I am often asked by school owners how to become an "I-20" school. "I-20" school are schools that can enroll students from abroad and issue I-20 visas so the international student may enter the United States. Since 9/11 the US Department of Homeland Security has been in charge of international student admissions and controls the process though the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Created in March 2003, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The agency was created after 9/11, by combining the law enforcement arms of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the former U.S. Customs Service, to more effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws and to protect the United States against terrorist attacks. ICE does this by targeting illegal immigrants: the people, money and materials that support terrorism and other criminal activities. ICE is a key component of the DHS “layered defense” approach to protecting the nation.
To apply for I-20 status a school must be approved to operate
in the State it is located and be accredited by a nationally recognized
accrediting agency. The application is an I-17 and you can read the regulations
governing the petition for approval at the US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement website at:
The Student and Exchange Visitor
Program (SEVP) School Certification Branch (SCB) is responsible for
evaluating Form I-17, Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by
Nonimmigrant Student, to determine whether educational institutions meet
the minimum eligibility requirements to be approved by the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS). Non-immigrant students who come to the United
States to pursue full-time academic or vocational/ technical training
are usually admitted in one of two non-immigrant categories.
• The F-1 category includes academic
students in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, and
academic high schools, other academic institutions, Fine Arts, and
language training. For Federal regulations concerning F-1 students visit
8 CFR 214.2 (f) Academic and Language Students
• The M-1 category includes
vocational, technical training, flight schools, and non-academic
schools. For Federal regulations concerning M-1 students visit 8 CFR
214.2 (m) Vocational Students
If your institution does not meet the
following basic requirements, it will be ineligible for SEVP
certification. The school must be:
1. A bona fide school;
2. An established institution of
3. Possess the necessary
facilities, personnel, and finances to conduct instruction in
recognized courses of study;
4. The institution must currently
be engaged in instruction at the time of filing and NOT at some
point prior to final adjudication;
5. Institutions applying for M
classification (vocational AND technical training), must have
programs which meet for a minimum of 18 hours per week if the
program is primarily classroom instruction, or 22 hours per week if
the program is primarily lab work;
6. English language schools must
have programs that meet for a minimum of 18 hours per week.
The Certification Process
Certification is a process consisting
of a series of steps that require very specific understanding of all
applicable federal regulations. Certification is achieved through an
adjudicative process that includes a review of the application, site
visit inspection, research, review of supporting documentation, and
adjudication of the entire submitted package. The certification process
takes a minimum of 16 weeks before a decision is reached and SCB
processes petitions on a first-in, first-served basis. (This time-frame
does not include delays that result when a certification package is
incomplete and additional requests for evidence are required.)
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) acts as the bridge for varied government organizations which have an interest in information on foreign students. SEVP uses web-based technology, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to track and monitor schools and programs, students, exchange visitors and their dependents throughout the duration of approved participation within the U.S. education system.
SEVP collects, maintains and provides the information so that only legitimate foreign students or exchange visitors gain entry to the United States. The result is an easily accessible information system that provides timely information to the Department of State, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
An SEVP-certified school is a college, university, seminary, conservatory, high school, private elementary school, other academic or vocational institution, or language training program in the United States that has applied for and received certification.
Certification is the process schools go through to receive authorization from DHS to enroll F or M nonimmigrants. Within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), SEVP approves schools that desire to enroll nonimmigrant students, or withdraws that approval. (Note: Certification does not pertain to exchange visitor programs, which are authorized to enroll J nonimmigrants as exchange visitors by the Department of State through its verification process.)
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.
The following may not be approved for attendance by foreign students:
Pre-school and/or day care institutions
Public elementary or junior high schools (grades K-8)
Schools whose programs are primarily distance education or online (i.e. Internet based)
Adult education program, 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
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;
Possesses 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.
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.