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U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Study in the States

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Use the Study in the States glossary to define key terms throughout the F and M student process in the United States. If you are a current or prospective student, select “students” to see terms that specifically relate to you—from visas, to forms, benefits, and more. School officials should select “schools” to find more information on certification, responsibilities, and how to help their F and M students. You can also sort terms by selecting the letter of the alphabet a term begins with.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

A part of the National Security Investigations Division and acts as a bridge for government organizations that have an interest in information on nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, SEVP manages schools, nonimmigrant students in the F and M visa classifications and their dependents.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified Schools

The only schools that are officially authorized to enroll F and M students.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

A designation the Secretary of Homeland Security may make about a foreign country "due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent safe return of the country's citizens; or where, in certain circumstances, the country is unable to handle the return of its citizens adequately." Benefits of TPS are temporary and vary, based on the designation. USCIS administers TPS.


When an F or M student has failed to maintain their nonimmigrant status, the designated school official updates their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System record to Terminated status and they must depart the country. 


The release of a student’s record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System from one SEVP-certified school to another. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

An agency within the Department of Homeland Security that authorizes benefits for students and exchange visitors. Students can request benefits such as employment, extending their stay, or changing status from USCIS.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

A Department of Homeland Security agency that secures the borders of the United States, including airports, land borders and seaports. When entering the country, F and M students go through inspections with CBP officers and must present proper documentation.

U.S. Department of Education

A federal agency that establishes the legislation, policies and guidance for educational institutions in the United States, primarily colleges, universities and post-secondary institutions.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

A federal agency whose missions include preventing terrorism and enhancing security, managing U.S. borders, administering immigration laws, securing cyberspace, and ensuring disaster resilience. Through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, DHS secures the student visa system.

U.S. Department of State

A federal agency that issues visas at U.S. consulates and embassies, and offers student-specific information on its websites. The U.S. Department of State also manages the J visa programs within the United States.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency that promotes homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration. Through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, ICE helps secure the foreign student visa system.

Updates to Form I-17

Changes that designated school officials at Student and Exchange Visitor Program‑certified schools must make if the school’s Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Students,” does not match the school’s current operating status.


An online, account-based system from USCIS students can use to view their benefit requests, receive electronic notification of decisions, and receive real-time case status updates.


A document issued by the Department of State that enables a student or exchange visitor to travel to a U.S. port of entry and request permission to enter the United States. Students need either an F-1 or M‑1 visa to enroll in U.S. programs of study.

Visa-Exempt Country

Certain countries, including Canada and Bermuda, whose citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States and may apply at the U.S. port of entry for F-1, M-1, or J-1 nonimmigrant status. Citizens of these countries must still:

  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee
  • Receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”
  • Maintain status
Visa-Waiver Country

A group of 38 countries who have an agreement with the Department of State allowing their citizens to enter the United States without a visa for 90 days or less for “business, tourism, visiting or pleasure.” If citizens from visa waiver countries want to study in the United States, they need to be accepted to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school and apply for an F or M visa.


People who give time and effort but do not receive any form of payment. F and M students may volunteer as long as they do not receive any form of taxable income. If the position is one for which an employer would otherwise officially hire someone, you may work there only with all necessary employment authorization.