James D. Hicks, Division Chief of External Operations for the Student Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”) recently issued guidance for F-1 and M-1 student visa program participants. This guidance seeks to clarify and remind schools that SEVP requires that all forms I-20 be issued to prospective international students directly from the school’s Designated School Official (“DSO”). According to SEVP, “a Recruiter has no proper role in handling [the] Form I-20.” SEVP’s policy memo explains that this prohibition is based on concerns related to privacy, national security, and fraud prevention.
It is not unusual for third party recruiters working with schools to identify international student candidates to want to “own” the relationship with the candidates that they recruit. This desire can sometimes result in contractual provisions between schools and third-party recruiters in which the recruiter attempts to act as a conduit for communications between the international student and the school. However, as SEVP’s guidance makes clear, DSO’s must have a direct line of communication with the international student. This is necessary not only for transmission of important documents, such as the I-20, but also so that DSO’s can make informed and accurate judgements regarding the student’s eligibility for a student visa.
In light of SEVP’s policy memo, schools with relationships to third party recruiters should review their agreements to make sure their arrangements do not make the recruiter a middleman for essential DSO functions, such as delivering the I-20. Additionally, if you are contacted by a third-party agent that has been hired by an international student seeking admission to your institution, you may not allow that agent to refuse to allow your DSO direct access to the student.
If you have any questions about this topic or other issues related to the SEVP contact Stephen Chema at 703-934-9835 or firstname.lastname@example.org