Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued draft guidance (1210-03) that is of particular note to colleges and universities enrolling foreign students into “pathway programs”.  The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is currently requesting comments from the public on guidance addressing the certification of a school’s pathway program for F-1 student enrollment. The guidance remains open for comment until Nov. 10, 2014.  Comments can be made via e-mail at SEVPFeedback@ice.dhs.gov.

Because some foreign students may not yet be able to meet the requirements to enter a degree-granting program, many institutions of higher education offer programs combining remedial and non-remedial coursework. As framed by the draft guidance, this comes in two forms: “Bridge Programs” which upon completion enables students to a subsequent degree-granting program and “Bridged Degree Programs” which instead combine remedial and non-remedial coursework as part of a program’s structure or special track.

SEVP is now signaling that such pathway programs may be certified for enrollment, subject to the following conditions:

  • Pathway programs must contain at least one non-remedial course per session and all non-remedial courses must be (i) transferable towards meeting graduation requirements in the intended degree-granting program of study (if a Bridge Program) or (ii) meet the graduation requirements of the current degree-granting program of study (if a Bridged Degree Program);
  • Programs involving English as a Second Language (“ESL”) instruction must comply with the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act. Additionally, no session may consist of only ESL coursework – such students instead must be given a Form I-20 for an ESL-specific program;
  • ESL courses may count as non-remedial courses only if all the ESL course credits in the pathway programs are transferable towards meeting graduation requirements in Bridge or Bridged Degree Programs;
  • The school must have stated admission standards for the pathway program which the student must meet before a designated school official issues the Form I-20, including any English proficiency requirement; and
  • The school must have stated policies on program length and defining academic progress.

If made effective, SEVP-certified institutions with approved pathway programs on their Form I-17 could continue operating the pathway program only if the DSO updates the Form I-17 within one year of the guidance effective date, “or sooner upon SEVP request”. DSOs would also need to issue Forms I-20 in accordance with finalized (now in draft form) Bridge Program and Bridged Degree Program fact sheets.

Institutions without approved pathway programs would need to submit a Form I-17 update and receive an approval prior to the issuance of I-20s for the program, necessitating non-approved programs be ceased upon finalization of the guidance.

The considerations for new guidance are under review and can be found at Pathway Programs. Final Guidance will be established after close of the comment period on November 10, 2014.