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Welcome to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Spotlight, a quarterly newsletter for the academic community that includes important program news, seasonal reminders and updates relevant to the international student life cycle.
SEVP Director's Corner: Protecting International Students from Scams
A message from Rachel Canty, Director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program
As a new school year begins, it’s important to protect your international students from scamming attempts they may encounter while studying in the United States. Cultural and language barriers often make it difficult for your international students to discern what is a genuine offer of assistance versus a scam, which can make them vulnerable to fraudulent solicitations. I want to highlight a variety of scamming examples to be aware of, in addition to resources to help your international students avoid common scams and keep their personal information safe.
In order to receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” your SEVP-certified schools may require prospective international students to pass an English language test, like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or prove their ability to speak, read and write in English in order to be eligible for admission. Prospective international students should be weary of individuals who offer to take the TOEFL exam on their behalf, as it could violate the status of their student visa. You and your students should report any suspicion of TOEFL-related fraud to the SEVP Response Center and the Educational Testing Service.
In addition to TOEFL scams, be aware of other types of scams, such as imposter scams and phishing attacks. With imposter scams, scammers often try to impersonate government officials to intimidate students into giving them personal information or money. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will never ask students to transfer money to an individual. In addition, students will never be asked to pay fees via phone or by email. If a student receives a threatening call or message from someone claiming to be a government or law enforcement official, they should:
- Not give the person any personal or financial information.
- Collect the caller’s contact information.
- End the conversation immediately if threats and intimidation persist.
We have recently heard about scammers contacting international students to let them know that they have a family member in the hospital in their home country. They will then ask the student to transfer money to help that family member. Please let your international students know that they should always check with their family members first before transferring money by phone or email to a family member in need.
Lastly, anyone can be impacted by phishing attacks. Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to infect devices with viruses that collect personal information. These emails usually direct recipients to a website or ask them to reveal private information, such as credit card information. You and your students should avoid:
- Accessing personal or bank accounts from a public computer or public WiFi network.
- Revealing personally identifiable information, such as a bank account number, Social Security number or date of birth to unknown or untrustworthy sources.
If a student is a target or victim of a scamming attempt, encourage them to contact you and please report it to ICE’s anonymous Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line. You can also visit USCIS’ tips on avoiding common scams or read DHS’s Identity Theft and Internet Scams Tip Card.
As always, we appreciate your work and thank you for your continued support.
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What's New on Study in the States
Check Out the New Traveling as an International Student Page
While studying in the United States, F and M students may be able to travel throughout the United States or internationally. The new Traveling as an International Student page on Study in the States provides international students with tips to help make sure their travel and reentry to the United States is as smooth as possible. Share this new page with your students and remind them to contact you if they plan to travel!
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Field Representative Unit Update
Back-to-School Emergency Preparedness Tips
Harriet K. Brown is the SEVP field representative for Territory 9, serving the greater Los Angeles, California region.
As we reach the end of National Preparedness Month, take some time to consider your role in emergency operations and your SEVP-certification responsibilities when planning your response to campus disruptions and emergency events. As a designated school official, you should:
- Recognize that international students may come from countries where they may never have experienced certain natural disasters and may not recognize warning signs. Consider including info sessions and invite experts to present during new student orientation days. You can also provide a general handout or guide focusing on emergencies that are common in your area.
- Collaborate with emergency managers and other school officials to ensure that their school incorporates the unique needs of F and M students into its emergency planning, including updating and maintaining Student and Exchange Visitor Information System records.
- Work with F and M students to ensure they understand how to maintain their nonimmigrant student status during an emergency.
- Ensure international students have your emergency contact information, including a number where you can be reached after business hours and an email address you regularly check.
- Explain to international students what emergency resources are available at their school and encourage international students to stay informed by signing up for campus-wide alerts.
For additional emergency preparedness resources, visit FEMA’s Campus Emergency Resources page and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Campus Resilience Program Resource Library.
Remind Your Students to Maintain Their Status
As a new school year is underway, remind your new and returning international students about the importance of maintaining their F or M status and their requirements for doing so. Encourage your students to reach out to you if they have any questions about the legal requirements of their stay in the United States.
Read and share these resources with your students:
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Remember to Register your Students in SEVIS
Have you registered your new and continuing international students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)? Among many other back-to-school responsibilities, designated school officials (DSOs) must register international students in Initial and Active status in SEVIS within 30 days of the start of each school session.
Please keep in mind that failure to register your F and M students can negatively affect your F and M students’ status or eligibility for benefits.
If you are a new DSO or just need a reminder on the process, watch the Demonstration on How to Register Initial and Active Students on the SEVIS Help Hub.
Bookmark the F-1 and M-1 Registration User Guide for detailed SEVIS registration instructions, links to relevant federal regulations and more.
Request to Merge your SEVIS Accounts
SEVP and the Department of State are working to create one record per person in SEVIS, beginning with school and sponsor officials. Account merging is the first phase of the process. As of September 2019, 1,815 accounts have been merged.
If you have more than one username in SEVIS, you can request to merge your accounts. Merging your accounts will allow you to:
- Choose your preferred username and password.
- Access all of your schools and programs with one username and password.
To be eligible, make sure your first and last names in SEVIS are the same across all accounts and all of your SEVIS usernames are active. You are then able to submit a request to SEVP to have your SEVIS accounts merged. To submit your merge request, send an email to SEVP@ice.dhs.gov with the subject line “Merge Accounts.”
To learn what to include in the email, read the July 2019 broadcast message or refer to the SEVIS Job Aid: Merging User Accounts on Study in the States. Requests are still being accepted.
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K-12 Best Practices
The kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) international student population is the fastest growing user group in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This section of SEVP Spotlight helps K-12 schools understand how to comply with federal regulations and navigate the international student life cycle.
K-12 Student Health & Safety: Host Family Placement
As a designated school official at a SEVP-certified school, please keep in mind that your responsibility for F-1 students’ safety, health and welfare does not stop with federal reporting requirements in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Often additional responsibilities are outlined by your state, accreditation, licensure or governing bodies to ensure you are providing students with the appropriate oversight and guidance throughout their time at your school.
Below are general tips for DSOs to consider that help foster safe and reliable policies and practices for F-1 student programs at your SEVP-certified school. These tips and best practices regarding host family placement do not serve as an interpretation or replacement for federal law, regulation or official SEVP policy guidance.
Before F-1 minor students are connected with host families:
- Make sure you have contact information for the student’s parents or legal guardian and Power of Attorney.
- Ask the host family to provide personal references, so you can check in on the reputation of the potential host family. The references should be from someone other than their own relatives.
- Check to ensure there is enough space for the student, including sleeping area and study space.
- Ensure that each member of the host family that is 18 years or older completes a background check. If a new adult joins the family later, confirm that a criminal background check has been completed for that individual as well.
Following placement with the host family:
Continue to periodically check in with the student to ask how things are going at the host family residence and immediately address or report any concerns that may come up.
Remember, regulations require that F-1 students report their physical location address to you upon the student’s arrival and within 10 days of any changes. You are required to report these changes in SEVIS.
Have the contact information on file for the host families, so that you can maintain, at a minimum, monthly personal contact with them through email or telephone. For your records, document these monthly personal contacts and in-person visits, and be sure to list the date and time such contact took place.
Provide students and host families with contact information for the school, including a telephone number and email address.
Make sure your student understands what changes or concerns they must report to you. For example, any time they are making travel plans, requesting a reduced course load for medical or academic reasons or to report any concerns.
To report any abuse, exploitation, suspicious or fraudulent activity, please contact your field representative or the anonymous HSI Tip Line.
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SEVP is dedicated to maintaining open communication with international students and academic officials. Our offices are open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, except federal holidays.
SEVP has multiple contact options:
If you need assistance with passwords or Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) technical help, email SEVISHelpDesk@ice.dhs.gov.
To report national vulnerabilities or national security concerns, contact ICE's Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit at CTCEU@ice.dhs.gov.
To report exploitation of student visa programs, contact your local HSI special agent by calling 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) or visit www.ice.gov.
Disclaimer: The information presented in SEVP Spotlight is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.
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