\ fr \ Federal Register Publications (CIS, ICE, CBP) \ Federal Register Publications (Legacy INS) - 2002 \ FEDERAL REGISTER FINAL REGULATIONS - 2002 \ Retention and Reporting of Information for F, J, and M Nonimmigrants; Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) [67 FR 76256] [FR 64-02] \ III. Roles and Responsibilities of School Officials
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III. Roles and Responsibilities of School Officials
The Service received many comments on the creation of the two new categories of designated school official, the principal designated school official (PDSO) and the administrative school official (ASO). While some commenters expressed the opinion that the creation of the ASO was helpful, others indicated that the three-tiered proposal imposes another layer of personnel, thereby limiting accountability. Several commenters were also opposed to the requirement that PDSOs and DSOs be United States citizens or la
wful permanent residents. A primary source of concern for the majority of these commenters was the limitation on the number of DSOs per school or campus, citing the need for more personnel resources to input data in SEVIS. Commenters viewed the Service's limitation as arbitrary and suggested that schools should be left to determine the number of DSOs necessary to carry out their responsibilities. Others suggested that the number of DSOs be based upon the number of F-1, M-1, and J-1 nonimmigrants at a partic
The primary purpose of SEVIS is to provide access to current, accurate information to schools and the Service on all F, J, and M nonimmigrants. The information maintained in the system is only as reliable as those who are entering it. The Service's ability to control access is a customary and critical means of ensuring the integrity of the system. In order to maintain the integrity of the data in SEVIS, the Service has determined, in accordance with applicable Department of Justice policies governing access
to Departmental systems, that PDSOs and DSOs must be either a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.
In response to the comments received, the Service will not adopt the three-tiered category PDSO, DSO and ASO as proposed. The Service finds merit in the commenters' arguments that this is an unnecessary layer that would not improve accountability. As such, once the necessary programming changes have been made to SEVIS, the Service will remove the ASO category. The category of PDSO will remain.
The Service will maintain numeric limits on the number of DSOs per school or campus in order to control access to SEVIS. Under this rule, each school or campus will be allotted one position for the PDSO and up to nine positions for DSOs. However, the Service does find merit in the comments suggesting that the number of DSOs be proportional to the number of nonimmigrant students. Once SEVIS is fully operational and schools have entered all current students in the system, the Service may reconsider the numeri
cal limits on the number of DSOs.
On a related issue, in response to the Service's request, many comments discussed the feasibility of a DSO certification program. A certification process for DSOs was supported by most commenters as a way to strengthen the reliability of the data retained in SEVIS. However, several commenters urged the Service to hold off on establishing a certification program until after SEVIS was fully implemented in order to enable DSOs to focus fully on adjustment to SEVIS. Other commenters stated they did not want the
Service to institute another mandatory program and that the Service should leave such training up to schools on a voluntary basis. The Service appreciates the responses received and will review and consider all comments again before making a decision whether to establish a DSO certification program. If a certification program is pursued, the Service may revisit the DSO limitations based on immigration status once such a certification process (including background checks) is in place.
One commenter suggested that the Service make clear that institutions have a right to seek legal counsel in establishing appropriate SEVIS compliance systems. The commenter contended that the Service's use of the PDSO as the point of contact for SEVIS serves to contravene the Agency Practice Act, 5 U.S.C. 500(b). The Service has no intention of denying a school's right to be represented by legal counsel. In fact, for many years there have been institutions that have designated a legal advisor as a designate
d school official. This rule does not prohibit a school from choosing to place counsel in the PDSO or DSO position or from conferring with counsel regarding the implementation of SEVIS requirements.
IV. Reduction in a Student's Course Load
Many comments were submitted regarding the proposed rule's treatment of a reduction in a student's course load. Some commenters suggested that the Service remove the word “prior” in the sentence, “A student who drops below a full course of study without the prior approval of the DSO will be considered out of status.” Additionally, commenters asserted that the Service should not consider a student to be out of status due to a reduced course load until the end of the semester or until the DSO is notified.
The Service cannot adopt these suggestions. With the implementation of SEVIS, the Service expects to have accurate, real time, information on all students. To allow a student to act, without first receiving approval from the DSO, undermines the most basic concept of SEVIS. As it is the responsibility of the student to maintain a full course of study in order to remain in compliance with his or her nonimmigrant status, it is reasonable to expect a student to understand this responsibility. Accordingly, the s
tudent should consult with, and receive the necessary permission from the designated school official prior to performing an act that affects status.
The Service understands that there may be situations in which a student is unable to maintain a full course load and has made allowances for such situations, provided the student receives permission first. The Service also understands there may be some situations in which a student's incapacitation may render it impossible for the student to request permission from the DSO prior to reducing his or her course load (e.g., a student who is hospitalized for an extended period of time as the result of an acciden
t). In such cases, the student will not be considered out of status.
Many commenters stated that the Service did not clearly indicate in the proposed rule whether DSOs could authorize a nonimmigrant student to drop below a full course of study more than once during his or her course of study. To clarify, during the course of study within one program level, an F-1 nonimmigrant can only be authorized on one occasion to reduce his or her course load due to academic difficulties, and must resume a full course at the start of the next available term or session, excluding a summer
session. An F-1 student taking a reduced course load for academic reasons must still be taking at least one class or half the clock hours required for a full course of study. A DSO may not authorize an M-1 student to reduce his or her course load based on academic difficulties.
Commenters also argued that the Service's requirement allowing an F-1 student to drop below a full course of study only where he or she faces “initial” difficulties should be expanded to include other legitimate reasons as determined by the DSO. The Service does not adopt this suggestion to permit the DSO to make a determination based on personal or academic reasons. Such a determination is extremely vague and is open to abuse.
Several commenters also suggest that the Service allow a DSO to authorize a reduced course load if students are unprepared or in jeopardy of failing a course. The Service notes that the current regulations already provide for this situation. For example, a student may be authorized to drop below full time study due to improper course level placement.
In the case of an illness or medical condition, an F-1 student may be authorized to reduce course load for a period not to exceed 12 months in aggregate. The DSO may also authorize a student to refrain from taking any courses due to medical condition or illness if the severity of the condition warrants such authorization. Although a student may be authorized for up to 12 total months of a reduced course load in this case, a school official must re-authorize the reduction each term or session, and must updat
e this authorization in SEVIS. The 12 month limit on authorization to reduce course load for illness or medical condition is applied per each particular program level. If the student completes one program, and advances to a different program level, the student will be allowed a second aggregate 12-month period in which he or she may be authorized to reduce course load.
An F-1 nonimmigrant who has already received authorization to reduce course load for academic difficulties remains eligible for the aggregate 12-month period to reduce his or her course load due to illness or medical condition.
A student who is unable to resume a full course of study within the time limits previously specified will either have to leave the U.S. and reapply when he or she is able to resume a full course of study, or change to a more appropriate nonimmigrant classification to continue medical treatment in the U.S.
The Service recognizes that there may be cases in which an F-1 student may need authorization to reduce his or her course load for more than 12 months while pursuing a single program level (for example, while studying for an undergraduate college degree). However, to allow a student to pursue less than full time study for an extended period of time with no limits opens the student program to a greater possibility for abuse. Furthermore, such extended authorization would run counter to the definition of a st
udent as set forth in section 101(a)(15)(F) of the Act which requires that a student pursue full-time study.
As specified in the proposed rule, an M-1 student may only be authorized to reduce course load for a reason of illness or medical condition, and such authorization may not exceed an aggregate of 5 months. A school official must verify the continuation of the authorization at each term or session by updating the authorization in SEVIS. However, as previously noted, the Service cannot permit an institution to authorize a student to pursue less than full-time study for an extended period of time.
On a related topic, many commenters suggested that the documentation required to support authorization to drop below a full course of study for illness or medical condition be expanded to include documentation submitted by counselors, psychologists, and other alternative medical practitioners. The Service adopts this suggestion and will allow DSOs to accept medical documentation provided by licensed medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, or licensed clinical psychologists to substantiate a student's reason
for dropping below a full course of study for illness or medical condition.
Some comments contended that students with long-term medical conditions, chronic illnesses, or learning disabilities may require a longer-term reduction in course load. The Service cannot, however, permit an unlimited reduction in course load, as this would undermine the premise of the F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant student program. The Service believes that the existing minimum requirements for defining a “full course of study” are broad enough to accommodate students that may not be able to take a rigorous cour
Finally, one commenter suggested that the Service include a specific provision in § 214.2(f)(6)(iii) to allow a DSO to authorize a reduced course load for graduate students enrolled in less than full time coursework. The Service does not believe that such a provision is necessary. The current regulation at § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(A) allows the DSO to make the determination of whether the graduate student is pursuing a full course of study. The determination is left to the DSO in this case because even though gradu
ate students may not be enrolled in full-time classes, the school may still consider them to be a full-time student while they conduct research or work on their dissertation, for instance. As long as the student is pursuing what the institution considers to be a full time graduate program, the student is maintaining a full course of study. If the student is not pursuing full time study as determined by the DSO, then the student would not be maintaining lawful student status unless the DSO has authorized a r
educed course load in accordance with the provisions of § 214.2(f)(6)(iii).
Several commenters suggested that the Service permit F-1 students to transfer schools during the 60-day grace period following completion of studies or after completion of optional practical training. Although not explicitly authorized in previous regulations, the Service has accommodated school transfers within the 60-day period and has designed SEVIS to continue this practice. The final rule explicitly permits the transfer of student records in SEVIS during this 60-day period in § 214.2(f)(5)(iv). Howeve
r, to clarify, the DSO must indicate the school to which the student intends to transfer in SEVIS. Therefore, the initiation of a student record transfer in SEVIS can only be carried out after the student has completed the application and acceptance process and has determined the school to which he or she is transferring.
The Service is also limiting the length of time a student may remain in the U.S. while transferring between schools. The student may not remain in the U.S. between programs if the student will not resume classes within 5 months of transferring out of the current school, or within 5 months of the program completion date as indicated on the Form I-20 issued by the current school, whichever date is earlier. In the case of a student authorized to engage in post-completion optional practical training (OPT), the
student must be able to resume classes within 5 months of transferring out of the current school that recommended OPT or the date the OPT authorization ends, whichever is earlier. For example, in instances where a DSO initiates a transfer within the 60-day period following completion of studies, in order to remain in the United States between transfer of programs or schools, the 5 month period begins tolling on the date the program was completed, not the date the DSO initiated the transfer. The initiation o
f a transfer out date occurs when the DSO enters a date for the release of the student's record to the transfer school. While the DSO may enter any date reasonable and appropriate for a student's circumstances, in most instances, the DSO will want to enter the release date as the date the student completes the last day of the academic term at the current school.
The Service also received many comments stating that SEVIS should not prevent transferring F-1 students from applying to more than one school. In response to these comments, the Service wishes to clarify that this final rule does not place any limit on the number of schools to which a transferring F or M student may apply. The transferring student may apply to and be accepted by any number of schools. However, the rule restricts the number of SEVIS Forms I-20 that may be issued to a transferring student. Fo
r purposes of fraud prevention, as well as privacy and paperwork reduction concerns, SEVIS will allow a student's record to be available only to one school at a time. Once the student decides which school he or she intends to transfer, the DSO of his or her current school will update SEVIS to reflect this choice and will enter the release date for the student. The student's name will then appear in SEVIS at the transfer school as an “alert” containing the student's name and release date. When the release da
te is reached, the transfer school will be able to issue the transferring student a new SEVIS Form I-20. In most cases, schools will be not be sending the acceptance letter and the SEVIS Form I-20 at the same time. If the student changes his or her mind prior to the release date, the DSO at the current school may cancel the transfer request. If the transfer request is cancelled the student may continue studies at the current school or make a new request to be transferred to another school. However, once the
release date has been reached, the DSO at the current school may no longer access the student's record in SEVIS. Therefore, a student who changes his or her mind after the release date must work with the DSO of the transfer school to accomplish a second transfer to another Service-approved school. In such cases, the DSO of the transfer school must complete the transfer process for the student in SEVIS and then initiate any subsequent transfer that the student may request.
The transfer process for M students differs from that of F students, in that M students must apply directly to the Service in order to transfer schools. In order to ensure that the M transfer student may continue in his or her studies without significant interruption, the M nonimmigrant transfer process allows the M transfer school to issue a SEVIS Form I-20 prior to the transfer student's release date. The initiation of the SEVIS student transfer process still requires that the current school enter the nam
e of the M transfer school, and it is only the transfer school indicated in the system that can issue the SEVIS Form I-20 prior to the release date. The M student may then apply to the Service for a transfer without having to wait for the release date, which will most likely be at the end of the academic term. However, the transfer school will not have complete access to the student's SEVIS record until the release date is reached.
The M student may begin attending the transfer school pending the adjudication of his or her transfer request. However, if the transfer request is denied by the Service after the student has begun his/her program at the transfer school, the SEVIS student record will be automatically terminated and the student will be considered out of status. Therefore, students are strongly encouraged to file their applications for transfer approval with the Service Center as soon as they are able. As stated above, the ini
tial SEVIS Form I-20 from the transfer school can be issued as soon as the current school indicates in SEVIS that the student intends to transfer to that school. The student will be notified by mail of the Service's decision. The DSO will be notified of the Service's decision on an M transfer via a system alert. Additionally, the DSO may view the status of any transfer request by either accessing the student's record or by viewing the list provided of pending/adjudicated applications in SEVIS. The process f
or a SEVIS transfer for both F and M students allows the students to apply to multiple schools but places the burden on the students to weigh their options and decide on one particular school before the issuance of a new SEVIS Form I-20 by the transfer school.
Several commenters stated that the limited time frame imposed by the SEVIS transfer process will adversely affect current business practices at some schools. Commenters indicated that, because a transfer school can only issue a new SEVIS Form I-20 on the student's release date, there will not be enough time for the transfer school to issue a SEVIS Form I-20 prior to the start of the new semester, especially in instances where the transfer student is returning home for a vacation.
In response, the Service notes that a transfer student who is traveling abroad for a vacation and who plans to attend a different school upon his or her return must make arrangements with the transfer school to ensure that all necessary documentation is received in a timely manner. For example, the student may obtain his or her SEVIS Form I-20 prior to departure, or request that the transfer school forward the SEVIS Form I-20 to his or her address abroad (just as the schools now do for newly-applying studen
Some commenters suggested that the Service allow the student's SEVIS record to be accessible by both the current and transfer schools until the transfer is complete.
The Service cannot adopt this suggestion. In its outreach efforts, the Service found that privacy was of the utmost concern to the education community. Schools did not want other schools to have access to any of their students' school information. The SEVIS transfer process was designed with such concerns in mind. To allow students' records to be open to both schools would allow one school to have access to another school's data. One commenter noted that the reporting time frames for transfer for non-SEVIS
schools were different from those for SEVIS schools and suggested that the Service use a standard 30-day reporting time period. For the sake of consistency in the transfer process, the Service adopts this suggestion in the final rule and allows non-SEVIS schools to send notification of transfer to the Service data processing center within 30 days.
Finally, commenters suggested that the Service use consistent terminology in its description of schools. The Service agrees with the comment and in the final rule adopts the terms “current school” and “transfer school.”
VI. Thirty-day Advance Admission
Many commenters stated that the 30-day limit prior to the program start date is unreasonable. Commenters cited a student's need to find adequate housing, attend orientation, and begin research projects as reasons why a student might need additional time prior to the program start date.
The Service, however, does not agree with the commenters. The DSO is already able to take account of a student's obligations pertaining to orientation, research projects, etc., prior to the start of classes. Form I-20 states, “The student is expected to report to the school not later than (date) and complete studies not later than (date).” A DSO may enter a date that would accommodate the beginning of research projects or allow a student to attend an orientation session. The DSO is permitted to set a progra
m start date that accommodates the need for students to be in attendance at the school for such required activities.
Information pertaining to student housing is readily available to prospective students and in many cases housing is arranged by the school. Although the Service recognizes that students need some time to find suitable housing, the Service does not believe that the advance admission period needs to be extended beyond 30 days for this reason. A period of 30 days prior to the time the student is expected to be in attendance at the school, as provided by this rule, should be adequate for students to make arrang
ements for housing.
Finally, the Service is considering a change to the SEVIS Form I-20 to capture two distinct dates: (1) the date by which the student is expected to enter the country (e.g., to begin research or on-campus employment, attend orientation), and (2) the date that classes will commence.
VII. Grace Periods
Many comments were received on the proposed rule's effect on students who fail to maintain status by withdrawing from classes. Commenters suggested that the Service consider reasons other than medical conditions as a legitimate basis for withdrawing from classes, thereby entitling students to a reasonable grace period.
The Service agrees with these comments, in part, but must distinguish between instances where a student notifies the DSO and receives authorization to withdraw versus those where a student never attends or stops attending classes without DSO authorization. In instances such as a death in the family, unforeseen financial hardship, or a determination that the educational program is not appropriate for the student, a DSO may authorize the student to withdraw from classes. In such cases, the student will be aff
orded a 15-day grace period in which he or she may make and complete arrangements for travel and departure. In instances where the student has never registered at the school or withdraws without DSO authorization, the student may not be afforded the 15-day grace period.
The importance of notifying the DSO and obtaining permission for withdrawal from classes cannot be overemphasized. A solid relationship and line of communication must be established between the student and the DSO to avoid adverse consequences to a student affecting his or her nonimmigrant status.
VIII. Concurrent Enrollment
Several commenters requested that the Service clarify the language for concurrent enrollment. The commenters indicated that it was common for a student to be enrolled in an English language program as well as a university program. In such instances, the requirements for maintaining a full course of study vary. For English language programs, the Service definition requires clock hours, while for university programs the requirement is for credit hours. The commenters requested the Service allow the DSO to mak
e the determination as to what constitutes a full course of study in such cases. The Service agrees with the commenters and has added clarifying language to the rule allowing the DSO to make these determinations.
IX. On-line and Distance Education Courses
Some commenters suggested that the Service's proposed restriction of one class or three credits per semester of on-line or distance education courses is a restriction that should be made by schools, not by the Service. Other commenters stated that eliminating any distance education or on-line courses for English language programs or elementary and secondary students is too restrictive. Additional commenters stated that the Service's intended restriction will have a negative impact on their programs as more
programs add on-line courses.
Service finds merit in the argument against prohibiting distance education and on-line courses for elementary and secondary students. Accordingly, the Service has removed the restriction and will allow elementary and secondary students to count distance education and on-line courses in their determination of a full course of study.
The Service does not agree with the commenters that this rule restricts schools from enrolling any student they wish in an on-line or distance education course. The rule does restrict a student in the United States in an F-1 nonimmigrant status from being able to consider more than one distance education or on-line class or three credits per semester towards his or her full course of study requirements. Furthermore, the rule restricts vocational students and English language students from being able to cons
ider any on-line or distance education courses toward the full course of study requirements. Such restrictions do not prohibit international students from completing programs that are offered on-line, as the students can enroll in the course without being admitted to the United States.
To clarify, the restriction that this rule places upon distance education or on-line courses is that no more than one course or three credits can be counted toward the full course of study requirements. A student currently pursuing a full course of study may add as many distance education or on-line courses as he or she wishes in addition to the courses counting toward the full course of study. In the case of M-1 students and English language students, although these courses cannot be counted toward the ful
l course of study requirement, these students are not prohibited from taking additional courses on-line or through distance education.