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DHS Issues Final Rule Adjusting Limitations on Designated School Official Assignments and Study by F-2 and M-2 Nonimmigrants


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is amending its regulations under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) “to improve management of international student programs and increase opportunities for study by spouses and children of nonimmigrant students.” The final rule “grants school officials more flexibility in determining the number of designated school officials to nominate for the oversight of campuses.” The rule also “provides greater incentive for international students to study in the United States” by allowing accompanying spouses and children of F-1 or M-1 academic and vocational nonimmigrant students to enroll in study at a SEVP-certified school so long as any study remains less than a full course. F-2 and M-2 spouses and children remain prohibited from engaging in a full course of study unless they apply for, and DHS approves, a change of status to a nonimmigrant status authorizing such study.

DHS charges designated school officials (DSOs) with the responsibility of acting as liaisons between nonimmigrant students, the schools that employ the DSOs, and the U.S. government. Among other things, DSOs are responsible for making information and documents relating to F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students, including academic transcripts, available to DHS.

Since the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is now fully operational and appropriate access controls are in place, DHS has reconsidered the DSO limitation, and, with this rule, eliminates the maximum limit of DSOs. The rule instead allows school officials to nominate an appropriate number of DSOs for SEVP approval based upon the specific needs of each school.

DHS explained that although the average SEVP-certified school has fewer than three DSOs, F and M students often cluster at schools within states that attract a large percentage of nonimmigrant students. As such, schools in the three states with the greatest F and M student enrollment represent 35 percent of the overall F and M nonimmigrant enrollment in the United States. In schools where F and M students are heavily concentrated or where campuses are in dispersed geographic locations, the limit of 10 DSOs has been problematic.

The rule does not alter SEVP’s authority to approve or reject a DSO or principal designated school official (PDSO) nomination.

The rule also amends the benefits allowable for the accompanying spouse and children (hereafter referred to as F-2 or M-2 nonimmigrants) of an F-1 or M-1 student. DHS said it recognizes that the United States is engaged in global competition to attract the best and brightest international students to study in U.S. schools. Allowing F-2 or M-2 nonimmigrants to study while in the United States would help enhance the quality of life for many of these visiting families. Accordingly, DHS is allowing F-2 and M-2 nonimmigrant spouses and children to study in the United States at SEVP-certified schools that does not amount to a full course of study. Over time such enrollment in less than a full course of study could lead to attainment of a degree, certificate, or other credential. To maintain valid F-2 or M-2 status, however, the F-2 or M-2 nonimmigrant would not be permitted at any time to enroll in a total number of credit hours that would amount to a “full course of study,” as defined by regulation.

The newly permissible area of part-time study for these categories at SEVP-certified schools is academic study—whereas before only part-time recreational/vocational study was permitted for these categories (other than the exception for K-12 full-time study by F-2 and M-2 children). The change limits F-2 and M-2 study, other than avocational or recreational study, to SEVP-certified schools, to make it more likely that the educational program pursued by the F-2 or M-2 nonimmigrant is a bona fide program and that studies at the school are unlikely to raise national security concerns. The F-2 or M-2 nonimmigrants can still participate full-time in avocational or recreational study. If an F-2 or M-2 nonimmigrant wants to enroll in a full course of academic study, however, he or she must apply for and obtain approval to change his or her nonimmigrant classification to F-1, J-1, or M-1. Similarly, as noted, the rule does not change existing regulations allowing full-time study by children in elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through twelfth grade).

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