A Public School at the secondary level (grades 9-12) is eligible for Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification. An F-1 or M-1 student may not attend a public school for kindergarten through 8th grades because those schools cannot be SEVP-certified. F-1 or M-1 students are eligible to attend kindergarten through 12th grade at an SEVP-certified Private School.
Public School Funding
Local, state and federal tax revenue fund public schools. F-1 students attending an SEVP-certified public secondary school must compensate U.S. taxpayers by paying the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of attending school for one year in that location. Payment of this cost and the I-901 SEVIS Fee must occur before the prospective student applies for an F-1 or M-1 visa. The prospective F-1 or M-1 student must be able to present proof of this payment of the full, unsubsidized per capita cost at the visa interview and, potentially again, at the port of entry when applying for admission into the United States. DSOs should reference the National Center for Education Statistics, district search or school search to determine the sum of the cost.
Public School Enrollment
An international student may attend an SEVP-certified public secondary school (grades 9-12) with certain restrictions.
International students may study at public high school for a maximum period of 12 months. This time limit includes all public high schools the student attends. However, time spent enrolled in a public high school in a nonimmigrant status other than F-1 does not count against the 12-month limit. F-1 students cannot spend a year at one public high school and then transfer to another public high school, but F-1 students may transfer from a public to a private high school if they wish to continue pursuing a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as from a public high school to higher education.
International students must pay the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of attending school in that district. Again, payment of this cost must occur before the prospective student applies for an F-1 visa. The prospective nonimmigrant student must be able to present proof of payment at the visa interview and at the port of entry when applying for admission into the United States.
Special notes for minor children of F-1 and M-1 students include:
- A minor F-2 or M-2 dependent of an F-1 or M-1 student may attend public K-12 school at the appropriate grade level without any additional permission or documentation from SEVP.
- State education laws may require that F-2 and M-2 students attend the appropriate grade level until a certain age.
- The elementary, middle or secondary school an F-2 or M-2 student attends does not need to be SEVP-certified.
- For a minor F-2 or M-2 dependent to transfer from a public school to a private school, the F-1 or M-1 student and/or F-2 spouse, if applicable, should talk to the school’s DSO.
To learn more about SEVP regulations for F-2 or M-2 dependents studying in the United States, visit the Change of Status page.