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Special Rules for Foreign Students

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks, more onerous rules have been put into place regarding foreign visitors attending schools in the United States. On March 1, 2003, enforcement of the immigration laws, formerly provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security. The service and enforcement responsibilities of the INS are now the responsibility of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), a separate bureau of the Department of Homeland Security.

Whether a school district may freely accept a foreign student into its program will depend on the type of visa assigned to the student. A complete list of non-immigrant visa classifications and information regarding each classification may be found on the USCIS website.  Generally speaking, however, foreign students who plan to come to the United States under an F1 or M1 visa may only attend schools that have been approved by the USCIS. Accordingly, school districts must inquire as to the visa status of any foreign students seeking to attend, and will need USCIS approval in order to enroll students with F1 or M1 visas. School districts do not need approval in order to accept students with other visa designations, including the children of an F1 and/or M1 students. These students would typically have an F2 or M2 designations.

In order to obtain USCIS approval, a school must submit a USCIS Form I-17 (Petition For Approval of School For Attendance By Non-Immigrant Students). Public schools may apply for system-wide qualifications, which will be applicable for all schools in the district. The cost of the application is $580 dollars. Once the school has receive USCIS approval, it may issue USCIS Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility For Non-Immigrant Student Status) to students it chooses to accept for attendance at the school in order for the student to seek an appropriate student visa to study in the United States.

Once the approval process has been completed, there are a number of record keeping reporting requirements which are detailed in the federal regulations and which will not be addressed in detailed here.

Also of significance is that under the law, students with F1 visas must pay the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of the education in advance. For all intents and purposes, this is the per pupil cost for the school district. These payments may be paid by another person or organization on the F1 student’s behalf, but may not be waived by the school district. F1 students are the only ones required to pay tuition. Foreign students with visas other than F1 and M1 designations, may be admitted without applying for approval with USCIS.

Because students on F1 and M1 visas by definition are here solely for purposes of obtaining an education, denying a school accommodation on the basis of the federal law does not conflict with  Connecticut’s Residency Statutes. In as much as students with other types of visas may be admitted without following the process, as a general rule students possessing other visas must be accommodated.

Because the laws in this area tend to be somewhat complex, as always, a school district should seek specific advise from its counsel before admitting a foreign student. Hopefully, however, the foregoing provides general rules of thumb which should help readers to spot issues and to ask the appropriate questions.