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US ushers in huge hike in SEVIS fee charged to international students

The US Department of Homeland Security has confirmed it will increase Student and Exchange Visitor Program fees for international students on F and M visas by 75% and the school certification petition fee by 76%, in a move it says will continue to fund operations.

"These dramatic increases come at a particularly inopportune time," said NAFSA. Photo: pixabay

A $1,250 fee for SEVP-certified schools filing for recertification, every two years, will also be introduced

The rise in the “SEVIS fee” that international students pay will increase to $350, up from the previous $200, which some US stakeholders have noted they expect could have a negative impact on US enrolment numbers.

Exchange visitors on au pair, camp counsellor, and summer work travel programs will continue to pay $35, but other exchange visitors on J visas will also see an increase from $180 to $220.

The SEVIS fee funds the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, launched in 2003, which centrally records all student data on course, location, transfer etc.

“SEVP’s fees have not changed since 2008, although our costs have continued to grow due to inflation, expanded program operations and enhancements to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System,” said SEVP program director Rachel Canty.

Canty noted that SEVP is funded entirely by fees, without receiving funding from congress.

“The increase comes at a very bad time”

The fee increase was “substantial” and may have a “dampening effect” on international student enrolments at US institutions, according to AIEA president Cheryl Matherly.

“Many institutions are already reeling from significant drop-offs in international student applications and attendance, and the increase comes at a very bad time,” she told The PIE News.

“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.”

Alongside the hike in fees payable by students, the “petition fee” that schools pay to initially become Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified will also increase from $1,700 to $3,000, with all changes coming into effect June 24.

A $1,250 fee for SEVP-certified schools filing for recertification, every two years, will also be introduced.

In September, NAFSA warned that international educators were “deeply concerned about the drastic nature of the proposed increases”.

In a letter, deputy executive director of Public Policy at NAFSA Jill Welch noted the bad timing of the proposed fee increases.

“These dramatic increases come at a particularly inopportune time, as higher education institutions face significant funding challenges, and international education programs are experiencing declining new enrolments for the first time in more than a decade.”

NAFSA also called for SEVIS to become publicly financed.

“It can feel to students that they’re being nickeled and dimed at every turn”

However, SEVIS helps exchange provider InterExchange ensure participants have “safe and happy experiences”, and that they keep to the requirements of their visas, according to vice president of External Affairs Mark Overmann.

“The system needs adequate resources for maintenance and modernisation, so, in general, we support reasonable fee increases that can provide more resources for SEVIS development,” he noted.

“But we hope that DHS will release information about the specific ways these fee increases will support improvement of the system,” he explained, adding InterExchange cautions against such a large fee increase to some of the J-1 categories.

“We don’t want to discourage participation or take away from the accessibility of the Exchange Visitor Program to diverse audiences,” he said.

Eddie West, assistant dean and executive director, International Programs at UC Berkeley Extension,  noted that the student fee increase was expected, and his institution has reacted.

“We were pretty certain an increase in the SEVIS fee was in the offing once DHS went out for public comments last year. So we’re taking the change in stride as something expected,” he said.

“But the public comment period did prompt us to consider other ways to relieve our international students’ financial burden.”

UC Berkeley Extension is going to be reducing its application fee – which was already artificially high at $200 – to $100, later this year, West explained.

“Personally I don’t believe either the SEVIS fee increase or our application fee decrease is going to have a material impact on how many students apply to our programs,” he said.

“That being said we’re sensitive that it can feel to students that they’re being nickeled and dimed at every turn (test fees, score report fees, visa application fee, SEVIS fee, etc.) and want to do what we can to address that.

“Across the US I could see this change having an at least negligible, negative impact on enrollment numbers,” West concluded, while AACRAO‘s associate director for Training and Program Development Annetta Stroud said the rise has the potential to be “devastating to the US higher education sector”.

“With countries such as Canada and Australia reducing fees across the board, including tuition and other external costs for international students, and increasing recruitment strategies, the US is becoming less and less a desirable destination for students studying abroad,” she said.

Matherly – who is also vice president and vice provost, International Affairs at Lehigh University – concurred, adding,  “At the heart of this, we are concerned about further actions that could sap US competitiveness in international education.”

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