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What are SEVP Certified Schools?

Are you part of a budding learning institution that wishes to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students soon? Alternatively, are you an F or M nonimmigrant student looking to study at a U.S. institution? Whatever the case be, it’s important to know that only SEVP-certified schools may enroll F and M nonimmigrant students. Thus, many institutions consider SEVP certification to play an important role in diversifying their student bodies and granting them broader worldwide recognition.

If you’d like to learn more about what SEVP certification entails, how your school can become SEVP-certified, or how you can find SEVP-certified schools, keep on reading!

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What is SEVP?

First and foremost, what is SEVP? Good question!

SEVP refers to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that oversees the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). 

See Also: What is the student and exchange visitor program?

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 nonimmigrant status: Given to students admitted to an SEVP-certified school
  • J nonimmigrant status: Granted to exchange visitors participating in a Department of State-verified exchange visitor program
    • These students may attend both SEVP-certified and non-SEVP-certified institutions as the Department of State is responsible for enrolling them 

No matter which status a student is given, 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 also created a process by which student and/or exchange visitor program violators are identified and penalized. Together, both of these work to ensure utmost accuracy in SEVIS. 

So, what exactly constitutes an SEVP certified school?

What is a SEVP certified school?

Simply, a SEVP certified school is any U.S. learning institution that has applied for and received approval to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students. The types of institutions that can be SEVP certified are quite broad. However, the types of SEVP-certified schools that can enroll F nonimmigrants differ from those that can take in M nonimmigrants. This is because there are slight differences between F and M nonimmigrant students. So, what are these differences? Let’s take a look.

F-1 nonimmigrants are international (not from the U.S.) students who come to the U.S. in order to pursue academic study at SEVP-certified schools. An F-2 nonimmigrant is a foreign national who is the spouse or qualifying (unmarried minors) child of a F-1 student.

The following types of SEVP-certified institutions may take in F nonimmigrants:

  • Colleges and universities (institutions that award bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, or other professional degrees)
  • Liberal arts or profession-oriented community/junior colleges that award associate degrees
  • Seminaries
  • Conservatories
  • Academic high schools
  • Private elementary schools
  • Language training programs
  • Other liberal/fine arts or profession-oriented programs

M-1 nonimmigrant students are quite similar to F-1 nonimmigrant students. The one difference between the two is that while F-1 nonimmigrants study at academic programs, M-1 nonimmigrant students study at SEVP-certified vocational or non-academic programs. F-2 and M-2 nonimmigrants are also quite similar, with M-2 nonimmigrants being the spouses or qualifying children of M-1 nonimmigrants.

These institutions may enroll M nonimmigrants:

  • Community/junior colleges that provide vocational/technical training and award associate degrees
  • Vocational high schools
  • Schools that provide vocational/non-academic training
    • Does not include language training institutions

If any of the above categories describes the type of institution you’re at, great! We’ll get into the process for receiving certification soon.

First, though, let’s take a look at criteria needed to become a SEVP-certified institution.

Criteria to become SEVP-certified

No matter what type of institution you are, there are some basic criteria that need to be met in order to apply for SEVP certification. Without further ado, a school must:

  • Be a bona fide (real) school
  • Be an established learning institution
  • Possess the necessary faculty, facilities, and funds to teach
  • Be engaged in instruction at the time of petitioning/applying for SEVP certification 
  • Institutions applying for M-nonimmigrant classification must have programs that meet for a minimum of:
    • 18 hours per week (if mostly classroom instruction)
    • 22 hours per week (if primarily lab work)
  • English language schools must meet for a minimum of 18 hours per week

We hope you fulfill all the above requirements! If not, no worries – you still have time!

With that said, just bear in mind that there are also ways that a school can be deemed ineligible for SEVP-certification. Let’s get into them.

What makes a school ineligible for certification?

The following types of institutions are ineligible for SEVP-certification:

  • Public elementary and middle schools (K-8’s)
  • Preschool/daycare programs
  • Home schools
  • Schools that operate primarily online or remotely
  • Publicly-funded adult education/training centers
  • Flight schools that are not Part-141 or Part-142 certified
  • Schools whose part-time programs do not fulfill the hour requirements outlined in 8 CFR 214.2(f) and/or 8 CFR 214.2(m)

If you operate any of the above types of schools, you are unfortunately ineligible to petition your school for SEVP-certification. On the bright side, these requirements are often laid out as so because there is no need for such types of schools to receive SEVP certification. Additionally, you’re saving time!

For those whose institutions are eligible for SEVP-certification, however, let’s get into how you can get your school certified.

Applying for SEVP Certification: seven simple steps

Applying for SEVP certification takes a simple seven (six, if you exclude the waiting period) steps! 

The first of these steps? Applying online! Let’s see how you can do that.

Petition online for certification in SEVIS

As briefly mentioned, the first step in applying for SEVP-certification is to electronically petition your school online. To do so, first register for a new account on SEVIS. You will then be asked to provide the following information: 

  • The school’s name
  • The full name of the contact person for the school
  • The email address of the school’s contact person 

Once that is entered, the school will be granted a temporary ID and password in order to access the SEVIS site and complete the I-17 form. 

Submit the I-17 form

So, what’s the I-17 form? Great question! The I-17 form is the “Petition for approval of school for attendance by a nonimmigrant student.” It asks a series of questions about the school at hand, including those regarding types of instruction, students, graduation requirements, and more. A signature from the president, owner, or head of the school is also requested.

The form can be filled in on the same SEVIS website you just created your account on. Once that’s done, we’re off to the next step!

Turn in requested documentation

Shortly after submitting the I-17 form, your petition should be assigned to a case analyst. As part of adjudicating your I-17 form, you will also likely be asked to turn in specific documentation about your school.

Documents requested include evidence regarding a school’s:

  • Finances
  • Full course of study
  • Voluntary withdrawal
  • Agreements, letters, etc. in lieu of accreditation
  • U.S. citizenship/lawful permanent residence
  • Department of Education-recognized or SEVP-identified accreditation
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification
  • Payment (tracking ID)
  • State license, registration, and/or exemption
  • Attendance and grading policies
  • English language training programs
  • Facilities and instructional sites
  • Ownership or governance
  • Programs of study
  • Teacher qualifications and salaries
  • Flight school weekly component
  • Catalog
  • Form I-17
  • Student Records
  • Others

And that’s it! Bear in mind that it is likely not all of these will be required for your school. Some are specific to certain types of schools, like flight schools or language training programs. To find out the specific evidence your type of school must submit, be sure to check out “Form I-17 petition update” and scroll down to the “Initial certification” evidence checklists! Definitions of evidence types are also provided by the Department of Homeland Security website. 

If this process seems a little confusing, no worries! This “Form I-17 initial certification” page from the Department of Homeland Security guides you through the process to make things flow as smoothly as possible.

Submit RFE documentation (sometimes required)

Sometimes, SEVP feels as though the documentation turned in is not quite sufficient. If that is the case, the DSO (Designated School Official) or PDSO (Principal Designated School Official) will be emailed a RFE (Request for evidence). These will simply request a variety of different documents that may fill in the SEVP on information they feel were lacking from your previous forms.

If you do receive an RFE, it is of utmost importance to make sure you’re submitting all of these by the requested due date. If the SEVP does not receive your documentation by this date, your petition may be denied for “lack of prosecution” or “abandonment.” Further, there are no extensions for SEVP due dates. To make sure you avoid this unfortunate fate, we would highly recommend actively checking your email and making sure messages from SEVP are not being sent to your junk/spam folder.

As a last note, keep in mind that all information must be submitted at one time. A DSO/PDSO should scan each document and send them as email attachments to [email protected]. Include your school’s name (as it appears on the I-17) as the subject line, and send it off!

Alternatively, if you prefer faxing, the number is  877-268-5563. If you choose to use this method, be sure to have an “SEVP fax cover sheet” as the first page of the fax. This cover sheet should be in the initial RFE email from SEVP. 

Pay the SEVP certification fee

Hopefully, you’ve submitted all the requested documentation by now. If so, great! The next step is to pay the SEVP certification fee

Altogether, the cost of applying for SEVP certification is around $3,000. However, there is an additional $655 site visit fee per physical location you’ve listed on your I-17 form. If you decide to change or add any physical locations to your form, this also incurs a $655 fee.

You may be wondering, “Is anyone excused from paying this site visit fee?” The answer is yes! If your institution is part of a public school district, you’re in luck. Public school district schools are exempt from paying the additional site fee. With that said, they must still list each high school at which they are planning to enroll F and M nonimmigrant students on the Form I-17B.

After you’ve paid the fee, we highly recommend taking note of/remembering your payment tracking ID. Also bear in mind that there are no refunds for filing fees, but your site visit fee(s) may be refunded if the visit has not yet occurred at the location.

On that note, let’s get into the site visits!

Site visit

Once there is confirmation of the fee payment , a site visit inspector will contact a school’s PDSO to schedule a site visit. You can expect your site visit to take approximately a month after scheduling due to the large number of schools waiting upon theirs.

During the actual site visit, the inspector will take approximately two to three hours touring the school. As expected, larger schools will likely take longer to tour than smaller schools. However, it is not only touring the school that makes up this time. The site inspector will also be sure to interview the DSOs and read through student files. 

Questions asked by the site inspector will likely regard:

  • The school’s processes relating to the regulations governing F and M nonimmigrants and their dependents
  • The school’s knowledge regarding the eligibility of students to attend
  • The process of transferring students in and out
  • Monitoring student status (SEVIS)
  • Student reinstatements
  • Employment or practical training authorization
  • Other questions relating to the processes/regulations of the program

And that’s it! If you’re a DSO anticipating a site visit soon, we wish you the best of luck. Before it occurs, we would recommend brushing up on your knowledge of your school regulations.

Find out the certification decision!

After the site visit, all you have to do is wait to find out your certification decision! Typically, this decision will arrive anywhere between 9 and 12 months after you initially file your petition. If you are the DSO/PDSO, you will be notified via email about your school’s approval or denial.

If your petition does happen to be denied, you will be notified of why that is the case. You even have the right to appeal your decision, so long as your petition was not denied because you “abandoned” it (failed to submit documents or follow through with steps). In addition to your decision itself, the email should even include instructions for how to go about appealing the decision. 

If you do go about trying to appeal your SEVP certification decision, we wish you the best of luck! For those approved for certification, however, keep on reading.

Getting recertified

Obtaining initial certification is not the “last” step in the SEVP certification process. As it turns out, you must also file for “recertification” every two years. This process is largely the same as the initial process, requiring you to submit:

  • An attestation statement
  • A form I-17
  • Applicable evidence

And that’s it! On a positive note, DSO/PDSO’s are emailed 180 days before a school’s certification expiration date (CED) to inform them that they are now eligible to start the recertification process.

So, is there a cost to this? As it turns out, yes. Recertification costs around $1,250. On the bright side, however, this is less than the $3,000 (plus additional fees) needed for initial SEVP certification!

To get more instructions and tips on the SEVP recertification process, we recommend checking out “Schools and programs” and scrolling down to recertification.

Finding SEVP-certified schools

This last tip is for our international students! So, how do you go about finding SEVP-certified schools? As it turns out, it’s actually pretty easy. Simply use this “School search” tool from the Department of Homeland Security and you should be able to find the SEVP-certified school of your dreams! We wish you the best of luck during your time in the U.S. If you have any general questions about being or becoming an international student, be sure to check out our “Guide for international students to studying in the U.S.A.” We hope you have a great time. Bon voyage!

For our DSOs and PDSOs reading this, we wish you the best of luck in the SEVP certification process. We hope our instructions and resources listed throughout this article were of great help. With that said, we’ll send you off. Happy schooling!

Frequently asked questions 

How long does it take to get SEVP certified?

Great question! Generally, it takes between 9 and 12 months for SEVP certification. However, filing a SEVP certification petition between 9 and 12 months before your desired certification date does not guarantee that your petition will be decided upon by then. For petition approval as soon as possible, file as soon as possible and follow the steps we’ve gone over above. Good luck! Good luck!

P.S.: If you have any other specific questions about SEVP certification that we have not covered here, we recommend checking out “SEVP certification frequently asked questions” from the Department of Homeland Security themselves.

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