Pursuing Student and Exchange Visitor Program Certification to Attract International Students Benefits Career Colleges Willing to Undertake the Process
By John Willis, President, MIAT College of Technology Houston Campus
Career colleges and vocational schools throughout the United States are continually challenged to introduce new programs, offer additional student services, and remain relevant amid extensive competition for student enrollment and retention. One of the many ways that leaders of career schools can enhance their program offerings is to attract international students, which is proven to benefit the student, the school, and the U.S. economy.
The Institute of International Education, which was founded in 1919 and is based in New York City, published the following economic impact information on its website:
The continued growth in international students coming to the U.S. for higher education had a significant positive economic impact on the United States. International students contributed $42 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Open Doors 2018 reports that about 65 percent of all international students receive the majority of their funds from sources outside of the United States, including personal and family sources as well as assistance from their home country governments or universities. Students from around the world who study in the United States also contribute to America’s scientific and technical research and bring international perspectives into U.S. classrooms, helping prepare American undergraduates for global careers, and often lead to longer-term business relationships and economic benefits.
Open Doors® is a comprehensive information resource on international students and scholars studying or teaching at higher education institutions in the United States, and U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities. This survey of international exchange activity in the United States is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by IIE. The 2019 Open Doors Annual Data Release will be held on Monday, Nov. 18, in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Institute of Peace. (Source: www.iie.org)
To equip themselves to enroll international students, colleges, universities and other educational institutions are required to secure Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (www.ice.gov). Only SEVP-certified schools can enroll F Visa or M Visa non-immigrant students.
To begin, a school applies for SEVP certification to enroll F and/or M Visa students by completing Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,” online using the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and then pays all required fees online. Another important component of the certification process is designating school officials (Principal Designated School Officials and Designated School Officials cannot be deans, principals or operating officers of the school) who serve as liaisons and record-keepers throughout the process. Schools must also produce documentation that verifies State Recognition and Exemption status, approval by U.S. Department of Education Recognized Accrediting Agencies, and Programs of Study Statements. A site visit is also mandatory.
This excerpt from the Department of Homeland Security website may be helpful in explaining some of the nuances of the certification process.
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). When a school’s petition is approved, the school can issue Forms I-20, Certificate for Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status in order to enroll nonimmigrant students in an F (academic) and/or M (vocational) visa classification. While a school’s certification is pending, it may not issue I-20s nor enroll nonimmigrant students on an F and/or M student visa.
The Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, adjudicates applications of sponsors who wish to issue Form DS-2019 for the J-1 exchange visitor (EV) program, a different designation from SEVP certification. Exchange Visitors are nonimmigrants issued a J visa classification in order to participate in programs offering the opportunity for visitors to participate in cultural exchange as au pairs, researchers, teachers, etc.
Certification entails a great deal of responsibility for monitoring, tracking, reporting, and recordkeeping of nonimmigrant foreign students. Certified schools are responsible for ensuring international students are maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status and reporting information on those students to SEVP, through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), when they are not maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status.
It is imperative the school understands the resources, roles, and responsibilities required for being a certified school. For questions on the certification process, send an email to email@example.com. (Source: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/i17_process.pdf)
Benefits to international students and career schools
The reasons that international students elect to come to the U.S. are many: those who come to the United States are typically eager to experience American culture, become more proficient in the English language, and commit to undertaking a course of study that may not be available in their own country.
For international students interested in technical careers, studying in the U.S. allows them to interact with and build relationships which potential employers that may have facilities in many locations throughout the world – such as multi-national airline operators, wind energy producers, and oil and gas companies.
MIAT College of Technology Houston campus leaders initiated the SEVP certification process in May 2016 and secured approval in May 2017. Earlier this year, the Houston campus enrolled its first group of international students.
MIAT faculty and staff are working closely with international partners that include government entities, non-profit organizations, employers, educational institutions, and recruiters to promote the school’s workforce development programs that can be completed in 3 to 24 months. Since securing its SEVP certification, the Houston campus of MIAT has attracted considerable interest from potential students who reside in the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.
Offering a comprehensive support system that includes compassionate and knowledgeable school instructors, counselors, and administrators on campus will ensure international students that help is readily accessible. School faculty and staff members must be well-equipped to address challenges that are commonly associated with hosting international students (i.e., providing housing and transportation assistance, counseling services to overcome twinges of homesickness or difficulty with coursework, and being sensitive to cultural considerations, some of which are use of the English language, regional dialects, dietary preferences, religious or political views, attire and personal grooming).
Language barriers can be especially problematic for students who must absorb extremely technical information in a compressed amount of time. Enforcing an English language proficiency requirement based off the TOEFL exam reduces stress and enhances the educational experience for students and instructors.
Becoming a SEVP-certified school opens new markets for recruiting and enrolling students beyond the U.S. borders and brings cultural diversity to a campus. Additionally, SEVP-certified schools are not able to offer traditional financial aid programs. Instead, tuition, fees, and books for international students attending SEVP-certified schools must be paid by the student or through a scholarship issued by a corporation, educational institution outside of the U.S. or a government entity in their own country.
It is critical that schools embrace international students and highlight the benefits they bring to the college, students and staff. Although it can be a lengthy process, securing SEVP certification can have a positive impact on the overall student population and graduates. The presence of international students on campus offers a diversity and richness to the classroom that better prepares graduates. As this world becomes smaller, a student who has experienced additional cultures offers another unique, advantageous perspective in the job search process.
To learn more about the SEVP certification process, follow this link to Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.ice.gov/sevis/i17
JOHN WILLIS is the President of MIAT College of Technology-Texas. The campus is in Houston. Willis also has more than 20 years of leadership experience in career education and training for colleges and institutions in Arizona, Kansas and Texas. He has served in the roles of president, dean, and faculty member.
Willis is a member of the MIAT board of directors.
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