The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) delegated the school certification process to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and ICE assigned this responsibility to its Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
SEVP certification allows institutions to issue Forms I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status," to prospective international students after admitting them for a course of study. Prospective international students then use the Form I-20 to apply for a visa to enter the United States.
SEVP certification also authorizes the institution to enroll these international students after they enter the United States on an F or M student visa. Schools may petition to enroll:
- Only F students (i.e., academic students).
- Only M students (i.e., vocational students).
- Both F and M students, if the school has both academic and vocational courses of study.
SEVP’s governing regulations for school certification are found in 8 CFR 214.3(a)(2). These regulations stipulate the types of academic and vocational programs that are eligible to petition for SEVP-certification. Listed below are the types of institutions eligible to petition for SEVP-certification, as well as a list of school types that are ineligible for SEVP certification.
The following academic institutions are eligible to submit their petition to SEVP to enroll F students:
- Colleges or universities (i.e., institutions of higher learning that award recognized bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate or professional degrees).
- Community colleges or junior colleges (i.e., institutions providing instruction in liberal arts or in the professions and awards recognized associate degrees).
- Academic high schools (grades nine–12).
- Private elementary schools (grades kindergarten–eight).
- Institutions providing:
- Language training, if accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting body.
- Instruction in liberal arts or fine arts.
- Instruction in the professions.
- Instruction or training in more than one of these disciplines.
The following schools are eligible to enroll M students:
- Community colleges or junior colleges that provide vocational or technical training and award recognized associate degrees.
- Vocational high schools (grades nine–12).
- Institutions that provide vocational or nonacademic training other than language training (culinary schools, cosmetology schools, flight training schools, etc.).
Please note that the following school types are ineligible for SEVP certification:
- Home school.
- Preschool or day care.
- Public elementary or middle school (grades kindergarten–eight).
- School whose programs are primarily distance or online and do not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class (per 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G) and 8 CFR 214.2(m)(9)(v)).
- Adult education programs 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.
In obtaining SEVP certification, a school makes a legally binding commitment to comply with applicable federal laws, regulations and DHS requirements. School officials should carefully consider the decision to petition for certification. It is a business decision that requires a financial commitment, significant personnel commitment and strict adherence to reporting and record keeping requirements. School officials should consider this decision within the context of the school’s strategic direction, long-term planning and ability to conform to regulatory requirements.
SEVP-certified schools accept certain reporting obligations:
- The PDSO must update the Form I-17 when material changes occur (e.g., a change of mailing address, change of leadership, etc.).
- The PDSO or a DSO at an SEVP-certified school must regularly register student records in SEVIS and report changes in student information (e.g., student address and employment information, etc.).
- SEVP may conduct an on-site review at any time.
- Schools must apply for recertification every two years.
SEVP certification is the result of an adjudication process that includes a review of the Form I-17, "Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student," application, submission of supporting documentation, payment of the application fee, site visits, research and federal adjudication.
To succeed in submitting their application, school officials must be able to prove the following about the institution and any programs that they wish to certify:
- The school is already operational and has been instructing students in the courses/programs for which it is seeking approval.
- The school has the necessary facilities, adequate finances and qualified personnel required to teach and operate the program.
- The school meets all state requirements to operate as an institution of learning or is exempt from all such state requirements.
- The school provides instruction in programs that lead to a degree or a professional, educational or vocational objective.
Please note this is not an exhaustive list of all requirements for SEVP certification.
If an institution meets the above requirements, the school official may wish to begin the certification process but will need to provide additional evidence to SEVP. SEVP details that process below.
Form I-17, "Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student"
Complete the Form I-17 online using the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), immediately electronically submit the minimum evidence required and pay all required fees at Pay.gov. Currently, the filing fee is $1,700, and the site visit fee is $655 per instructional site location.
All schools seeking initial certification with SEVP must submit the evidence supporting their Form I-17 to firstname.lastname@example.org within two business days of submitting their petition in SEVIS. Petitions belonging to schools that fail to submit evidence to the email address above will be canceled. Failure to submit all of the required evidence for filing may also result in the cancelation of the petition. Refer to the definitions of evidence guides found in the Certification tab in the Schools and Programs section of ICE.gov/SEVP.
To get access to SEVIS and complete the online petition, register for a temporary user ID at egov.ice.gov/SEVIS. After electronically submitting the completed Form I-17 in SEVIS, school officials must also print a copy of the form, obtain all required signatures, scan it and email it to SEVP. Schools should include this signed copy of the form in the same email containing the evidence for their school’s petition. Do not use traditional mail to submit the school’s signed copy of the Form I-17 or the required evidence.
After submitting a Form I-17 to SEVP, school officials are unable to amend any data on the petition or SEVIS school information until its adjudication. Carefully cross-check the entire petition for completeness and accuracy prior to submission.
If changes occur in the information collected for the petition during adjudication, school officials should report them immediately to SEVP. SEVP will determine if the changes are substantive. SEVP will not enter non-substantive changes until completion of the adjudication. SEVP may enter substantive changes if they might influence the adjudication. School officials should anticipate that substantive changes to an initial SEVP certification petition may significantly increase the time until completion of adjudication.
The president, owner or head of school or school system must sign the Form I-17A, “Record of Designated School Officials” to nominate designated school officials (DSOs). This signature certifies that each individual listed is an employee of the school, qualified for the position, and will be provided the resources and training needed to perform the responsibilities.
Each individual nominated to be a DSO must sign the Form I-17A certifying familiarity with relevant regulations of admission and maintenance of status for F and M students and school certification. A DSO nominee’s signature also affirms that individual will comply with these regulations.
SEVP now requires that school officials filing an initial Form I-17 petition to submit the minimum evidence required for adjudication at the same time they submit their petition in SEVIS. The evidence a school needs to provide to SEVP depends on the program(s) of study offered and the school’s accreditation status.
For definitions of evidence guides designed to help school officials determine the necessary evidence to submit for adjudication, please visit the Certification tab in the Schools and Programs section of ICE.gov/SEVP. Please note that these definitions of evidence guides are not exhaustive, and SEVP may ask your school to provide additional evidence for adjudication.
SEVP will not begin processing the petition or schedule the required site visit until after payment and receipt of the signed Form I-17 are verified.
The site visit will be scheduled with an inspector within 20 days of the date SEVP verifies payment and receipt of the signed Form I-17. The inspector will contact school officials to schedule and conduct the site visit.
During the visit, the inspector will gather evidence on school eligibility for certification, review the facilities and interview personnel nominated on the petition to become DSOs, including the person nominated to be the principal designated school official (PDSO). All nominees must be available to the inspector.
Once the on-site inspector submits the site visit report, an SEVP case analyst will review the package for completeness. The analyst has the discretion to submit an electronic request for evidence (RFE) to the school if any required information is missing. However, school officials are responsible for ensuring the completeness of the submission. Further evidence from school officials sent in response to an RFE will be added to the package. Then the petition moves forward to an adjudicator.
The adjudicator reviews the petition and supporting documentation to decide school eligibility. The adjudicator may email an RFE to school officials if any of the information is unclear.
Based on whatever evidence school officials have submitted, the adjudicator makes a decision to approve or deny certification.
Schools will receive a notification from SEVIS that details the decision. This notification is sent to the primary email address listed on the school’s Form I-17. If the school is certified, each approved DSO nominee receives a permanent user ID and password for SEVIS by email within seven business days.
If SEVP denies the petition, school officials will receive a notification by SEVIS that will detail the reasons for the denial and will indicate if the school can appeal the denial and the process for doing so.