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What is the Student and Exchange Visitor Program?

Every year, millions of international students enroll in universities all across the United States. Around the start of each school term, these students are expected to enroll in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Better known as SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program keeps track of international students’ records, the SEVP-certified schools they attend, and more. To learn more about SEVIS and how you can register for it, keep on reading!

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool (includes opportunities for international students)

What is SEVP?

First and foremost, what is the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)? Good question! The SEVP is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that oversees the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). 

Don’t miss: What are SEVP certified schools?

What is SEVIS?

With that said, you may very well be wondering what SEVIS is. Essentially, SEVIS is a computer-based system that keeps track of “nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors” in the United States. Students and exchange visitors receive one of two statuses, including: 

  • F or M immigrant status: For students admitted to an SEVP-certified school
  • J nonimmigrant status: Granted to exchange visitors participating in a Department of State-verified exchange visitor program

No matter which status one receives, their records and information will be tracked in SEVIS until the conclusion of their studies or program in the U.S. 

As to how exactly SEVIS relates to SEVP, SEVIS allows SEVP to ensure that schools and exchange visitor programs are accurately reporting information. SEVIS has also created a process by which student and/or exchange visitor program violators can be identified and penalized. Together, both of these work to ensure utmost accuracy in SEVIS. 

So, how exactly can you know what “status” you fall under? Let’s take a look.

Also see: F-1 to green card: a step-by-step guide

Determining your SEVIS status

As briefly mentioned earlier, one’s status in SEVIS is dependent upon what type of program they’re entering. Those enrolling in SEVP-certified schools typically have F or M immigrant status, while those in exchange visitor programs are given J nonimmigrant status.

However, one’s program type is not the only way they can determine their status. Another particularly easy way (if you’ve already completed or are in the process of applying for a student visa) is by looking at the type of visa you have! Before we get into visa types, though, it’s best we go over what exactly a student visa is.

What is a US student visa?

A US student visa allows international students (i.e. those without U.S. citizenship or permanent residence) to temporarily stay in the U.S. while studying at an approved school, language program, or academic exchange program. Once you complete your course of study, your visa expires. You must leave the U.S. unless you have secured a way to extend your stay through other means. This may include obtaining a work visa or a green card, seeking asylum, partaking in military service, or a variety of other options. To learn more about these options, be sure to check out “F-1 to green card: a step by step guide”!

For now, though, let’s look into the different types of student visas you can obtain.

Types of student visas

If you’re looking to study in the U.S. as an international student, chances are you’ll need to obtain a student visa. The first step in this process is to identify the type of student visa you’ll need. There are three types: F-1, M-1, and J-1. While you’ll most likely need the F-1 visa if you’re planning on studying full-time in the U.S. as an undergraduate or graduate student, we’ll go over them all to make things easier. So, let’s get into it!

F-1 Visa

The F-1 visa is for those planning on attending university, high school, or a language program in the U.S. It has a grace period of 60 days, allowing you to stay in the U.S. up to 60 days after your graduation before departing.

M-1 Visa

The M-1 visa is for non-academic or career-oriented study in the U.S. This includes culinary programs, medical training programs, makeup/beautician training, and a variety of other vocational types of study. As these programs tend to be shorter than those included under the F-1 visa, the grace period is only 30 days (meaning that students with an M-1 visa can stay in the U.S. up to 30 days after graduation before they must depart).

J-1 Visa

Last, but certainly not least, is the J-1 visa! This visa type is for exchange students, including study abroad students, interns, scholars, and even au pairs. Like the M-1 visa, the J-1 visa has a grace period of only 30 days.

And those are your options! Hopefully, one of them seems most fitting for your particular circumstances. If you’re seeking out an F-1 or M-1 visa, you more than likely will be given “F or M immigrant status” in SEVIS. Those with J-1 visas, on the other hand, will likely be granted “J nonimmigrant status” in SEVIS. 

Registering for SEVIS

You’re now familiar with most all you need to know about SEVIS. However, you may be wondering: how do I register? Well, you’re in luck – you don’t have to!

As it turns out, students are not responsible for registering themselves in SEVIS (for the most part). While the actual registration aspect is completed by a university’s Designated School Officials (DSO), students will be expected to complete a few steps before this can happen. These include:

  1. Receive acceptance to an SEVP-certified school or exchange visitor program 
  2. a) F-1 and M-1 visa students: Receive and sign the I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
    b) J-1 visa students: Receive and sign the DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status). 
  3. Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee
    1. $350 for F-1/M-1 students
    2. $220 for J-1 students
    3. $35 for those entering short-term J-1 programs
  4. Bring the form to your student visa interview

Don’t miss: Guide for international students to studying in the U.S.A.

Enjoy learning in the USA!

After this is all done, your DSO should go ahead and handle the rest for you. If they have any specific questions or requests of you, it is likely that they will contact you directly. 

With that, we’ve covered about all you need to know about SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Program)! However, be sure to check out “What are SEVP certified schools?” if you want more in-depth information on SEVP-certified schools.

No matter which type of program you choose, we hope you have a great time while in the U.S. We’re happy to have you here!

P.S.: If you are a DSO and are looking for some help registering students in SEVIS, we would highly recommend checking out “SEVIS Help Hub: Registration” from the Department of Homeland Security themselves. It should be able to answer any questions you have and make the process as smooth as possible. Good luck!

Related: How to get a U.S. student visa: everything you need to know

Frequently asked questions 

What is the “five month” rule?

Great question! The “five month rule” allows students with F-1 visas to retain their visa status if they take a leave of absence of less than five months. As long as you file accurate information about your leave on time with the appropriate office, you will not be required to reapply for an F-1 visa to re-enter the U.S. Nor will you have to re-file your I-20 or DS-2019 if you return to the U.S. before either of these documents expire.

If one fails to file information about their leave on time or does not maintain part- or full-time student status for at least five months, this may result in the cancellation of your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS). Such terminations may apply to students who fit the following criteria:

  • Individuals who have had their student record terminated (not been part- or full-time students) for more than five months
  • Individuals who have spent over five months outside the U.S. during an absence from school, with the exception of those participating in authorized study abroad programs

If you’re considering taking a leave of absence and are worried that your SEVIS record will be terminated, we would highly recommend reaching out to your academic advisor. They should inform you of your options and help guide you through the process of taking a leave of absence, if necessary.

Can I stay in the U.S. during SEVIS transfer?

Yes! Once you (an international student with F-1 status) are admitted to another U.S. institution for transfer, you must then request that your current university release your SEVIS I-20 record to your new school. This process is called a “SEVIS Transfer” and gives you the following benefits:

  • You will not have to pay the $350 SEVIS fee again
  • You can remain in the U.S. in between the time you leave your current institution and start at the new one
  • You may keep the same SEVIS ID number
    • This may make you eligible for specific benefits at your new school earlier

What happens if my F1 visa expires?

We have some great news for you: you can stay in the U.S. on an expired F1 visa! Well, this is true as long as you fulfill certain conditions. Here’s what you need to do to ensure that you can stay in the U.S. on an expired F-1 visa:

  • Maintain your part- or full-time student status 
  • Do not travel to a country where automatic revalidation does not apply
    • If you do this, you will need to apply for a valid visa to return to the United States