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US: Long-awaited SEVP guidance “coming soon”

Long-awaited guidance from the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program on conditional admission, pathway programmes and English proficiency is due to be published “in several weeks”. An online student portal for OPT is also in the works for later in the year.

SEVP officials updated stakeholders on the status of pending guidance at the recent NAFSA conference. Photo: The PIE News.

SEVP has been focusing its resources on the STEM OPT ruling, resulting in a “rather significant backlog on guidances”

New security authorisation processes for designated school officials accessing the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System are set to be rolled out by the end of the year.

Guidance on key issues was due to be published in early 2016, but has been delayed as SEVP has been putting its resources into finalising a ruling on the STEM Optional Practical Training programme, resulting in a “rather significant backlog on guidances”, Mike Hallanan, policy analyst at the SEVP systems management unit said.

“The close to 30 guidance documents that we have developed should be surfacing fairly soon”

Speaking at the recent NAFSA conference, SEVP officials said that now a STEM OPT extension has been confirmed, it is shifting its focus to publishing policy guidance and has instigated weekly meetings with its counsel to confer on issues in international education.

“We’re expecting with this increasing involvement with our counsel that we should be getting [guidance documents] out at a rate of about one every two to three weeks over the summer,” Hallanan said.

SEVP is currently looking at topics including pathway programmes, English proficiency, conditional admission, temporary absence, annual vacation, bridge programmes and contractual relationships. “Plus we’re taking up new issues just trying to get our arms around new topics,” Hallanan added.

“The close to 30 guidance documents that we have developed should be surfacing fairly soon.”

Many providers will welcome the push for new documentation on pathways and conditional admissions, having been working from draft guidance issued in 2014.

As well as updating guidance, SEVP will build on its stakeholder issues response report published early this year with a response catalogue on the Study in the States website.

The catalogue will “serve as a central location for stakeholders to learn about issues affecting the international student community… [and] also show how SEVP plans to address issues”, explained Katie Westerlund, unit chief, policy and school certification at SEVP.

The aim is to “improve communication both from you [international education professionals] to us and us to you and it will improve transparency,” she added.

The government agency is also working to strengthen security processes around the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Hallanan outlined plans to roll out a new access authorisation process for SEVIS for designated school officials, with a proposed rule due by the end of the year.

The process it is likely to be “pretty much a standard process for anyone who has access to a government system”, including fingerprinting requirements, renewable every four years for DSOs and other staff accessing SEVIS, he said.

Meanwhile, a student portal for SEVIS is also due to launch in December for students undergoing post-study OPT. It will enable students on the OPT programme to register their details and add and edit employer information online.

It follows the launch of the STEM OPT hub, which provides information on the programme, in March.

More information on the portal is yet to be published, but SEVP will be providing webinars on its use closer to the time.

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