Effective May 29, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security will amend its regulations under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The change will (1) eliminate existing limits on the maximum number of designated school officials higher education institutions can appoint, and (2) allow the spouses and children of nonimmigrant students to enroll to study at an SEVP-certified school so long as they enroll in less than a full-time capacity.
U.S educational institutions are required to designate individuals, known as “DSO”s, who are responsible for administering requirements relating to international students studying in the United States. DSOs must ensure that schools comply with immigration laws and regulations and maintain international students’ records in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The U.S. government adopted the SEVIS program in 2003 to track and monitor certain visa holders and their dependents throughout their approved participation within the United States education system or a designated exchange visitor program. A DSO acts as a liaison between nonimmigrant students, schools, and the U.S. government, and is responsible for a wide range of compliance responsibilities.
For more than a decade, schools were only allowed to appoint limited numbers of DSOs, presumably to ensure the robustness of institutional compliance programs, even as the requirements for such positions have expanded. DSOs often bear significant responsibility in activities such as issuing I-20s and ensuring that student requests for work authorization (OPT and CPT) are timely submitted. The new regulations’ elimination of this limitation will allow schools flexibility in deciding how many DSOs are needed on their particular campus, although still subject to approval from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which manages SEVIS. Nevertheless, the new need-based approach should allow schools to appoint additional DSOs and thus improve institutional ability to efficiently meet the individual needs of their international students.
In addition, the new regulations will allow accompanying spouses and children of nonimmigrant students (students with F-1 or M-1 nonimmigrant status) to enroll at an SEVP-certified school, provided that their course load remains less than a full course of study. This initiative is consistent with other aspects of the Immigration Accountability Executive Actions (IAEA) announced by President Obama in November 2014 to add flexibility to the U.S. immigration system.
The impact of these changes on universities is expected to be significant, as they provide greater incentives for international students and their families to seek out U.S. educational opportunities, and ease institutional efforts to manage administrative requirements relating to such enrollment.
* Nicholas Simpson is currently a second-year law student at DePaul University and is a Franczek Radelet LEADS