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Back to School – 3 Tips for Designated School Officials

It is the end of August, and students return to college and university campuses with high hopes and expectations for the future. This rite of passage carries a host of emotions, from nervousness to excitement for all college students.

But it can be even more nerve-wracking for international students, who must always bear in mind the stringent requirements of their student visas. As you welcome international students to campus, here are three common questions we hear from Designated School Officials (DSOs) of higher education Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) participants.

What if an international student doesn’t arrive on campus?

DSOs must first and foremost make sure their student arrives on campus once they have received the I-20 stamp on their student visa.

Once a student arrives, DSOs should register the student in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Failure to enroll a student within 30 days of the “session start date” results in the termination of the student’s record and a “failure to enroll” designation.

If SEVIS shows a student has entered the United States and the student does not report to the school within 30 days of the program start date DSOs must terminate the student’s record as a “no show.” This action will notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the student violated their visa status and remained in the United States unlawfully. If a student does not report to campus and SEVIS does not record entry into the United States, cancel the student’s record within 30 days of the program start date.

How can I set my international students up for success?

A rigorous orientation can help set your international students up for success and ensure SEVP compliance for your school. It is unfair, but international students don’t have the same margin of error as their American counterparts – seemingly minor infractions can give cause for a student visa to be revoked. Orientation should cover the following topics related to maintaining their student visa in the United States:

  • Work Authorization – It is important for students to understand work authorization requirements of their student visas. Students should know whether they can participate in on-campus employment, employment for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), or needs-based off-campus employment.
  • Maintain Proper Course Load – Starting a new school year can be difficult, and there are many reasons a student might choose to drop a class – trying to maintain a good GPA, becoming overwhelmed with studies, or unforeseen medical or personal issues. The decision to drop a class is not as simple for an international student, who must maintain a minimum course load of 12 hours per semester. Important to note, SEVP states that foreign students can take only one online course per semester to count towards their course load. Orientation should help students understand the importance of maintaining a course load that makes sense for them, while staying within the guidelines of SEVP.
  • Stay Out of Trouble – For many higher education students, college is the first time away from home. The university experience gives students a chance to test their independence, sometimes with mixed results. Foreign students should be aware that infractions to school rules can be enough to jeopardize their visa status, and more serious criminal charges could result in long-lasting implications for the individual. Setting clear expectations up front can help minimize future problems for the international student.

What if an international student needs to drop a class?

SEVP allows DSOs to authorize reduced course loads for three specific exceptions – academic difficulty, medical conditions, or completion of course study. A DSO can authorize a reduced course load (RCL) for academic difficulty once per program level, and only for the initial academic term. An academic RCL can be issued for the following reasons:

  • Initial difficulty with the English language; or
  • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods; or
  • Improper course level placement.

DSOs can authorize a total of 12 months of reduced course load at the same program level. If student needs an RCL for medical conditions, it is important to maintain meticulous records. DCOs must keep medical documentation from a licensed medical doctor, D.O., or clinical psychologist on file for the student. The medical documentation should be provided by the student for each new session.

Lastly, an RCL can be issued for a student is in the final session of their program of study who does not need a full course load to complete the program.

The importance of a DSO for foreign students

DSOs hold critical positions for international students and should work with students proactively to make sure they stay in compliance with SEVP requirements. Successful international student programs assist with course registration, monitor academic progress, and communicate with professors to stay ahead of compliance issues. If you are considering SEVP certification or would like help making sure your international student office is empowered to help foreign students, contact us for a complimentary consultation.