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Immigration Law Blog

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

How to Get Your School “I-20 Certified"

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification enables schools to enroll foreign students and issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Student Status (Form I-20), declaring the prospective student is eligible for the F-1 student visa. Once certified, the school is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enroll nonimmigrant students.

How to Get Your School “I-20 Certified”

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification enables schools to enroll foreign students and issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Student Status (Form I-20), declaring the prospective student is eligible for the F-1 student visa. Once certified, the school is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enroll nonimmigrant students.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the following schools are considered to be academic institutions and may be approved to enroll 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; and
  • 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.

To apply for SEVP certification, a school must submit Form I-17,Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student. Certain eligibility requirements must also be met prior to filing the Petition. To qualify for certification, a school must prove that it:

  • Is a bona fide school;
  • Is an established institution of learning or other recognized place of study;
  • Possesses the necessary facilities, personnel and finances to conduct instruction in recognized courses; and
  • Is, in fact, engaged in instruction in those courses, prior to the time the Petition is filed.

Additionally, institutions applying for “M” certification (vocational or technical) and English language school programs must meet for a minimum of 18 hours per week if the program is primarily classroom instruction, or 22 hours per week of the program is primarily lab work.

Some educational programs are not eligible to apply for SEVP certification, including:

  • Home schools;
  • Pre-school or day care institutions;
  • Public elementary and junior high schools (grades K-8);
  • Online or distance education programs;
  • Adult education programs, if the program receives funding under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, or any other federal, state, county or municipal funding; and
  • Flight schools that are not Part 141 or Part 142 certified by the Federal Aviation Administration

The certification process includes many steps which must be followed with precision. The process typically takes at least 16 weeks, often longer. Petitions are processed on a “first-come, first-served” basis. Errors or incomplete information can significantly increase the amount of time it takes to complete the process. Legal counsel should be involved early in the process, to ensure a thorough understanding of, and compliance with, all regulations governing the qualification and application to become an “I-20 school.”

In processing a Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student, the SEVP’s School Certification Branch will:

  • Review the Petition in detail;
  • Conduct a site visit inspection;
  • Perform necessary research;
  • Review supporting documentation; and
  • Make a ruling on the entire submitted package.

Once your school has been SEVP certified, the school can access the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and issue Forms I-20 to prospective students.
 


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