Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently released its final regulation increasing SEVIS program fees and establishing general procedures for out-of-cycle reviews and recertification of schools in the SEVIS program. In conjunction with the release of the final regulation, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) also issued a broadcast message to all SEVIS users through the SEVIS system notifying them of the release of the final regulation and providing additional information about the implementation of the final regulation. The final regulation becomes effective on October 27, 2008.
The following are some highlights from the final regulation and additional interpretation of the regulation provided by SEVP through the SEVIS broadcast message:
1. Beginning on October 27th, 2008, the following SEVIS fee increases will become effective:
In the final regulation, SEVP confirmed that the site visit fee pertains only to initial SEVP certification (or initial events such as approving a new location or campus). SEVP stated that if a school requires an on-site review (which is different than on-site visit as part of an out-of-cycle review or recertification) will not be charged a site visit fee.
2. In its broadcast message, SEVP reminded schools that changes of ownership at a school must be reported in SEVIS within 60 days of occurrence. SEVP stated that the initiating date for this period is the date on which the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues the new owner and Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). SEVP warned that failure to comply with this reporting requirement is grounds for automatic withdrawal of SEVP certification. SEVP stated that as of October 27, 2008 and no later than school recertification, SEVP will enforce this requirement against any school that has not made the correction.
3. In response to its proposed regulation, SEVP received three comments requesting that SEVP better define what is a campus and what is required of schools when a campus is added. In the preamble of its final regulations, SEVP stated that it agrees with the comments but has intentionally decided not to clarify this issue in its final rule. SEVP stated that it intends to propose another rule to be in place when recertification begins and anticipates addressing this issue in more detail in that rule making. Although SEVP declined to provide additional information in its final rule, it did provide additional information in its broadcast message. In the broadcast message, SEVP stated that all instructional sites within a school group that meet the Department of Education’s definition of a “branch campus” or at which an international student can either complete their degree or requirements for a program of study or complete more than 51% of their requirements for a program of study must be listed on the school’s Form I-17.
4. In the preamble of its final regulations, SEVP stated that recertification will focus primarily on how well a school updates records on school information and student records. SEVP stated in its broadcast message that the message is the first step in the recertification process which it expects to begin on January 2, 2009 when the first 400 schools will be sent notices of eligibility for recertification. In its broadcast message, SEVP stated that policy guidance on recertification has not yet been released, but will be posted on the SEVP website as soon as its approved.
After the first group of schools receives its eligibility for recertification, SEVP stated that it anticipates that it will then continue to issue notices each month on an ongoing basis for two years until 9,000 SEVIS certified schools have been issued a notice. SEVP stated that after a school receives its notice of eligibility for recertification, it will have 180 days to respond to the notice. SEVP will issue a second notice approximately 90 days after the initial notice for schools that have not forwarded a complete recertification package to SEVP by that date. Schools that have submitted a package by that date but that still receive a notice will have to conclude that the submitted package has not been recognized as “complete” by SEVP. If SEVP still does not receive a completed package by 150 days after the service of a notice of eligibility for recertification, SEVP will issue a Notice of Intent to Withdraw (NOIW). The NOIW will inform the school that if a complete recertification package is not submitted to SEVP prior to the school’s certification expiration date, SEVP will automatically withdraw the school’s certification within 30 days of the NOIW being issued. SEVP stated that any time during the 180 days following receipt of the notice of eligibility and until the adjudication of the school’s recertification petition, SEVP may issue a Request For Evidence (RFE) asking the school to supplement information that is unclear or ambiguous. Failure to respond to an RFE will result in the automatic withdrawal of the school’s certification. SEVP stated that schools that do not submit a complete package at the time of submission will not be sent an RFE for the omitted information.
5. In its proposed rule, SEVP proposed a new requirement to require Designated School Officials (DSOs) to enter the date of last entry into the United States and the most recent Form I-94 number and date of issuance into the SEVIS system for each student. However, in the final regulation, SEVP decided to delete this additional requirement. However, SEVP did retain the other record keeping requirements included in the proposed regulations which it stated were not new but were only clarified with the regulation.
6. In the preamble of its final regulation, SEVP confirmed that schools do not necessarily need to keep a hard copy of its records. SEVP stated that records review will be of the system that is in place at the school, electronic or hard copy. SEVP also stated in the final regulation that student information that is not required for entry into SEVIS may be kept in the school’s student system of records but that this information must be accessible to the DSOs. The final regulation also increases the record retention period from one year to three years. In the preamble of the final regulation, SEVP confirmed that this regulation is not retroactive.
7. In its final regulation and also in the broadcast message, SEVP reminded schools that all notices related to certification, oversight, recertification, denial, appeals, withdrawals and RFEs will be transmitted through SEVIS by email. SEVP stated that schools should ensure that any email firewalls will not prevent receipt of emails from firstname.lastname@example.org.