While a May 10 memo from United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not necessarily change the immigration law around popular student visas, it does go further in clarifying the USCIS policy on enforcing legal status in the United States. These changes could result in increased penalties for students and their sponsoring organizations.
It is, as it always has been, incredibly important to monitor your students’ compliance and to stay in contact with them about their status and how their actions can impact their legal status now and in their future. Most often, compliance issues arise unintentionally through the actions of a student, faculty member or other involved party. Here are six common mistakes to avoid, followed by steps you can take to ensure your college, university or higher education institutions maintains it’s Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) compliance (spoiler alert – you need to make sure everyone in your organization is trained appropriately).
Compliance Issue: Unauthorized Employment
Student visas come with strict guidelines about employment in the United States. Issues arise when a student unintentionally takes paying work, oftentimes in the course of their own studies. Here is a common scenario: An exceptional student has impressed their professor, who in turn asks for help researching a book. The student agrees, not knowing they have entered into unauthorized employment. The professor submits a bill for reimbursement a few months later, and the unauthorized work is revealed.
Compliance Issue: Taking too many online courses
SEVIS policy states that foreign students can take only one online course per semester – but with so many options available today, students might take two or two or three and accidentally fall below class load because they are not attending the correct number of in-class hours.
Compliance Issue: Falling Below the Required Course Load
Students are required to carry a minimum course load of 12 credit hours. We see many instances of students making two thirds of the way through a semester and decide to drop a class rather than fail it – without knowing they are falling to 11 credit hours instead of the 14 they had signed up for.
Compliance Issue: Unreported Travel
SEVP certified schools are supposed to issue travel letter to students, and make a note in SEVIS when those students travel internationally. This allows USCIS to track students and ensure they and their universities remain in compliance with the reporting requirements.
Compliance Issue: Consequences of Criminal Activity
The consequences of criminal activity, even if minor can have an impact on your students’ visa eligibility. Although charges like a DUI usually won’t impact status, drug possession can have serious and long-lasting implications. If your student is facing criminal charges, contact with a criminal attorney as well as an immigration attorney to work through the potential implications of such activity is vital.
Compliance Issue: Maintaining Compliance with OPT student
Foreign students might opt to extend the stay on their F-1 visa through Optional Practical Training when they have graduated from your institution. In this case, it is still the responsibility of the SEVP certified institution to ensure the student stays in status including ensuring they are maintaining employment and this employment is related to their degree field. Failing to do so can negatively impact your institutions certification.
Compliance Solution: Student Orientation
Robust orientation for students at the onset of their time in your institution is absolutely necessary for their success – and by extension, for your success as a SEVP college or university. It is a hard pill to swallow, but foreign national students quite simply don’t have the same margin of error of many of their peers and classmates. Similarly, holding orientations for students throughout their college careers can help prepare them for necessary steps and set them on the best path moving forward.
Compliance Solution: Faculty and Staff Communication
Sometimes what is apparent to the International Student Office or Office of Legal Counsel is just not evident to other members of your faculty and staff. The well-meaning professor who offered to give their student a job as a researcher didn’t know they were putting their student’s legal status at risk, and how could they without concise communication? Building in guidelines for all faculty and staff around student employment can help all parties concerned.
Compliance Solution: Clear Compliance Protocols
Regardless of the size of your higher education institution, it is imperative to have communication and compliance strategies in place between departments so nothing slips through the cracks. Have a plan in place for students using their OPT option and a plan to check in with both the student and employer. Compliance protocols, while difficult to put into place, create a sustainable environment for your students and your SEVP compliance.
Compliance Solution: Responsive Legal Services
If you have questions about your SEVP compliance, contact FordMurray for a complimentary consultation. For more information on SEVP compliance, read our extensive writing on the subject, or download our complimentary SEVP Compliance Guide. We help higher education institutions of all sizes create compliance plans and get all stakeholders on board, from students and faculty to legal counsel and recruiters. We would be happy to help.