October 3, 2022

Volume XII, Number 276


October 03, 2022

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ICE Oversight of US Universities, Educational Institutions and Vocational Programs through the SEVP

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has many roles. One includes working with universities and other educational institutions to ensure compliance with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Regulations and Policies. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 authorized DHS to collect current information from nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors continually during their course of stay in the United States to preserve national security. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a system for maintaining information on international nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors to the United States. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is the DHS program that administers SEVIS. The Department of State administers the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program that is also tracked through SEVIS.

SEVP provides approval and oversight to schools authorized to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students and gives guidance to both schools and students about the requirements for maintenance of their status. See DHS Study in the States website.

SEVP Certification

An SEVP-certified school is a college, university, seminary, conservatory, high school, private elementary school, private middle school, other academic or vocational institution, or language-training program in the United States that has applied for and received certification to enroll F and/or M nonimmigrant students. Within ICE, SEVP reviews schools that desire to enroll nonimmigrant students to determine denial or approval of certification. Note: Certification does not pertain to J-1 exchange visitor programs, which the Department of State designates to enroll J-1 nonimmigrants as exchange visitors.

Once certified, the school must comply with SEVP policies, as well as recordkeeping and reporting requirements in 8 CFR 214.3.

The following schools are considered academic institutions and may be approved for attendance by F nonimmigrant students:

  • A college or university (i.e., an institution of higher learning which awards recognized bachelor’s, master’s, doctor’s, or professional degrees)

  • A community college or junior college which provides instruction in the liberal arts or in the professions and which awards recognized associate degrees

  • A seminary

  • A conservatory

  • An academic high school

  • A private elementary school (K-8)

  • An institution which provides language training, instruction in the liberal arts or fine arts, instruction in the professions, or instruction or training in more than one of these disciplines

M-1 nonimmigrants, as defined in section 101(a)(15)(M) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, are foreign nationals pursuing a full course of study at an SEVP-approved vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution (other than in language-training programs) in the United States.

The following schools are considered vocational or nonacademic institutions and may be approved for attendance by M nonimmigrant students:

  • A community college or junior college which provides vocational or technical training and which awards recognized associate degrees

  • A vocational high school

  • A school that provides vocational or nonacademic training other than language training

It takes approximately 12-24 months to complete the SEVP certification process.

Once you have been notified via SEVIS that your school is within 180 days of the Certification Expiration Date, your school must submit a completed Recertification Petition Package. Recertification consists of filing for recertification via SEVIS and submitting a complete recertification package – Attestation Statement, Form I-17, and Applicable Evidence – by fax or email. There is no fee for recertification. It is recommended that you review your Form I-17 as soon as possible to determine if any updates or edits are necessary. If updates/edits are necessary, complete the necessary changes in SEVIS immediately, as any changes must be adjudicated prior to filing for Recertification – the update adjudication process can takes months if not years to complete.

Current Issues

Over the last several years, SEVP has increased its oversight of Educational Institutions’ Certifications and Re-certifications. This appears to have been the result of a top-down review of the student visa programs and student work authorization programs.

There have been many Notices of Intent to Deny and delayed Recertifications. SEVP has been particularly focused on:

  • the programs identified for certification and re-certification

  • the use of F-1 vs M-1 category

  • granting of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for work authorization.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, DHS appears to have been over burdened with policy requests and from the Administration without adequate resources to conduct its certifications and re-certifications in a timely manner.

This has led to some uncertainty and apprehension amongst the regulated community.

©2022 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved. National Law Review, Volume X, Number 259

About this Author

Laura Foote Reiff, Greeberg Traurig Law Firm, Washington DC, Northern Virginia, Labor and Employment, Immigration Law Attorney

Laura Foote Reiff Co-Chairs the Business Immigration & Compliance Practice and is the Co-Managing Shareholder of the Northern Virginia Office. She also Co-Chairs the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice’s International Employment, Immigration & Workforce Strategies group. Laura focuses her practice on business immigration laws and regulations affecting U.S. and foreign companies, as well as related employment compliance and legislative issues.

Laura advises corporations on a variety of compliance-related issues, particularly related to...