Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) schools that want to enroll F-1 or M-1 students must be Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified. To learn more about the responsibilities and the commitment involved with SEVP-certification, please visit the Study in the States' Certification Responsibilities page.
A Private School at the elementary and/or secondary grade level (i.e., grades K-12) is eligible for SEVP certification. SEVP does not certify, and schools can therefore not issue Forms I-20 for, programs of study below the kindergarten level.
Regulations place no limit on the length of time an F-1 student may attend a private, SEVP-certified school. F-1 students attending a private K-12 school are responsible for paying the program’s tuition.
A Public School at the secondary level (grades 9-12) is eligible for certification. However, public elementary and middle schools (grades K-8) are not eligible for SEVP-certification. Regulations place no limit on the length of time an F-1 student may attend a private, SEVP-certified school. F-1 students attending a private K-12 school are responsible for paying the program’s tuition. However, public high schools may only enroll an F-1 student for one year. F-1 students cannot spend a year at one public high school and then transfer to another. As public schools are funded through tax revenue and not tuition, F-1 students attending an SEVP-certified public secondary school must pay the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of attending school for one year.
Minor F-2 and M-2 students (dependent children of F-1 or M-1 students) may attend school at the appropriate grade level without becoming F-1s or M-1s, or 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 or secondary school an F-2 or M-2 student attends does not need to be SEVP-certified
Principal/Designated School Officials
One of the certification requirements for a school is that the school must have dedicated employees for assisting and overseeing enrolled F-1 and M-1 students and their dependents. These are known as designated school officials (DSOs).
The school’s president, owner, or the head of a school or school system must nominate these officials by signing a Form I-17A, “Record of Designated School Officials.” Each instructional site location must have at least one principal designated school official (PDSO) who also serves as the main point of contact for SEVP related to the school’s compliance with requirements for enrolling F-1 or M-1 students. Unique added functions of a PDSO (compared to other DSOs) include:
- Add, update or delete instructional sites;
- Add or delete DSOs and update DSO information;
- Submit the recertification petition and manage the school’s recertification process;
- Register the school for a SEVIS batch interface; and
- Serve as the school’s primary point of contact to SEVP.
DSOs must have an office at the school and be accessible to the F-1 and/or M-1 students at their school. A DSO must be either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States. SEVP recommends having at least one DSO besides the PDSO.
Federal law requires DSOs to update and maintain F-1 and M-1 student records in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
DSOs should remember to register all F-1 or M-1 students in a full course of study at the start of each academic period the school is in session. For example, K-12 schools on a fall and spring semester calendar must report student enrollment at the start of the fall and spring sessions. SEVIS requires DSOs to set session lengths less than 183 days.
Especially after school vacations or breaks, when many students travel, it’s important for the DSO to confirm that the F-1 or M-1 student has returned and properly re-enrolled. The date of this confirmation of continued registration is entered into SEVIS.
For more information on specific reporting requirements, please read the SEVIS Reporting Requirements for Designated School Officials fact sheet. Be sure to log in to SEVIS periodically to receive timely updates and avoid being locked out. DSOs should not share their SEVIS username and password with anyone else. For additional help with SEVIS, please refer to the SEVIS Help Hub. For questions about regulations and policy as well as additional SEVIS help, contact the SEVP Response Center.
Verifying Student Finances
Prospective international students must be able to prove their ability to pay for their educational program, a place to stay and other applicable living expenses while in the United States. As noted above, F-1 or M-1 students attending private schools are responsible for paying tuition, while F-1 students attending a public secondary school are responsible for paying the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of attending school.
Determination of the living expenses figure is an institutional decision. In general, it should be a realistic and standardized estimate of living (e.g., lodging and food) expenses for the geographic area, not including school tuition and fees. Living expenses should not include other fees charged by a third party agency that do not contribute toward the combination of the school’s tuition, school fees and the student’s actual average living expenses, since these are discretionary expenses assumed voluntarily by the student.
While F-1 or M-1 students are not eligible for U.S. government-funded financial aid, a school may decide to award financial aid to a student. This ability to award financial aid is dependent on the school’s financial aid policies and governing regulations. Schools are free to offer scholarships to any student.
If the student’s ability to qualify financially for a program of study is contingent on such financial aid, you must enter the financial aid information as a component of the financial calculations in the student’s Initial SEVIS record. DSOs should enter this information under “Student’s Funding,” as “Funds from This School” or “Funds from Another Source,” depending on details of the financial aid.
DSOs must receive the student’s financial evidence and report the student’s sufficient assets before issuing the Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status." While federal regulations don’t specify requirements for the evidence of financial support F-1 or M-1 students must provide and some schools may have specific requirements for acceptable documentation, some common examples that have been helpful include:
- Family bank statements.
- Documentation from a sponsor.
- Financial aid letters.
- Scholarship letters.
DSOs should maintain copies of financial documentation in international student records. Remember, only DSOs may verify an F-1 or M-1 student’s financial support. (Non-school employees may not.)
Financial data should cover the student’s complete program of study or a 12-month period, whichever is shorter. The cost information on the Form I-20 should include the average school tuition, school fees and living expenses for the following periods at a time, as applicable:
- The full length of the program of study.
- Or, the length of a single academic year.
- Or, 12 months, whichever is shorter.
In the personal funding section on the Form I-20, DSOs should list the different financial resources allowing the student to meet these costs. For example, a student living with a relative can include this information in the “Student’s Funding” section under “Funds from Another Source.”
For additional information, DSOs can reference the Study in the States blog post, DSOs: Remember to Correctly Input Financial Information in SEVIS.
A school may consider the option of consulting service providers to help in the F-1 or M-1 student recruitment process. A prospective F-1 or M-1 student may consider the option of consulting service providers to facilitate acceptance at a school that best meets their interests and capability. These service providers are often referred to as recruiters.
Depending on where the prospective F-1 or M-1 student lives, such services could include a recruiter, broker, or agent who charges fees or receives a commission for such things as recruiting students or helping them obtain a student visa, housing or other services.
Students do not need to use a recruiter in order to obtain a United States student visa. Prospective F-1 or M-1 students should have direct contact with a DSO at the school and do not need to work through a recruiter for this. When your school accepts a student, the DSO should verify the student’s information and issue a Form I-20 directly to the student.
A recruiter has no role in handling the Form I-20. A recruiter cannot issue a Form I-20, nor should the recruiter retain an original Form I-20 or refuse to give the form to a prospective international student for any reason. Admission to a school should be based upon the student’s qualifications, as submitted with the prospective F-1 or M-1 student’s application to the school.
For more information, please visit Study in the States’ What is a Commission-Based Recruiter resource page and ICE.gov's policy guidance on Form I-20 Issuance and School Use of Recruiters. For assistance for prospective students preparing to study in the United States, please learn more about EducationUSA.
Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document in which a parent or legal guardian authorizes another adult to act in his or her place on behalf of the child. The Power of Attorney acts as a “permission slip” which tells others, such as doctors or teachers, when a parent’s signature is needed that the other adult has authority to sign in place of that parent or guardian.
If a parent or legal guardian will not be living with a minor international student while the student is attending school in the United States, SEVP recommends the student’s parent or legal guardian consult with the school to determine the requirement for such a document. These documents vary, depending upon the state in which the certified school is located.
In general, SEVP recommends that the F-1 or M-1 student or the adult with Power of Attorney for oversight of the minor student while in the United States maintains control of all the student’s personal documents. These documents include, but are not limited to, the Form I-20, I-901 SEVIS Fee payment receipt, passport and/or visa, printout of the Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” and proof of finances. DSOs at K-12 schools may choose to assist minor students in protecting their documents.
A recruiter must not make or supply any of the required legal documents.
International Student Athletes
Many high schools in the United States have sports teams that students and fans support throughout the year. An international student may participate in amateur athletics if they maintain their nonimmigrant student status. However, the primary reason for the student coming to the United States in F-1 or M-1 status must be to study at an SEVP-certified school and complete the program of study.
For an F-1 or M-1 student interested in joining a sports team, it is important to remember a few rules for international student athletes:
- They must maintain their nonimmigrant student status.
- They must be enrolled in and attend an SEVP-certified school each session.
- Prior to receiving stipends or scholarships, international student athletes should speak with their DSO in order to properly understand the implications and financial responsibilities associated with accepting them.
Certain states, localities or districts may have rules or policies concerning international students and their participation in athletics. It is a good practice to inform any prospective international student expecting to be involved in school athletics of these rules or policies.
It is especially important for the DSO to maintain the SEVIS record of an international student athlete in a timely manner by registering the student each session, transferring the student to SEVP-certified schools only, and transferring the existing SEVIS record when the student transfers. Remember, a DSO should not create a new SEVIS record in lieu of properly obtaining the transfer of the student’s record.
After 12th Grade
An F-1 secondary school student who would like to continue studying in the United States after graduation from a public or private SEVP-certified school may apply to an SEVP-certified college or university.
If the F-1 student is accepted to a college or university, as the student’s DSO, you are responsible for transferring the student’s SEVIS record from your school to the new school. Make sure you transfer the student record to the correct college or university campus.
Remember, you do not need to and should not complete a student’s SEVIS record prior to transfer. However, the secondary school DSO should ensure the program end date is correct in SEVIS prior to the record transfer. Additionally, DSOs must initiate transfer of the student’s record to the new school within 60 days of the program end date.
It is a best practice for a DSO to be aware of all off-campus housing arrangements for the school’s minor international students and to encourage your student’s parents or legal guardians to do the same. Boarding schools, by state and local regulation, are required to provide housing for students. For nonresidential schools, regulations concerning a school’s responsibility for oversight of the housing of F-1 or M-1 minors vary by state or locality and depend on whether the school provides housing or there is a homestay arrangement.
As a best practice, SEVP recommends that K-12 DSOs verify that a student’s U.S. physical address is current in SEVIS when completing registration to ensure the safety of the student. Without a known address the minor students cannot be easily located during an emergency.
SEVP also recommends performing a background check of a K-12 student’s host family and having contact information for the host family.
For additional information, please refer to the Best Practices for K-12 Schools: Five Student Housing Guidelines to Follow blog post.
An F-1 student studying at a secondary school can enroll in college courses through concurrent enrollment as long as the student continues to fulfill the full course of study requirements at their K-12 school. The student can gain college credit, but the concurrent enrollment must contribute to the secondary level course of study (i.e., it must contribute toward a diploma) as long as the high school is issuing the Form I-20 and maintaining the SEVIS record.
Additionally, F-1 secondary students may take college courses as an extra class, outside of a full course of study, if the course is taken in addition to the student meeting the secondary school’s full course of study requirements.
If consistent with the Fair Labor Standards Act and state labor laws within the state that the student resides, an F-1 or M-1 student at the K-12 level may be authorized for on- and off-campus employment or an internship with an international organization. Off-campus employment requires authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on the basis of economic hardship. Remember, K-12 students are ineligible for practical training. On-campus employment may be authorized by the school, for example, as part of a financial aid or scholarship package.