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All schools in the United States that enroll F and/or M nonimmigrant students must be certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Schools petition for certification by means of the Form I-17, "Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student," in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

SEVP Certification Basics

What is SEVP certification?

Certification is the process schools go through to receive authorization from the Department of Homeland Security (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; the Department of State designates the enrollment of J-1 nonimmigrants as exchange visitors and has a separate authorization process. For more information about J-1 programs, please visit the Department of State’s website.

What does it mean 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 nonimmigrant students. To maintain certification, the school must comply with SEVP policies, as well as record keeping and reporting requirements stipulated in 8 CFR 214.3.

What regulations govern SEVP certification?

Regulations are available on the SEVP Governing Regulations page on ICE.gov.

Can I go anywhere else 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.

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 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA):

  • 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.
  • A public high school.
  • A private elementary, middle and/or high school.
  • 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 INA:

  • 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 ineligible for SEVP certification?

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

  • Home schools.
  • Preschools 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.

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

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

Starting the SEVP Certification Process

How do I apply for SEVP certification?

Schools must petition online for certification in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the database which compiles the data for the Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,” and must submit a nonrefundable certification fee of $1,700 for filing the petition and $655 for a site visit per location listed on the From I-17 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 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.

How much does it cost to apply for SEVP certification?

The filing fee to apply for SEVP certification is $1,700, 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, “Record of School/Campuses.”

Are there any exceptions to this fee requirement?

Yes. The Student and Exchange Visitor (SEVP) excluded public school districts from paying the additional instructional site fee, though they are required to list 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 re-file it with the corrected information. In such a case, the school must again pay the $1,700 SEVP certification fee and $655 site visit fee.

How must I verify payment of my fee with SEVP?

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

Can I get a refund of my filing fee?

No. As www.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.

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 the Department of Homeland Security (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 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 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.

Preparing for Filing the Form I-17 Petition

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

Specific guidance on using SEVIS and completing your Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification application will be found in the SEVIS Help Hub.

Additionally, there is help text within the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that will provide you with information on the information SEVP is seeking for the fields of the Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student.”

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.

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.

I do not understand one or more of the items of evidence that is required for filing; who should I contact?

For questions regarding any of the evidence items, please email initial.sevis@dhs.gov.

PDSOs and DSOs

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, “Record of Designated School Officials.” The PDSO and DSO may not delegate this designation to any other person.

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 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) access privileges beyond those of someone who is solely a DSO. However the PDSO is the only one that can submit updates to an approved Form I-17, file for Recertification, and must complete an annual verification of all DSOs associated with the petition.

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

SEVP offers training for designated school officials (https://www.ice.gov/exec/training/login.asp) that will familiarize you with the expectations and duties of a PDSO or 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 instructional site. The Department of Homeland Security will also use the PDSO as the point of contact on any issues that relate to the school's compliance with Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) 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.

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 new DSO must make the same certification.

During the Certification Process

How long will it take to adjudicate my petition?

It takes approximately 9-12 months to adjudicate the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification petition. Filing 9-12 months prior to the desired certification date 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.

If I have questions, comments or concerns about my petition, who 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. You must include the name of your school as it appears on the Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,” in the email.

Note: SEVP can only discuss the petition with those persons listed as principal designated school official (PDSO) and designated school officials (DSOs). SEVP can also discuss the petition with the school's attorney, provided the school has submitted a Form G-28, “Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative.”

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

Please wait at least 90 days after the completion of 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. You can send an email to sevp@ice.dhs.gov inquiring about your status. You must include the name of your school as it appears on the Form I-17. 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 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 the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (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 Request for Evidence (RFE) status?

An RFE is a request for evidence. The SEVP office may need to request information and evidence from a school during the certification process. An RFE is sent via email through SEVIS or the SEVP office. An RFE is sent to the PDSO and DSOs listed on the Form I-17 petition; 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 due to 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 an 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.

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

No. A school may not issue Forms I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” until SEVP completes the initial petitioning process and the school has been notified by SEVP that it is certified to issue Forms I-20.

I cannot log into my SEVIS account; who should I contact?

For any technical issues regarding login or the use of SEVIS, please contact the SEVP Response Center at 703-603-3400.

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 is a significant change in a school’s SEVIS information, sufficient to alter the legal meaning of the Form I-17 (i.e., bona fides for SEVP certification). A material change includes all of the following (from 8 CFR 214.3(h)(3)(i) Out-of-cycle review and oversight of SEVP-certified schools):

  • Approval for attendance of students (F/M/both).
  • Name of school system; name of main instructional site.
  • Mailing address of the school.
  • Location of the school.
  • School type.
  • Public/private school indicator.
  • Private school owner name.
  • The school is engaged in.
  • The school operates under the following Federal, State, Local or other authorization.
  • The school has been approved by the following national, regional, or state accrediting association or agency.
  • Areas of study.
  • Degrees available from the school.
  • If the school is engaged in elementary or secondary education.
  • If the school is engaged in higher education.
  • If the school is engaged in vocational or technical education.
  • If the school is engaged in English language training.
  • Adding or deleting instructional sites.
  • Instructional site name.
  • Instructional site mailing address.
  • Instructional site location address.
  • Any addition or deletion of a DSO, including PDSO.
  • Any change to an SEVP-certified school’s average annual number of classes, students, teachers, or instructors and non-teaching employees.

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 after its initial submission in SEVIS may 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.

Site Visits

When will I have my site visit?

After the filing fee and site visit fee payment is recorded by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a representative will contact the principal designated school official (PDSO) to arrange for the site

How long will the site visit take?

After the site visit has been assigned to the representative, they have 20 working days to schedule the site visit and return the documentation to SEVP. The representative will generally spend 2-3 hours touring the facility, interviewing designated school officials 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, whereas larger institutions will take more time).

How can I verify that the individual examining my school is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) representative?

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

What can I expect to happen during the site visit?

The representative will tour instructional site facilities to observe different areas of the school; this includes observing a live lecture/class, housing arrangements, food facilities and library. They will also interview at least the PDSO, and observe the location of student records and PDSO offices.

Will SEVP charge an additional fee if the PDSO is not available for the site visit?

Yes. If the representative has an approved time to visit the location and the PDSO is not available, SEVP may require that the school have an additional site visit and the school may be charged for the additional visit.

What is the purpose of the interviews?

The representative 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, monitoring student status, employment or practical training authorization, and other processes and regulations of the program.

Adjudication of the Petition

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 the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) (those listed on the petition with the roles of principal designated school official (PDSO) and designated school official (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 your petition is denied, a Notice of Denial will also be sent via email from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to those listed on the petition with the roles of PDSO and DSO.

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.

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 or the status of an appeal or motion.