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English Language Training

English language training programs enroll F-1 students who want to pursue an English language training course of study. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) defines two types of English language training programs:

  • A “stand-alone” English language training program is an SEVP-certified institution whose officials have indicated on the school's Form I-17, “Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,” that the school offers only English language training programs of study.
  • A “combined” English language training program is an SEVP-certified institution whose officials have indicated on the school's Form I-17 that the school offers an English language training program of study, as well as other programs of study.

It is important that both English language training students and schools understand how SEVP rules and reporting requirements relate to their unique program of study. Failing to properly comply with federal regulations may have adverse impacts on a student’s status or a school’s SEVP certification.

Guidance for Students

Like other F-1 students in the United States, English language training students must maintain their status by enrolling in a full course of study and following the rules associated with their benefits outside of the classroom. This section explains these requirements and provides links to more resources on Study in the States.

Full Course of Study

All English language training students must enroll in either 18 clock hours per week if the majority of the program consists of classroom instruction or 22 clock hours per week if the majority of the program consists of lab instruction. Online courses cannot count toward a full course of study for an English language training student.

If you are an F-1 student enrolled in a degree or certificate program and are having difficulties due to English language limitations, please talk to your designated school official (DSO). You may have options to incorporate English language courses into your schedule. They include, but are not limited to, enrolling in a pathway program. For more information about these options, review the Pathway Program section below and visit the Full Course of Study page.


English language training students may transfer to a different SEVP-certified school at any time, including immediately upon arrival in the United States. However, students may only make an immediate transfer if they can begin their course of study at the transfer-in school within 30 days of their arrival in the United States.

Since Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) records are government property, DSOs may not refuse to transfer a student’s SEVIS record to another SEVP-certified school. However, schools may have their own internal rules and fees associated with transferring academic records. For more information, please visit the Transferring to Another School page.


As Active F-1 students, English language training students may seek approval for on-campus and off-campus employment, as well as an internship with an international organization. However, they are ineligible for any practical training opportunities.

If English language training students participate in on-campus or off-campus employment opportunities, they cannot work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session and must continue to enroll in a full course of study. English language training students must also obtain a Social Security number with the Social Security Administration. For additional information, visit the Working in the United States page and Obtaining a Social Security Number page.

Annual Vacation

Like other F-1 students, English language training students are eligible for an annual vacation after they complete at least one full academic year at an SEVP-certified school.

However, because English language training programs may have a unique schedule, students should talk to their DSO to ensure they understand what constitutes a full academic year and the rules that apply to taking an annual vacation. For more information about annual vacation, please visit the Maintaining Status page.

Guidance for Schools

English language training programs that wish to enroll F-1 students must first obtain SEVP certification and maintain this certification. Given the nature of these programs, English language training has specific requirements they must meet to obtain and maintain SEVP certification. This section explains these requirements and provides links to more resources on Study in the States.

K-12 Schools

SEVP-certified private kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools may not issue Forms I-20 to enroll students in only an English language training program. Any K-12 school that offers an independent, summer or adult education English training program must receive separate SEVP-certification and provide evidence that the English language program is accredited by a national or regional accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education.

K-12 schools may offer English language courses to students as preparation (e.g., summer orientation or remedial English language course) for students who will enroll at the start of the session. The student should be issued the Form I-20 for the K-12 program of study and DSOs must indicate that the student will be engaged in such a program in the "remarks" field of the student's Form I-20.


In accordance with the Accreditation of English Training Programs Act, all SEVP-certified English language training must possess accreditation from a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If your school was impacted by Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) loss of accreditation, please visit for more information.

Pathway Program Guidance Series

Over a three-year period, through ongoing discussions with the academic community, SEVP developed and released three final policy guidance documents for SEVP-certified schools related to conditional admission, English proficiency requirements on the Form I-20 and special programs for English language development. These guidance documents include:

Please note, while international student educators use several terms interchangeably to describe these programs—including pathways, foundation year, bridge, bridged degree and others—SEVP has chosen to use the term “pathway programs” to encompass the generalities of these multiple terms.

Conditional Admission and the English Proficiency Field

SEVP regulation prohibits the issuance of a Form I-20 based on conditional admission. DSOs can only issue a Form I-20 to students that meet all standards for admission for the program of study listed on the Form I-20 (including any English proficiency requirements). It is the DSO’s responsibility to ensure proper Form I-20 issuance and consistent use of the English proficiency field on the form.

SEVP defines conditional admission as:

  • An agreement between a school and a student to tentatively admit the student into a program of study for which the student does not meet all standards for admission, or
  • The set of established criteria a prospective student must meet to gain admittance to a program of study (including English proficiency requirements).


DSOs can also find instructions for completing the English proficiency field on the Form I-20 in SEVP Policy Guidance S13.2: The Form I-20 and the English Proficiency Field. Remember, DSOs must also keep evidence in the student’s record demonstrating that the student met all standards for admission as well as an account of how the school determined both the need for language instruction and the most suitable means for providing instruction.

This agreement is contingent upon the student successfully meeting a school-specified set of supplemental conditions intended to fully qualify the student for the program. For more information about SEVP’s policy concerning conditional admission, please read the SEVP Policy Guidance S13.1: Conditional Admission available under the “Policy” drop-down in the Schools section of

Pathway Programs for Reasons of English Proficiency

In October 2016, SEVP released final policy guidance related to pathway programs for reasons of English proficiency. Like all other SEVP-certified programs, a school must obtain SEVP certification before issuing Forms I-20 for a pathway program and the program must have stated standards for admission that students must meet prior to enrollment. Additionally, the school must guarantee admission to one of its degree programs for participants that successfully complete the English language training program, and have stated policies regarding normal academic progress and program completion.

SEVP defines pathway programs as postsecondary programs of study that combine credit-bearing and developmental English language training coursework to prepare a student who is unable to meet English proficiency standards for admission. This means all pathway programs must contain credit-bearing coursework that is transferrable to the curricular requirements of a certified degree program at the school.

Since SEVP considers pathway programs to be language training programs, they are subject to the requirements of the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act. The petitioning school must possess institutional or programmatic accreditation for the pathway program from a Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency. Likewise, F-1 students in pathway programs may not take online or distance learning courses to meet their full course of study requirement nor are they eligible for practical training opportunities.

For more information about SEVP’s policy for pathway programs, including a fact sheet describing the appropriate process for using the Form I-17 and Form I-20 with English language training pathway programs, please read the SEVP Policy Guidance S7.2: Pathway Programs for Reasons of English Proficiency available under the “Policy” drop-down in the Schools section of

Related Tags: Schools, ESL

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