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SEVP will double field reps to work better with sector

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the US government department which oversees regulation around foreign students, is doubling the number of field representatives who work to ensure compliance with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) as it aims to work in better partnership with the IEP sector. It has also issued new draft guidance for IEPs to clarify processes around conditional admission.

Step changes will improve SEVP's ability to interact with sector, says Westerlund

"I think where we are going with this is to try and not limit business practices necessarily"

The 15 new staff will join field representatives working across the US and will help to improve adjudication rates, Katie Westerlund, SEVP’s Acting Unit Chief for Schools Certification and Policy, told The PIE News in an exclusive interview.

“We’ve made some great strides in reducing our backlog throughout our adjudications at SEVP”

“We’ve made some great strides in reducing our backlog throughout our adjudications at SEVP,” she commented. “We still have work to do, but we hope with additional staffing that is expected over the coming year we will be able to get more cases through the process.”

Many of the new staff previously worked as designated school officials using SEVIS, Westerlund explained.

“When we’re fully staffed, we’ll have a full staff of 60 covering different areas,” she added. “In particular they’ll be working with schools, helping them be more confident in working with SEVIS and helping answer their questions about SEVIS policy and reporting requirements.”

SEVP is currently inviting public comment on draft guidance for pathway programmes and conditional admission, which it will use to craft a statement later this year.

This week it issued a second part of draft guidance on information given on the I-20 form about students’ English proficiency, after a previous update last week.

Conditional admission – whereby students are admitted to a programme of study pending their successful completion of preparatory English language training – has been an area that has raised concerns when SEVP stated that procedures need to be clarified by regulatory protocol.

But Westerlund told The PIE News, “I think where we are going with this is to try and not limit business practices necessarily, but to make sure that we are clear on programmes students are going into and what they are doing; where are they studying and what are they studying.”

Conditional admission has been an area that has raised concerns

Further draft guidance to be released over the coming months will cover topics including Optional Practical Training and student employment, Westerlund said.

English USA, an association representing more than 350 IEPs, is collecting comments from its members in order to submit a collective statement, telling its members: “We have been advised on numerous occasions that it is important to show a strength in numbers. The more individual comments are made, the louder our voice becomes.”

SEVP, which works on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has also been upgrading the online SEVIS system that logs information for all foreign students in the US. The website has undergone a number of enhancements including address validation and the introduction of standardised drop-down menus for key terms in the online forms, to improve data quality.

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