The Department of State recently updated sections of its Foreign Affairs Manual to provide guidance regarding student and exchange visitor issues. The following notable updates have been made:  

  • The DOS has created a new Student/Exchange Visitor Visa Center to respond to inquiries about individual student and exchange visitor visa cases. The Center can be reached via email at fmjvisas@state.gov and typically receives almost 900 inquiries a month.  
  • The DOS has instructed that the SEVIS record is the definitive record to determine student or exchange visitor visa eligibility. A new version of SEVIS form is expected to be released by spring 2010. It will remove the requirement for the paper forms, but until then F/M/J visa applicants must present signed I-20 or DS- 2019 forms. The DOS has instructed that a form which contains minor errors (e.g., a program start date that is off one day) can nevertheless be processed. However, if the form indicates an unrealizable program start date, or has a typographic error in the biographic data section, the information must be corrected in SEVIS. The issuer then must consider whether the error would cause the traveler difficulty at the port of entry. If it would, the applicant should be instructed to travel with a corrected hard copy of the form.  
  • The DOS also instructed that attendance at a lesser-known college, English language program, or a community college is not, in itself, a reason for refusing a student visa applicant. A student must be able to demonstrate that he has a long-term educational plan which includes initial attendance at a community college or English language program, and then a transfer to a four-year college. The DOS has stated that in evaluating the student’s long-term goals, the officer should keep in mind that the choice of school is not nearly as important as why he/she chose it.
  • The DOS reminds posts that J exchange visitors are required to have adequate medical insurance in order to participate in an exchange program. F and M students are not required to have medical insurance in order to qualify for a visa. However, most universities require it. The DOS stated that a student’s assurance that he will be able to afford any health care expenses in the United States could certainly help a student overcome public charge concerns.
  • The DOS has updated the Exchange Visitor Skills List and is nearing publication in the Federal Register. Once it is published, the DOS will notify posts and provide details regarding its effective date.
  • The DOS has decided to terminate its summer Au Pair Pilot Program that began in the summer of 2005. It will be discontinued at the end of the 2009 summer placement period.
  • The DOS has extended a two-year Pilot program by the Center for International Education through February 15, 2011. The Pilot Program will add a second teacher exchange sponsor, the Foreign Academic and Cultural Exchange Services (FACES). The Pilot Program, started in February 2007 exchange visitor teachers, was meant to provide an opportunity to evaluate the need for and acceptance of a reduced experience requirement. The Pilot is being conducted by the Center for International Education, Inc. and Foreign Academic and Cultural Exchange Services (FACES), DOS-designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsors, and limited to nationals of nine countries: Australia, Canada, Columbia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Venezuela. Participants in this pilot program are not required to have three years of prior teaching experience. They are required to be eligible for employment as a teacher in their home country as demonstrated by a provisional or full teaching certificate, license, or other credential that permits employment as a teacher in the respective home country. They must also present a signed letter of acceptance for a full time teaching position from a U.S. accredited school (K-12), on school letterhead and signed by the appropriate school official. All other eligibility requirements for this exchange category must be met.
  • The DOS instructs posts to ensure that student and exchange visitor visa applicants are given priority when scheduling appointments for interviews. In addition, the DOS instructs posts to provide Information regarding the availability of expedited appointments each posts’ website, recorded information and via call centers. The DOS emphasizes that whenever possible, every applicant should be able to receive an appointment before his/her program start date. Priority should go to first-time applicants, while repeat applicants can be placed on a lower-priority tier.