up visa application and pay prescribed visa fees. The visa application form is known as DS 160 form.
5. Then the student will have to appear before visa consulate for biometrics and personal interview.
6. If the student successfully clears the interview round, he/she will be issued student visa for appropriate duration.
Form I20 and valid visa will allow the non-immigrant students to pursue their course of study in certified U.S. schools/institutes.