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Initial Form I-17 Petition Frequently Asked Questions

All schools in the United States that enroll nonimmigrant students must be certified by SEVP. Schools petition for certification using the Form I-17, "Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student," in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. The certification process requires very detailed information so SEVP has launched the Form I-17 video tutorial on Study in the States to help school officials through the process. Watch now to learn more about the form and how to add school officials and instructional sites for the first time to your petition.


Background: SEVIS and SEVP

What is SEVIS?

SEVIS is a web-based system for maintaining information on international nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors to the United States. It is the core technology for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in this critical mission. SEVIS implements Section 641 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, which requires DHS to collect current information from nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors continually during their course of stay in the United States. In addition, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act; Public Law 107-56, amended Section 641) mandated implementation of SEVIS prior to January 1, 2003.

What is SEVP?

SEVP is the DHS program that administers SEVIS. It ensures that government agencies have essential data related to nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors to preserve national security. 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.

What is the purpose of SEVIS?

SEVIS tracks and monitors nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors. If accepted by a school certified by SEVP, foreign students may be admitted to the United States in the appropriate F or M nonimmigrant status. If accepted for participation in a Department of State (DOS) verified exchange visitor program, exchange visitors may be admitted to the United States (U.S.) in J nonimmigrant status. Records of these alien admissions and continued participation in these educational programs are maintained in SEVIS. Further, SEVIS enables SEVP to assure proper reporting and recordkeeping by schools and exchange visitor programs, thereby ensuring data currency and integrity. SEVIS also provides a mechanism for student and exchange visitor status violators to be identified so that appropriate enforcement is taken (i.e., denial of admission, denial of benefits, or removal from the United States).

Who are F and M nonimmigrant students?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (Act) provides for the admission of different classes of nonimmigrants who are foreign nationals seeking temporary admission to the United States. The purpose of the nonimmigrant’s intended stay in the United States determines his or her proper nonimmigrant classification. Some classifications permit the nonimmigrant’s spouse and qualifying children to accompany the nonimmigrant to the United States or to join the nonimmigrant here. To qualify, a child must be unmarried and under the age of 21.

F-1 nonimmigrants, as defined in section 101(a)(15)(F) of the Act, are foreign students coming to the United States to pursue a full course of academic study in SEVP-approved schools. An F-2 nonimmigrant is a foreign national who is the spouse or qualifying child of an F-1 student.

M-1 nonimmigrants, as defined in section 101(a)(15)(M) of the 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. An M-2 nonimmigrant is a foreign national who is the spouse or qualifying child of an M-1 student.

SEVP certification basics

What is an SEVP-certified school?

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.

What is SEVP certification?

Certification is the process schools go through to receive authorization from DHS to enroll F and/or M nonimmigrants. Within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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.

What does it mean to a school to have SEVP certification?

Once certified, the school has access to SEVIS and may issue Forms I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Student Status, to prospective students. To maintain certification, the school must comply with SEVP policies, as well as recordkeeping and reporting requirements stipulated in 8 CFR 214.3

Do all public high schools that want to enroll F or M nonimmigrant students need to receive SEVP certification?

A public high school can enroll nonimmigrant students who are on F or M visas, as well as exchange students who are on J visas.

In order to enroll nonimmigrant F or M students, the school is required to be SEVP-certified, as the enrollment of F or M students requires the school to be able to issue Forms I-20.

To enroll exchange visitors, or J students, the school would need to receive approval through a third party (i.e., Rotary) that is validated by the Department of State as an exchange visitor program.

What regulations govern SEVP certification?

8 CFR 214.3 governs the certification process. Regulations are available at e-CFR.

What schools are eligible for SEVP certification to enroll F nonimmigrants?

The following schools are considered to be academic institutions and may be approved for attendance by nonimmigrant students under section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) of the Act:

  • 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

What schools are eligible for SEVP certification to enroll M nonimmigrants?

The following schools are considered to be vocational or nonacademic institutions and may be approved for attendance by nonimmigrant students under section 101(a)(15)(M)(i) of the Act:

  • 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

What schools are eligible for SEVP certification to enroll both F and M nonimmigrants?

A school may be approved for attendance by nonimmigrant students if it has both instruction in the liberal arts, fine arts, language, religion, or the professions and vocational or technical training. In that case, a student whose primary intent is to pursue studies in liberal arts, fine arts, language, religion, or the professions at the school is classified as a nonimmigrant under section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) of the Act. A student whose primary intent is to pursue vocational or technical training at the school is classified as a nonimmigrant under section 101(a)(15)(M)(i) of the Act.

What schools are ineligible for SEVP certification?

The following may not be approved for attendance by foreign students:

  • Home schools
  • Pre-schools and/or day care institutions
  • Public elementary or middle schools (grades K-8)
  • Schools whose programs are primarily distance education or online (i.e. internet based)
  • Adult education programs, if the adult education program is funded in whole or in part by a  grant under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, or by any other federal, state, county or municipal funding
  • Flight schools that are not Part 141 or Part 142 certified by the Federal Aviation Administration

What are the criteria for SEVP certification?

To be eligible for approval, the petitioning school must establish that it:

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

Schools must be engaged in instruction (i.e., operational) when they file their petition, not at some point before final adjudication.

For Institutions applying for M (vocational or technical) certification, only programs that meet for a minimum of 18 hours weekly if the program is primarily classroom instruction, or 22 hours weekly if the program is primarily lab work are eligible for approval.

For English language school programs applying for certification, only programs that meet for a minimum of 18 hours weekly, if the program is primarily classroom instruction, or 22 hours weekly if the program is primarily lab work are eligible for approval.

If my school had previous approval from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to enroll nonimmigrant students, do we still have to get SEVP certification?

Yes. All schools, whether or not they had approval prior to January 1, 2003 are required to receive SEVP certification if they want to enroll nonimmigrant F or M students.

Overview of the SEVP certification process

How do I apply for SEVP certification?

Schools must electronically petition online for certification in SEVIS, the database which compiles the data for the Form I-17, and must submit a nonrefundable certification fee of $1700 for the filing of the petition and $655 for the site visit through www.pay.gov.

How do I get access to SEVIS?

For initial SEVP certification, the petitioning school must access SEVIS online (https://egov.ice.gov/sevis/; select "Register for New Account") and provide the following information: the school's name; the first, middle, and last name of the contact person for the school; and the email address of the contact person. Once this basic information has been submitted, the school will be issued a temporary ID and password in order to access the SEVIS site to complete and submit an electronic Form I–17. For more detail on user name and password issuance, see http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/tempid.pdf.

Can I share my password with other persons at my school or our attorney?

No. SEVIS is for the use of authorized users only. Individuals using the computer system without authority, or in excess of their authority, are subject to having all of their activities on this system monitored and recorded by system personnel. In the course of monitoring individuals improperly using this system, or in the course of system maintenance, the activities of authorized users may also be monitored. Anyone using this system expressly consents to such monitoring and is advised that if such monitoring reveals possible evidence of criminal activity, system personnel may provide the evidence of such monitoring to law enforcement officials. DHS has designated the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to be a Privacy Act system of records and SEVIS information will be used and disclosed in accordance with 5 U.S.C. §552a, Privacy Act of 1974, as amended.

How much does it cost to apply for SEVP certification?

The basic fee to apply for SEVP certification is $1700, to cover cost of review of the petition, and $655 to conduct the mandatory site visit. In addition, the $655 cost of the site visit must be paid for each school or instructional site listed on the Form I-17B.

Are there any exceptions to this fee requirement?

Yes. SEVP excluded public school districts from paying the additional instructional site fee, though they are required to list the each high school at which they are petitioning to enroll nonimmigrant students on the Form I-17B.

If we withdraw our initial Form I-17 petition and refile a new one, does regulation require the school to pay the fees again?

Yes. A school must pay the fees again when a school official, on behalf of the school, withdraws the Form I-17 petition from SEVP and re-files a new petition.

If a school official makes material modifications to a Form I-17 petition during the adjudication or appeals process (unless SEVP explicitly requests it), officials must withdraw the petition and refile it with the corrected information. In such a case, the school must again pay the $1700 SEVP certification fee and $655 site visit fee.

How can I pay the fee for SEVP certification?

Petitioner should submit complete payment by the date listed on the request for evidence (RFE). SEVP will send the RFE within one week of receiving the form I-17 petition in SEVIS. SEVP will send the receipt via email. Petitioners must make all payments online at https://www.pay.gov/paygov/forms/formInstance.html?agencyFormId=445138.

How must I verify payment of my fee with SEVP?

SEVP requires officials at the school to submit the payment tracking ID issued by pay.gov. SEVP will request this information from school officials in an RFE. Failing to provide this information may result in SEVP canceling the petition.

Can I get a refund of my filing fee?

No. As pay.gov indicates there is no refund for filing fees. Please read all referenced information prior to applying.

Can I get a refund of my site visit fee?

SEVP may issue a refund only if the site visit has not yet occurred at the location.

How long will it take my school to receive SEVP certification?

It takes approximately 9-12 months to complete the SEVP certification petition. Filing 9-12 months prior to the desired certification does not ensure adjudication by that date or approval of the petition.

Can I have an approximate date as to when I can expect my petition to be adjudicated?

No. We cannot give an approximate date of adjudication.

Can my petition be expedited?

SEVP does not expedite initial petitions as we process on a first-in, first-out basis.

How are initial petitions processed?

The entire process is based on a first in, first out system, meaning that each time your petition is placed in a queue it will have to work its way to the beginning of the queue before it is assigned to a case analyst or adjudicator for review. This means that the length of time it takes to process your petition is partially dependant on the number of petitions in queue at that time. Your petition is then assigned to the site visit contractor, in which they are allotted 20 working days to conduct the site visit and provide us the site visit package. After your site visit has occurred, your file will be placed in a queue to await review by a case analyst. After we assign your petition to a case analyst and they have reviewed your petition, you will be sent a Request for Evidence (RFE) which you are responsible for responding to by the due date given. The case analyst will review any submitted evidence. Your file will then be placed in the queue for Adjudication (once again, we operate on a first in, first out system). An Adjudicator will then review your petition and may send an RFE as well. Once your petition is adjudicated, you will be notified of the decision via an email from SEVIS as to whether your petition was approved or denied.

How long should I wait after my site visit to contact SEVP regarding the status of my initial petition?

Please wait at least 90 days after your site visit to contact SEVP about the status of your initial Petition. We operate on a first in, first out system, and therefore it may take some time before your petition is reviewed by a case analyst.

How can I find out the status of my initial petition?

If it has been more than 90 days from the time your school had its site visit, you can send an email to initial.sevis@dhs.gov inquiring about your status. You must include the name of your school as it appears on the Form I-17 in the subject line. Please note that SEVP can only speak to the PDSO, DSOs or attorney (if your school submitted a Form G-28) about a petition.

How will the SEVP School Certification Branch (SCB) contact me if they have questions about my petition?

Email is the primary means of communication. It is likely that you will receive emails from both SEVIS and anyone working on your petition at SEVP. Please ensure that email messages you receive from addresses ending in ".gov" are not treated as spam or junk mail and that your email address is entered correctly in SEVIS.

What does it mean that SEVP has told me my petition is in RFE status?

RFE is a request for evidence. The SEVP office will need to request information and evidence from a school. This process is known as an RFE, and is sent via email by either SEVIS or the SEVP office. An RFE is sent to the PDSO and DSOs; therefore, it is very important that all email addresses are accurately maintained in SEVIS and that you ensure that email messages you receive from addresses ending in ".gov" are not treated as spam or junk mail. SEVP may deny the school's petition for lack of prosecution or for abandonment if it receives no response after the due date of the RFE.

Can I have an extension on the due date for my RFE?

No. SEVP does not grant extensions to due dates for RFEs.

How can I respond to a Request for Evidence (RFE)?

All information must be submitted at one time. Scan the documents and send them as attachments to initial.sevis@dhs.gov. Please remember to include the name of your school as it appears on the Form I-17 as part of the subject line.

How will we be notified of the decision on our SEVP certification petition?

When a decision has been made, all individuals with a temporary user ID and password to SEVIS (those listed on the petition with the roles of PDSO and DSO) will be notified via email (through SEVIS) if the school was approved or denied. Please do not respond to this email, as this account is not monitored.

If my petition for SEVP certification is denied, can I appeal the decision?

Yes. If your petition for initial SEVP certification is denied, you will be notified of the reasons for the decision and of your right to appeal the decision. This notice will include instructions on how to file your appeal or motion. The exception to this is for abandoned petitions (lack of prosecution).

If I have questions regarding my appeal or motion who should I contact?

Any questions about filing an appeal or motion, or about the status of an appeal or motion, must be directed to sevp.appeals@dhs.gov. The School Certification Branch is not able to answer questions regarding either the filing of an appeal or motion or the status of an appeal or motion.

My school was previously denied authority to enroll nonimmigrant students, or had that authority withdrawn? Are there any special requirements with our new SEVP certification application?

You should have a copy of the official notification that you received from immigration (i.e., either DHS or its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service) giving the reasons for the denial or previous withdrawal. If official notification is not available, please provide any correspondence you may have had with SEVP and a detailed explanation.

Can we begin enrolling nonimmigrant students while our petition for SEVP certification is pending?

No. A school may not issue Forms I-20 until SEVP completes the initial petitioning process and the school has been notified by SEVP that it is certified to issue Forms I-20.

Where else can I go, who else can I contact, to receive certification to issue Forms I-20?

SEVP is the only government entity that can certify a school for the issuance of Forms I-20.

If I have questions, comments or concerns about my petition, whom should I contact?

If you have any questions, concerns, or wish to recognize an individual from the SEVP office, send an email to initial.sevis@dhs.gov or schoolcert.sevis@dhs.gov. You must include the name of your school as it appears on the Form I-17 in the email. Please note, SEVP can only discuss the petition with those persons listed as PDSO and DSOs. SEVP can also discuss the petition with the school's attorney provided the school has submitted a Form G-28.

I cannot log into my SEVIS account, whom should I contact?

For any technical issues regarding login or the use of SEVIS please contact the SEVIS Help Desk at (800) 892-4829.

Preparing the petition for SEVP certification

Are there instructions on using SEVIS and how to apply for SEVP certification?

The primary means for SEVP to communicate with all SEVIS users is through the SEVP website. It will be to your advantage to become familiar with this site as soon as possible and visit it frequently to receive the latest program and system updates.

Specific guidance on using SEVIS and completing your SEVP certification application will be found in the “User Manual for Temporary Users of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) (How to Complete and Submit the Form I-17, Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Students)

SEVP's School Certification Branch (SCB) gives the following supplemental guidance to accompany the description of entries for each field on the petition in SEVIS. (Note: the field numbers on the electronic version—as entered in SEVIS—do not correspond with the numbering that appears on the printed I-17):

  • Field 1—Academic or vocational certification. In general, the following types of institutions should seek certification for F (academic and language) students:
    • K-12 institutions
    • Language schools
    • Degree issuing institutions of higher learning
    • Ministry or religious training to conduct religious services
    • Fine Arts (dance, music, theatre, photography)

    • The following types of institutions should seek certification for M (vocational/ technical) students:
      • Post secondary vocational schools, which do not issue associates, bachelors, masters or doctorate degrees
      • Technical training institutions
      • Colleges or community colleges which offer non-degree programs (certificate programs, associate's-level)
        Institutions may seek either F or M certification, or certification to enroll both, depending on the types of programs for which the school is seeking approval.
  • Field 2—Name of school system. Institutions should file under the individual school name, unless they are filing as a school district or system. In this case, file under the school systems name and list each school as a separate instructional site on Form I-17B. Public school districts (or private K-12 systems with record keeping centralized at a main office or school) should list the district office as their main location. For example, an archdiocese could file the petition under the name of the archdiocese and list the central office as its main location. SEVP will conduct the site visit at the main location and, if approved, they may issue Forms I-20 for the main location or all of the locations listed on the Form I-17B.
  • Field 3—Mailing address. This address is where SEVP will send any mailed correspondence. This may be a P.O. Box. If the school or school system is applying with multiple locations, enter the mailing address of the main location.
  • Field 4—Location address. The primary physical location or in the case of school districts or systems, the main instructional site for the school should be listed here.
  • Field 5—School type. Public institutions are defined as those funded through state, local, or federal funds. If the institution is filing as private, SEVP requires the owner to be listed on the Form I-17. If the owner is an individual, list his or her name in this field. If a board of directors or trustees runs the institution, the school may list the board as the owner, and does not have to list the name of the president (as this can change with some frequency and would require the school to update their Form I-17 with each new president). If the institution is incorporated, list the corporation name and the governing body.
  • Field 6—Education engaged in. You may select multiple types of education in this field. Only select the types for which the school is seeking certification to enroll nonimmigrant students. If the school is seeking certification for a full-time English language training program separate from other curricula, indicate that the school is engaged in English language training. If English language training is just an adjunct or it will be taken in conjunction with another program of study, do not indicate English language training. Do not include reference to any programs below the kindergarten level, as these are not approvable for enrollment of nonimmigrant students.
    For private schools engaged in any combination of grades K-12, in addition to checking the boxes for private elementary and/or private middle and/or private high school, you should also check the box for “other”, and write in which grades you are petitioning to enroll nonimmigrant students in (example: grades K-7).
  • Field 7—Sessions. Indicate in this field the type of sessions under which the school operates. You may select “Other” for annual and/or continuous enrollment. If you list “quarters” in Field 7, you should list four dates in Field 8.
  • Field 8—Registration. Session start dates should match the type of session offered. For example, if the school checked quarters, you must list all four session start dates. Indicate the month and day in this field.
  • Field 9—Date of establishment. To file a petition, the institution must currently conduct instruction in the course of study for which they are seeking approval.
  • Field 10—Authorizations. Include all approvals, registrations, recognitions, or licensures obtained by the state's education agency(ies) in the state which the school's instructional site is located. (If instructional sites are located in multiple states, approvals from each state should be listed.) Do not abbreviate. If your school is exempt from registration, recognition, or licensure with the state write “exempt from XXX” and list the name of the body from which the school has obtained exemption. If your school has not obtained exemption from a specific agency then enter “none”. 
  • Field 11—Accreditations. Include any type of accreditation or approval held from a regional or nationally recognized accrediting body (i.e., recognized by the U.S. Department of Education). If your school's status with a nationally recognized accrediting agency is provisional or candidate this should also be indicated.
  • Field 12—Areas of study. Check only those fields in which the school is seeking approval to enroll nonimmigrant students.
  • Field 13—Degrees available. Indicate all the degrees, diplomas, and/or certificates that the school wishes to have certified for nonimmigrant student enrollment.
  • Field 14—Education engaged in. Leave all drop-down boxes BLANK except those that apply to the type of school AND programs in which the school is seeking SEVP certification. Indicate English language training only if the school intends to issue Forms I-20 specifically for standalone English language training programs.
  • Field 15—Sessions. Indicate when your institution will hold sessions for nonimmigrant students.
  • Field 16—Admission requirements. Include all admission requirements for nonimmigrant students. For public high schools, payment of the full, unsubsidized per-capita cost of education before issuing the Form I-20 must be included as an admission requirement.
  • Field 17—Courses of study. List each program in which you intend to enroll nonimmigrant students and the approximate duration of each program in days, weeks, months, or years (if your school has morning and evening options for programs, and your school is petitioning to be able to enroll students in both, this should be indicated). For non-degree related programs or English language programs, you must list the hours per week of instruction, and total hours to complete the program. Public high schools must acknowledge in this field that they understand that F students may only attend one academic year in a public high school.
  • Field 18—Graduation requirements. This field should include graduation requirements. If the school is applying for multiple programs, SEVP required a catalog or statement to list the requirements for each program. It is not sufficient to indicate a website or “see catalog” .
  • Field 19—Causes for expulsion. Indicate the expulsion requirements that apply to nonimmigrant students. It is not sufficient to indicate a website or “see catalog”.
  • Field 20—Institution information. Provide approximate annual figures in this field.
  • Field 21—Cost. This figure should be the current year's cost. For public high schools, this value should be the full, unsubsidized, per capita cost of education. This should include all sources of school funding (local, state, and federal).

Can all schools (or instructional sites) in a system be filed on the same petition?

Yes. Public high schools applying as a school district MUST list all of the high schools at which they are petitioning to enroll nonimmigrant student on the petition.

Private schools applying as a school system MUST list all the schools in the school system at which they are petitioning to enroll nonimmigrant students.

Can schools that are engaged in elementary and/or secondary education be listed on the same petition with post-secondary schools?

No. Schools that are engaged in and seeking certification for elementary and/or secondary education and post-secondary education must submit two separate petitions.

Should the Form I-17 information on students reflect all students or just nonimmigrant students?

Why do public high schools need to charge F nonimmigrant students the unsubsidized per capita cost of education?

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 made significant changes to F-1 nonimmigrant student regulations. Among these, F-1 nonimmigrant students are restricted to a maximum of one year of attendance in a public school, may only attend in grades 9-12, and must pay the unsubsidized per capita cost of education.

Which accrediting bodies are considered nationally recognized accrediting bodies?

A list of the accrediting bodies for higher education and M vocational schools, which are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education is available at http://www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html.

What qualifies as language training on the Form I-17 petition?

This term relates to any program designed solely to instruct a student in English as a Second Language (ESL). If the school intends to issue Forms I-20 for standalone English language training programs, this information should be listed on your petition. If the school does not intend to specifically issue Forms I-20 for English language training, then this information does not need to be reported. Public high schools and private K-12 schools do not need to list ESL instruction, unless it is a stand-alone program.

Should a student enrolling in ESL before entering a vocational school be admitted in F or M status?

A student whose primary intent is to pursue vocational or technical training and who takes English language training at the same school solely for the purpose of being able to understand the vocational or technical course of study is classified as a nonimmigrant in M status.

What is a DSO or PDSO?

A Designated School Official (DSO) or Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) must be a regularly employed member of the school administration whose office is located at the school and whose compensation does not come from commissions for recruitment of foreign students. (If an individual's principal employment for the school is to recruit foreign students for compensation, he or she does not qualify to be a DSO. The president, owner, or head of a school or school system must name the PDSO and any other DSO, by signing the Form I-17A. The PDSO and DSO may not delegate this designation to any other person.

How can I determine if I am up to the task of being a PDSO or DSO?

SEVP offers a DSO Web-based training course that will familiarize you with the expectations and duties of a P/DSO.

What is the difference between a DSO and a PDSO?

The PDSO is also a DSO, and has all the same responsibilities as a DSO. Additionally, the PDSO is responsible for access privileges in SEVIS beyond those of someone who is solely a DSO.

What are the requirements for appointing a PDSO and DSO?

  • All DSOs must be either citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States.
  • Each instructional site must have one PDSO. The PDSO is responsible for updating SEVIS to reflect the addition or deletion of all DSOs on his or her associated instructional site. DHS will also use the PDSO as the point of contact on any issues that relate to the school's compliance with the regulations as well as any system alerts generated by SEVIS. In all other respects the PDSO and DSO share the same responsibilities.
  • Each instructional site must have a DSO located on-site.
  • Each school may have up to 10 DSOs at any one time, including the PDSO. However, in a multi-instructional site school, each instructional site may have up to 10 DSOs at any one time including a required PDSO.

What information about DSOs must be entered on the application for SEVP certification?

The application for school approval must include the names (the full name, including suffixes, no nicknames) titles (this should be the title of the individual at the petitioning school, please do not list PDSO or DSO as the individual's title), and sample signatures of each DSO on the Form I-17A (the Form I-17A page 1 requires the signatures of each DSO between the title and telephone number).

What documents must DSOs (as listed on the Form I-17 application) have to prove U.S. citizenship or Lawful Permanent Resident status?

DSOs must provide a copy of one of the following:

  1. Copy of US passport (current or expired);
  2. Copy of U.S. civil-issued birth certificate;
  3. Copy of alien registration card; or
  4. Copy of naturalization/citizenship certificate.

If any of the submitted documents contains a name other than those listed on the Record of Designated School Officials (I-17A), a copy of civil issued evidence, such as a copy of the court order granting the name change, or civil issued marriage license is required.

Driver's licenses or social security cards are NOT sufficient and will not be accepted as proof of citizenship or Legal Permanent Resident status.

Who approves nominations for DSO?

In the overwhelming number of cases, SEVP accepts the nomination of the appropriate school official. However, at its discretion, SEVP may reject the submission of any individual as a DSO or withdraw a previously accepted DSO.

What does it mean when someone who has been appointed a DSO signs a Form I-17A, Record of Designated School Officials?

Signing the Form I-17A is a certification by the individual being appointed that he or she is familiar with SEVP regulations relating to the requirements for admission and maintenance of status of nonimmigrant students, change of nonimmigrant status under part 248 of 8 CFR, and school approval under 8 CFR §§214.3 and 214.4. Further, it affirms the official's intent to comply with these regulations. At the time a new DSO is added, the DSO must make the same certification.

Are there any special instructions for signing the Form I-17?

The owner, president, or head of the school must sign Form I-17 page 3 and Form I-17A page 2. For public high schools, the signature must be that of the superintendent. The Form I-17A requires signatures of the individuals listed as the Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) and all individuals listed as Designated School Officials (DSOs). If the same person is a DSO for multiple instructional sites, each Form I-17A for each instructional site to which that DSO is assigned must have that individual's signature. Do not type or write any changes on this form. All changes must be completed electronically through SEVIS (should edits become necessary during the initial certification process send a detailed email to initial.sevis@dhs.gov with your school's name as it appears on the Form I-17 as the subject line).

What should we do if information on our school's initial Form I-17 petition changes during the initial petition process?

School officials should always report changes to information on the Form I-17 petition, regardless of when the changes occur. During the initial petition process a school official should send a detailed email explaining the change to initial.sevis@dhs.gov . The full name of the school as it appears on the Form I-17 must be included in the email.

What is a material change to a Form I-17 petition?

A material change to a Form I-17 petition involves any change in information pertaining to any of the following categories listed in 8 CFR 214.3(h)(3)(i):
(A) Approval for attendance of students (F/M/both);
(B) Name of school system; name of main instructional site;
(C) Mailing address of the school;
(D) Location of the school;
(E) School type;
(F) Public/private school indicator;
(G) Private school owner name;
(H) The school is engaged in;
(I) The school operates under the following Federal, State, Local or other authorization;
(J) The school has been approved by the following national, regional, or state accrediting association or agency;
(K) Areas of study;
(L) Degrees available from the school;
(M) If the school is engaged in elementary or secondary education;
(N) If the school is engaged in higher education;
(O) If the school is engaged in vocational or technical education;
(P) If the school is engaged in English language training;
(Q) Adding or deleting instructional sitees;
(R) Instructional site name;
(S) Instructional site mailing address; and
(T) Instructional site location address.

Do particular changes to our Form I-17 petition require withdrawing and refiling it with the corrected information?

Yes. Unless SEVP explicitly requests the changes, material changes made to a Form I-17 petition (see "What is a material change to a Form I-17 petition? " ) after its initial submission require that the school withdraw the original petition and refile. SEVP strongly advises school officials to check the Form I-17 petition before submitting it to make sure all information accurately reflects the school's situation at the time of filing.

Do we have to pay the $1700 certification fee and the $655 site visit fee (per instructional site) if we have to withdraw our Form I-17 petition and refile it due to material changes made to the petition after its initial submission?

Yes, a school which withdraws its Form I-17 to accommodate material changes must once again pay the $1700 certification fee and $655 site visit fee (per instructional site).

What actions may SEVP take against a school whose officials do not report material changes during the initial petitioning process?

When SEVP determines that a school has not reported material changes made after the submission of its initial Form I-17 petition, the school's Form I-17 petition will be denied.

Site visit for SEVP certification

When will I have my site visit?

After fee payment is recorded by SCB (see 3.6), an inspector will contact the PDSO to arrange for the site visit. The inspector has some flexibility in scheduling. Typically, it takes about 30 days to be scheduled for a site visit.

Can I get a refund of my site visit fee?

A refund can be provided only if the site visit has not yet occurred at the location.

How long will the site visit take?

After the site visit has been assigned to the site visit contractor, they have 20 working days to schedule the site visit and return the documentation to SEVP. The inspector will spend 2-3 hours touring the facility, interviewing DSOs, and reviewing student files. The time spent during the site visit is directly related to the size of the school’s facility (i.e., smaller institutions will take less time, larger institutions will take more time).

Will we receive a copy of the site visit report?

No. Please refrain from asking the site inspector about the process and how long it will take. They are not privy to our internal processes.

How can I verify that the individual examining my school is a DHS representative?

The individual will arrive on instructional site with an official DHS letter of introduction and form of identification.

What can I expect to happen during the site visit?

The inspector will tour instructional site facilities to observe different areas of the school, interview at least the PDSO, and observe the location of student records and PDSO offices.

Will SEVP charge an additional fee if the Primary Designated School Official (PDSO) is not available for the site visit?

Yes, if the site inspector has an approved time to visit the location and the PDSO is not available, SEVP may charge the school can be charged for an additional site visit.

What will the inspector be looking for on the instructional site tour?

The inspector will tour the facility and observe different areas of the school. This includes observing a live lecture/class; housing arrangements; food facilities; library; administration offices, and the area where student files are stored.

What is the purpose of the interviews?

The inspector will interview the PDSO and ask about processes pertaining to the regulations governing F and M students (as applicable) and their dependents. The inspector, at a minimum, will ask about the school’s processes and knowledge relating to the eligibility of students to attend, process to transfer students in or out, monitoring student status, student reinstatements, employment or practical training authorization, and other processes and regulations of the program. The PDSO must present a broad knowledge of the regulations.

Evidence for Certification

What evidence do I need to provide SEVP for certification? What do I need to do to meet evidence requirements?

Once your petition has been assigned to a case analyst you will receive an RFE, which will list, in detail, all of the evidence your school is required to submit.

See the applicable section immediately below for your basic evidence requirements.

What documents do I need to submit in my SEVP certification petition package—accredited school?

If the Department of Education recognizes your accreditation, you must submit the following documents:

What documents do I need to submit in my SEVP certification petition package—accredited school?
Type of SchoolDocumentation Required – Recognized Accreditation
Private/ Public College or University (F schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, or head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures as well as owner, president, or head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of accreditation certification
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption
  • School catalog (information should outline grading policy, admission requirements, expulsion requirements, attendance policy, course requirements
Post-Secondary Schools (M schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of accreditation certification
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption
  • School catalog (information should outline grading policy, admission requirements, expulsion requirements, attendance policy, course requirements)
  • List of all programs of study, hours/week of instruction, hours/week of lab instruction, total hours per week, total hours to complete the program
Intensive English Programs (F schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of accreditation certification
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption, or proof they fall under the standards of the Department of Education in that state
  • School catalog, brochures (information should outline grading policy, admission requirements, expulsion requirements, attendance policy)List of all programs of study, hours/week of instruction, hours/week of lab instruction, total hours per week, total hours to complete the program
Public High Schools/ Charter (F schools - In some cases, HS may apply for M)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Provide evidence school is public high school and/or charter school
  • List of all high schools within district/charter
Diocesan Schools (F schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of accreditation certification
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption, or proof they fall under the standards of the Department of Education in that state
  • List of all schools within the diocese that will enroll nonimmigrant students

Please note: Schools recognized by a state-approving agency as appropriate for study for veterans, can submit a statement of such recognition in lieu of state licensure/registration.

What documents do I need to submit in my SEVP certification application package—non-accredited school?

If your school is not accredited or is accredited by an agency that is not recognized by the Department of Education, you must submit the following documents:

What documents do I need to submit in my SEVP certification application package—non-accredited school?
Type of SchoolDocumentation Required: Non-Accredited or Accreditation not Recognized by the U.S. Department of Education
Private/ Public College or University (F schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption
  • Letters from 3 accredited institutions that attest they have and will accept students/credits from the petitioning school. The letters must be on the receiving institutions letterhead, signed, and contain the student name, dates of enrollment, and program of study
  • School catalog (information should outline grading policy, admission requirements, expulsion requirements, attendance policy, course requirements)
  • Certified financial statements of the school’s net worth, income, and expenses. Tax documents are not sufficient.
  • A statement containing information on educational, vocational, or professional qualifications of the teaching staff (by name), salaries of each Instructor (by name), the current responsibilities of each member of the teaching staff (by name), the amount and character of supervisory and consultative services available to students and trainees.
  • Description of the facilities, including the number of classrooms used for instruction, the maximum capacity of each classroom, and the purpose of each classroom (e.g. instruction, lab, computer) and a labeled floor plan of each building/floor.
  • The maximum capacity for each of the school’s buildings as indicated by the fire marshal or other state or county governmental body.
Post-Secondary Schools (M schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption
  • Letters from 3 employers that have hired recent graduates (within the past 2 years) from the petitioning school in their field of study. The letters must be on the employer’s letterhead, signed, and contain the student name, dates of employment, and position hired for.
  • School catalog (information should outline grading policy, admission requirements, expulsion requirements, attendance policy, course requirements)
  • Certified financial statements of the school’s net worth, income, and expenses. Tax documents are not sufficient.
  • A written statement containing information on educational, vocational, or professional qualifications of teaching staff, salaries of teachers, attendance and scholastic grading policy, amount and character of supervisory and consultative services available to students and trainees
  • List of all programs of study, hours/week of instruction, hours/week of lab instruction, total hours per week, total hours to complete the program
  • Description of the facilities, including the number of classrooms used for instruction, the maximum capacity of each classroom, and the purpose of each classroom (e.g. instruction, lab, computer) and a labeled floor plan of each building/floor. The maximum capacity for each building of the school as indicated by the fire marshal or other state or county governmental body
Private K-12 (F schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption
  • Letters from 3 accredited institutions that attest that they have accepted students from the petitioning school. The letters must be on the receiving institutions letterhead, signed, and contain the student name, dates of enrollment, and program of study
  • School catalog, brochures (information should outline grading policy, admission requirements, expulsion requirements, attendance policy)
  • Certified financial statements of the school’s net worth, income, and expenses. Tax documents are not sufficient.
  • A written statement containing information on educational, vocational, or professional qualifications of teaching staff, salaries of teachers, attendance and scholastic grading policy, amount and character of supervisory and consultative services available to students and trainees
  • Provide evidence that attendance at the petitioning institution satisfies the compulsory attendance requirements of the state in which the school is located and that the petitioning school qualifies graduates for acceptance by schools of a higher educational level.
  • Note: Schools may submit letters from public school systems that have accepted transfer students from the petitioner. The letter must indicate the last grade completed at the private school and the grade accepted into at the public school.
  • Description of the facilities, including the number of classrooms used for instruction, the maximum capacity of each classroom, and the purpose of each classroom (e.g. instruction, lab, computer) and a labeled floor plan of each building/floor. The maximum capacity for each building of the school as indicated by the fire marshal or other state or county governmental body
Public High Schools/ Charter (F schools - In some cases, HS may apply for M)
  • Same requirements as if they are accredited
Diocesan Schools (F schools)
  • Same requirements as private K-12.
Flight Training (M schools)
  • Signed Form I-17 by owner, president, head of school
  • Signed Form I-17A with all PDSO and DSO signatures and owner, president, head of school on page 2 of I-17A
  • Proof of US Citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence for all DSOs
  • Copy of FAA approval and accompanying letter (approval ratings)
  • Copy of state license, registration, or proof of exemption
  • School catalog, brochures, course hours for all approval ratings
  • List of all ratings, hours/week of instruction, total hours of lab training per week, time necessary to complete
  • Certified financial statements of the school’s net worth, income, and expenses. Tax documents are not sufficient.

Please note: Schools recognized by a state-approving agency as appropriate for study for veterans, can submit a statement of such recognition in lieu of state licensure/registration.

What is the difference between being recognized or licensed by my state and nationally recognized accreditation?

Depending on the laws of your state, your school may be required to be registered, recognized or licensed by your state Department of Education or other state body. National accreditation means that your school is either institutionally accredited or program accredited by a US Department of Education recognized accrediting agency. For more information, please see " Which accrediting bodies are considered nationally recognized accrediting bodies?"

What if my state does not require schools to be licensed?

If the state in which the school is located does not require registration or a license, the school must obtain proof of exemption from the state’s Department of Education. However, if the school is approved by the state for veterans study, this is acceptable in lieu of the state license/registration. Private school affidavits meet the requirements of state licensure.

What does it mean that another institution will unconditionally take transfer students/credits?

Unconditional transfer is otherwise known as an articulation agreement. If not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency, a school applying for SEVP certification must have an articulation agreement with other schools of higher learning, attesting that the credits of the applicant school will be accepted unconditionally (without exception) by the other schools. Articulation agreements must be with institutions that are accredited by agencies that are nationally recognized by the Secretary of Education .

In addition, schools may provide letters from schools with nationally recognized accreditation that they have accepted unconditionally the transfer of credits to their institution.

What documentation do new schools with a pending adjudication of their accreditation application need to submit in lieu of accreditation?

You should provide evidence from the accrediting body concerning current accreditation status and the details of that status (i.e., candidacy status). The evidence you submit will be reviewed, however, your school may still be required to submit evidence in lieu of accreditation.

I do not understand one or more of the items of evidence that is requested in the RFE, who should I contact?

For clarification regarding any of the items requested in the RFE, please email initial.sevis@dhs.gov. The name of your school, as it appears on the Form I-17, must be included in the email.