Making Sure to Choose an Accredited School to Sponsor You for F-1 Visa in the U.S.

Examining a school's accreditation and authorization to accept foreign students.

If you are interested in studying in the United States on an F-1 student visa, you have a number of options when it comes to choosing the right college, university, professional school, and so forth. However, you will also need to exercise caution. News reports regularly arise about colleges in the U.S. that were investigated and shut down because they weren't "real."

The reports said they were only pretending to be authorized to issue the Form I-20 document that students need to obtain in order to become eligible and apply for an F-1 visa. The students were then sent home.

Given that you cannot travel to visit every possible school you might apply to, how can you make sure you are applying to a U.S. school that you can actually get a degree from, without trouble with U.S. immigration authorities?

How High Is the Risk of Signing Up to Attend a Fake U.S. School?

Fortunately, some of the high-profile cases that emerge in news reports were such obvious frauds that the students could not have helped but know about it. Take, for example, the 2016 case of University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), a supposed for-profit college located in New Jersey.

That school was actually created by federal Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents. Its "students" never attended classes. They could not have done so, because there was no campus. Instead, they worked for various employers who were then charged with conspiracy in this “pay-to-stay"scheme. By all accounts, the students knew exactly what they were signing up for.

To be on the safe side, however, it is definitely worth finding out all you can about a school before you apply or attend.

Checking Out Schools From Overseas

Your first step should be to carefully read the school's website and independent reviews. (Even better is if you can visit in person, but this obviously won't be possible for everyone.)

Double check that the school is "accredited" (has received state sanction), by going to the U.S. Department of Education's database.

And then see U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)'s list of Schools and Programs that have received certification under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP); the indication that the school is authorized to issue Form I-20, also called a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Language Students.”

In the worst case, if you were to attend a school in the U.S. and it turned out to be a fake, U.S. authorities would, when shutting it down, likely give you a period of time in which to seek transfer to another SEVP-certified institution, if you are eligible to do so.

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