Sevis and sevis fee, everything there is to know (2020 Update)

So you want to know more about SEVIS. What does SEVIS stand for? What is SEVIS for? Why is SEVIS important? You may already know a little about SEVIS, but you need more information about how it works and what fees are involved.

Maybe you want to come to the US under an F, M or J-1 visa and you need to know how SEVIS works with your program.

There is a lot of information – and misinformation – out there. Well, don’t worry! This article will answer all of your questions.

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SEVIS

What is SEVIS?

SEVIS stands for “Student and Exchange Visitor Information System”. It’s an admittedly long name for the system used by the US government to manage info about certain visa visitors.

To go into more detail, it’s a nationwide internet-based system used by the US government to maintain accurate and up-to-date information about non-immigrant visitors in the US on a student visa (F and M) or exchange visitor visa (J-1), or their dependents (F-2, M-2 and J-2).

Do you need SEVIS?

Yes! Without a SEVIS record, you are UNABLE to participate in a study or exchange program in the US.

The confusing part is that, as an exchange visitor or international student, you don’t actually have access to SEVIS.

But, your sponsor does, and they will help you! Don’t have a sponsor yet? Here’s a great option! 

Who uses SEVIS?

SEVIS is used by schools that welcome international students and Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors.

Schools

Schools use SEVIS to:
  • Issue I-20 forms for nonimmigrants to obtain F and M visas.
  • Report a student’s address, enrollment, courses of study, employment and compliance to SEVIS
  • Migrate the student’s SEVIS records to other schools
  • Keep their information up-to-date to continuously offer study programs to international students

Exchange Visitor Program Sponsors

Sponsors use SEVIS to:
  • Issue DS-2019 forms to obtain J-1 visas. And sometimes DS-7002 forms as well
  • Report exchange visitors’ address, sites of activity, housing, program participation, employment and compliance
  • Migrate exchange visitors’ SEVIS records to another sponsor
  • Keep visitor information up-to-date to continuously offer exchange programs to exchange visitors

Why is SEVIS needed? And why is it so important?

The purpose of SEVIS is to ensure proper record keeping and reporting by schools and exchange visitor programs while non-immigrant participants are in the US.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, immigration policy began to change. When it was determined that the attackers came into the US through legal travel channels, the US made a point to prevent this from happening again. A number of new data-collection mandates came into practice during this time, including SEVIS which was launched in December 2002.

Policy is now viewed with national security in mind. There are more border checks, heightened visa screening and more information needed on visitors. One of SEVIS functions is to check biographical information against terrorist databases.

SEVIS is important because the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State want to know who is in the US at any given time, and the person’s latest housing, site of activity and/or school information. They are interested in why you are coming, where you are going to be while you are here, how long you are staying and when you’ve gone home.

SEVIS and Visa Forms

What Forms are needed from SEVIS?

I-20 Form

If you are an International Student, you will be applying for an F or M Visa.

These two visas require a form I-20, which will be provided by your US school.

Here’s what an I-20 form looks like:

DS-2019 Form

If you are applying for an Exchange Visitor J-1 Visa, you will need the DS-2019 form. This form is provided by your visa sponsor, such as Cultural Homestay International.

Here’s a sample of a DS-2019 form:

You will need one of these two forms in order to come to the US on an F, M or J-1 visa.

If you are participating in the Internship/Training program, you will also need a DS-7002, which is a training plan. This form outlines what you are going to learn during your stay in greater detail. Your visa sponsor shall take care of this.

SEVIS Fee and the I-901 Form

The next important form is the I-901. This is your receipt. This proves that you are connected with a school or sponsorship agency, that you are now registered in SEVIS, and that your SEVIS fee has been paid. (Later in this article you will find details about the SEVIS fee: cost, how to pay, and whether it’s refundable.)

DS-160

The last important form is the DS-160. This is the application form for a non-immigrant visa and is the last form you will need before going for a visa interview.

You will be asked to provide your I-20 or DS-2019 information, your SEVIS ID number, and details about your program.

The DS-160 form can be filled online at the Consular Electronic Application Center website.

A sample non-immigrant visa application DS-160 can be found here.

What are those forms again and when do I need them?

  • I-20 (F or M visa) or DS-2019 (J-1 Visa), plus a DS-7002 if you are an intern/trainee
  • I-901 (proof of SEVIS fee payment)
  • DS-160 (contains detailed information for your visa interview)

Without the I-20 or DS-2019, I-901 and DS-160 form, you are not able to get your J, F or M visa at an embassy or consulate. These are REQUIRED for your visa interview.

SEVIS Fee

Is SEVIS Free?

SEVIS is not free. There is a fee involved, but in some cases, your visa sponsor or school may pay this fee on your behalf.

For example, reputable visa sponsors like Cultural Homestay International take care of the SEVIS fee for all J-1 participants. This is a nice benefit to working with a reputable sponsor with years of experience.

Learn more about the J-1 programs CHI offers.

How much does SEVIS cost?

Here is a breakdown of how much SEVIS costs for the F, M and J-1 visa:

When should the SEVIS fee be paid?

The SEVIS fee is due right after you receive your I-20 or DS-2019 forms.

Again, you must have proof that your SEVIS fee has been paid before you can go to your visa interview.

Am I ready to pay my SEVIS fee?

Before paying the SEVIS fee, you must have your I-20 (International student) or DS-2019 (Exchange Visitor) forms processed by SEVIS through your school or visa sponsor.

When you are ready to pay your SEVIS fee, fill out a Form I-901. This form can be filled online at fmjfee.com.

Fill this form out carefully. The information on your I-901 form must match the information from your I-20 or DS-2019 forms.

How do I pay the SEVIS fee?

If you are paying your SEVIS fee yourself, you have a few payment options.
  • You can pay with a credit or debit card when you submit your I-901 form online.
  • You can also pay by international money order or check as long as it’s drawn on a financial institution in the US and payable in United States currency.
  • The fee can also be paid via The Western Union Quick Pay™ service.

Here’s a video by the DHS explaining the steps you should follow to pay your I-901 fee:

What if I don’t pay the SEVIS fee?

Without proof of your SEVIS fee being paid, your visa will be denied! This fee is required. The only way around paying this fee yourself is if your school or visa sponsor pays it for you.

Can I get a refund for my SEVIS fee?

We know things happen and plans change. Unfortunately, the SEVIS fee is non-refundable. There are only a few exceptions that will allow your SEVIS fee to be refunded. This graphic explains it all:

If you qualify for a refund, you can request it by contacting SEVP by e-mail or regular mail.

Email: fmjfee.SEVIS@ice.DHS.gov (the subject should be “I-901 SEVIS Fee Refund”)

Mail:
I-901 SEVIS Fee Refunds
STUDENT AND EXCHANGE VISITOR PROGRAM (SEVP)
US IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT I-901 SEVIS FEE CRU
12th Street SW Stop 5600
Washington, DC 20536-5600

Your request must include:

  • Name, contact information and mailing address
  • SEVIS ID
  • The reason you are requesting a refund

Last, but not least, if you are requesting a refund because the fee was paid more than once, you must also indicate which of the payments should be refunded.

FAQ

Am I ready for my visa interview?

You are ready to go for your visa interview once you have completed these steps:
  1. You have applied through an agency in your home country
  2. You are connected with a US visa sponsor or school
  3. You are registered and have a SEVIS ID
  4. You received your DS-2019 form or your I-20 form
  5. You or your sponsor have paid the SEVIS fee
  6. You have a print out of your DS160 form
If the answer to all of those questions is YES, then you are probably ready to head to your visa interview. Best of luck! Remember, a visa does not guarantee entry to the US.

I have my F, M or J-1 Visa – now what?

That’s great! The next step is to work with your school or visa sponsor on the details of your arrival. When you arrive in the US, your school or sponsor needs to know your US address, phone number and e-mail address. This will allow them to validate your account within SEVIS.

What about the Form I-94?

The Form I-94 is the Department of Homeland Security’s record that is issued upon arrival/departure in the US. This used to be a paper form that was attached to your visa but it is now done electronically. Upon arrival, an electronic I-94 will be created for you.

If you would like a paper form you can get one by visiting www.cbp.gov/I94.

How does SEVIS work when I’m in the US?

It’s important that your SEVIS account stays updated while you are in the US. If you move, change your site of activity or change your contact information, you need to let your school or sponsor know so they can update SEVIS.

During your program, you will be asked to complete monthly reports that will be updated in SEVIS. This allows the US government to make sure you are safe, happy and enjoying your program.

All of your SEVIS Questions Answered

Now you should have all the information you need to understand SEVIS.

You know what it is, why you need it, and what fees are involved. You understand the importance of a school or visa sponsor, and how they will assist you with SEVIS before, during, and even after your exchange program.

If you are ready to visit the US and haven’t decided on a sponsor yet, you should give Cultural Homestay International a try. CHI is one of the leading visa sponsorship agencies in the US and is currently a designated sponsor for Work and Travel, Internship, Training, and Au Pair programs.

Do you have questions that weren’t answered here? Let us know in the comments. We want to hear from you!

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