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What is SEVIS?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a web-based system that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to maintain the following information:

• Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools.
• F-1 and M-1 students studying in the United States (and their F-2 and M-2 dependents).
• U.S. Department of State-designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsors.
• J-1 visa Exchange Visitor Program participants (and their J-2 dependents).

Here’s a quick snapshot of the visa type details for your ready reference:

Visa Type
Purpose
F-1 Academic students (University or college, high school, seminary, conservatory, elementary school or other academic institution or language training program
F-2 Dependents of F-1 Visa holders
M-1 Vocational students
M-2 Dependent of M-1 holder
J-1 Au-pairs exchange visitors
Professors, scholars, teachers, intern, summer work travel, trainee as exchange visitors
J-2 Spouses and dependents (unmarried children under the age of 21) of J-1 exchange visitors

In simple words, SEVIS is a U.S. government database that allows schools and federal immigration agencies to exchange data on the status of international students. Information is transmitted electronically throughout F-1 or J-1 student’s academic career in the U.S. It stores your details along with the reasons for your US travel. The department requires the sponsors (in case of international students, it is the university) to register appropriately. In effect, your university does the same when they offer you the admission and provides you the SEVIS Number on the I-20.

Every international student has to pay the SEVIS fee which is ~$350. Usually you should pay this fee before filling your visa application form (DS 160) as this might take some time to reach the relevant department. But analysing the current situation of the US, this process will be slightly different. You should only pay this fee once your visa request has been granted.

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How does your SEVIS ID work?

The SEVIS ID applies throughout the international student life cycle in the country, including CPT and OPT. At the start of each school session, the Designated Student Official (DSO) must register you on F-1 visa on SEVIS within 30 days of the session start date. You have to maintain a full-course load in order to retain your student status. The system will block registration for students whose records does not have a relevant US address and/or I-901 SEVIS fee payment.

Also, as per U.S. federal law and regulations, educational institutions need to update and maintain the SEVIS records of non-immigrant students in F and J visa categories. If a student’s record is not updated each quarter, then the record will automatically terminate which means the student will lose the status and thus, become an illegal immigrant. The International Student Services (ISS) office is the designated department on campus to manage SEVIS reports for the universities.

New guidelines announced by Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

During the month of March 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) agency, which oversees the SEVP, announced that international students on F-1 and M-1 visas attending schools which will operate entirely online will not be permitted to remain in the US for the fall semester 2020. The announcement highlights the fact that international students in the US, enrolled in online programs have to either depart the country or transfer to an educational institution which has in-person instruction module to remain in lawful status. A lot of university and regulatory bodies complained against this rule.

Hence, the government had to reconsider this decision and again on July 2020 came out with new guidelines and temporary exemptions. Students actively enrolled at any US school on March 9, 2020 who subsequently took courses online while outside of the country can re-enter the country even if their school is engaged solely in distance learning. But F and M in new and initial status after March 9, 2020 will not be able to enter the US to enrol for the fall term to pursue a 100% online coursework.  Also, designated school officials cannot issue Form I-20 for students in new/initial status to take 100% online classes in any SEVP-certified educational institution.

We hope that the health concerns of this pandemic eases out soon and issues are resolved at the earliest. Please do not take stress as this phase shall too pass. Meanwhile, if you have any doubt or query, please feel free to reach out to Avanse Financial Services. All the best!

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