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US: International students now have to pay US$350 SEVIS fees

Passengers cross a pedestrian bridge as they arrive for flights at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. Source: AFP/Scott Olson

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which manages international students on the F-1 and M-1 study visas, is raising its SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fees by 75 percent and the school certification petition fee by 76 percent.

International students will have to fork out an additional US$150 on top of the current SEVIS fee of US$200.

The DHS website lists the following increase in fees:

  • “The I-901 SEVIS Fee for F and M international students will increase from $200 to $350.
  • DHS will maintain the $35 I-901 SEVIS Fee for J exchange visitors in the au pair, camp counselor, and summer work or travel program participant categories, but increase the full I-901 SEVIS Fee for other J exchange visitors from $180 to $220. The SEVP school certification petition fee for initial certification will increase from $1,700 to $3,000.

“The new fees will be implemented at 12:00 am EDT June 24, 2019, after which time all schools and students will be required to pay the new and increased fees,” it continued.

F, M and J (exchange student) visa applicants are required to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee before they can apply for a visa to enter the US as a student or exchange visitor. It’s a fee mandated by the US Congress to support the program office and automated system that keeps track of students and exchange visitors, ensuring they maintain their status while in the country, according to the official website of the DHS.

The website states that Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) “manages schools, nonimmigrant students in the F and M visa classifications and their dependents”, while the State Department “manages exchange visitor programs, nonimmigrant exchange visitors in the J visa classification and their dependents”.

Both use the SEVIS to track and monitor international students on F, M and J visas while studying in the US.

The fee hike confirms speculations by educators and immigration attorneys last year of a host of regulatory and sub-regulatory changes happening to the H-1B skilled worker visa program and the practical training programs of non-immigrant students on F and M visas.

In its proposal for the fee increase last year, the DHS said it was aimed at addressing funding gaps.

A bulletin by the department read: “If the program continues to operate at current fee levels, SEVP anticipates it will experience an average annual shortfall of US$68.9 million beginning in 2019. The proposed fees help eliminate this risk and allow SEVP to continue to achieve its priorities — enhancing national security and preventing immigration fraud.”

Speaking to The PIE News, president Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA)  Cheryl Matherly said the increase comes “at a very bad time” as many institutions are facing significant decline in international enrollment.

“Coupled with other new institutional fees and increases announced by DHS, one wonders how sustainable the funding model is for these programs over time. Reliance on user fees to underwrite national security monitoring in this manner, without any congressional appropriations, would appear to be a problematic strategy.”

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