What is SEVIS?

SEVIS is an internet-based system that allows schools and theDepartment of Homeland Security, (formerly the INS) to exchange data on the visa status of international students. Accurate and current information is transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student's academic career in the United States. U.S. embassies and consulates also have access to SEVIS.

Is SEVIS new?

Not anymore . The requirement that schools provide the federal government with information about each student's status is not new. The INS required most of the information that will be reported to SEVIS for many years. But the existing paper-based system precluded widespread coordination amongst schools and governmental agencies. In 1996, Congress passed legislation directing the INS to move to an electronic data collection system. This program would come to be known as SEVIS-the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Technical challenges and lack of funding delayed the program for several years. However, in October 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act that authorized additional SEVIS funding and required nationwide compliance by January 30, 2003.

How does SEVIS work?

  • After an international student is admitted, SEVIS is notified and the US CIS approves the University's request to issue an I-20. The University transmits the new bar-coded I-20 form to the student.

  • The student visits the U.S. consulate abroad, and the consulate confirms through SEVIS that the I-20 the student is carrying is a valid document. If everything is in order, the consulate issues the visa.

  • The Customs and Border Protection, CBP, officer at the airport reports to SEVIS the student's entry into the U.S.
  • When the student arrives on campus, he/she reports to the International office, and the school confirms through SEVIS the student's enrollment. The University continues to provide regular electronic reports to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) throughout the student's academic career.

  • Finally, SEVIS records the student's departure from the United States.

What data does SEVIS collect?

Philadelphia University must report:

  • Whether the student has enrolled at the school, or failed to enroll.

  • A change of the student or dependent's legal name or address.

  • Any student who graduates prior to the end date listed on the I-20.

  • Academic or disciplinary actions taken due to criminal conviction.

  • Whether the student drops below a full course of study without prior authorization from the DSO (Immigration regulations refer to international student advisers as "designated school officials"-DSO's).

  • Termination date and reason for termination.

  • Other data generated by standard procedures such as program extensions, school transfers, changes in level of study, employment authorizations, and reinstatement.

  • Any student who fails to maintain status or complete his or her program.

What does "fail to maintain status" mean?

Some examples of failure to maintain status include dropping from full-time to part-time enrollment without prior approval from the DSO, attending a school other than the one a student is authorized to attend, failure to apply for a timely transfer or I-20 extension or change in level of study, unauthorized employment, and failure to report a change of address.

What are the consequences if a student fails to maintain status?

The student's record will be updated with SEVIS every semester. Students who fail to maintain status lose the privileges of their student visa and become subject to deportation. Specific consequences may include denial of re-entry to the U.S., inability to move from undergraduate to graduate status, denial of requests for Practical Training, denial of requests to change visa status, and possible denial of all future visa applications.

Can a student who is "out of status" regain legal status?

If a student drops below a full course of study without prior approval from the DSO, that "event" would be reported to ICE, via SEVIS, and he or she would be out of status. The student may apply to CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Service) for reinstatement if the violation resulted from circumstances beyond his or her control. Reinstatement is intended to be a rare benefit for exceptional cases. The student may not apply for reinstatement under any circumstances if he or she is out of status longer than five months. If CIS does not reinstate the student, he or she may not appeal that decision.

How will Philadelphia University help students comply with the immigration laws?

The University is committed to assist students in ways that prevent status violations from ever occurring. Accordingly, effective Spring 2003 Semester, these three policies will take effect. 

  1. New F-1 (and J-1) students must physically check in with the International Center Office prior to registering for classes.

  2. All F-1 (and J-1) students who register for less than a full course of study (other than Summer Term) will be required to meet with an International Student Advisor to discuss the student's status.

  3. International students will not be able to drop below a full course of study without prior authorization from an International Student Advisor. 

"Full-time" means 12 credits per semester for undergraduates, and 9 credits for graduate and professional students. Acceptable reasons for reduced credit load include: 

  • Students who experience academic difficulties (for example, unfamiliarity with American teaching methods) may take a reduced credit load.

  • Students in their final term of study need only to register for the credit hours required to complete the degree.

  • Students who have a medical problem can reduce their credit load or take time off.

Remember, only the Designated School Official in the International Office has authority to authorize a reduced credit load! This approval must be obtained prior to dropping below full time status.

What happens if Philadelphia University fails to comply with the SEVIS regulations?

The DHS is required to audit the University's compliance with these new requirements every two years. Failure to comply with the federal regulations could result in the loss of the University's ability to accept international students.

Will SEVIS benefit students in any way?

Data moves faster through an electronic system than through a paper system. Students can expect that ICE forms will be produced faster, applications for benefits such as Practical Training will be approved more quickly, and visas will be granted without long delays.

What should students do to prepare for SEVIS?

  • Read email updates from the International Office. Everyone has a university email and it is your responsibility to check your mail. Changes in immigration or visa procedures sometimes happen quickly. Information is posted as soon as we have reliable facts.

  • Understand the immigration regulations and learn how to maintain lawful status in the U.S., and refer any questions or problems immediately to the International Student Programs.

  • Be proactive. Students should plan their course schedules carefully so that they maintain full-time enrollment. Make travel arrangements early, and anticipate delays at consulates and border crossings. Keep all documents up-to-date. Changes in degree level, extensions, and travel validations must be done in a timely manner and on SEVIS documents. Allow time for processing new forms.

  • Feel free to come to the Office of International Student Programs for assistance. Philadelphia University is a better place because you are here, and we are committed to your success! 

Are there other resources?
The US CIS website:
Department of Homeland Security: 
and ICE. 

(Thanks to the University of Louisville for this helpful format)

Office of International Student Programs

Kanbar Campus Center, suite 102 
Office hours: 9am to 5pm
Phone: 215.951.2660
Fax: 215.951.2770

Hannah Bar-Giora,
Director of International Student Programs