Spouse of Nonimmigrant: Do I Need to Pick SEVP-Approved School to Study At?

Wide choice of schools for temporary visa holders who are allowed to study but don't have F or M visas.


I am in the U.S. with my wife, who has an H-1B to work at a tech company. My visa is labelled H-4. It looks like we could be in the U.S. for quite some time, and my work skills aren’t transferable to the U.S., so I’m considering going to school for a Master’s degree. I have found a small, startup school with a program that interests me. However, it hasn’t yet been certified by SEVP, which I understand normally oversees foreign students studying in the United States. Would it be alright for me to enroll there?


Only people who seek visas in the F and M student category need to worry about whether the school has been certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to issue I-20s. As an H-4, you can study at pretty much any school you like, whether certified and accredited or not, and whether you go full time or part time.

(By the way, to other readers, this is true for most spouses of nonimmigrant visa holders; see the document “Nonimmigrants: Who Can Study,” published by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for details.)

One other issue to be aware of, however, is whether the school you plan to attend will offer a degree that is accepted by other institutions of higher education. When you go to a SEVP-approved school, you can be reasonably sure that the school is either accredited or licensed and approved, such that other schools will accept the credits for transfer, or recognize your degree for purposes of entering a more advanced program (for example, if you were to pursue a PhD.) A new school might not yet have become established in this way.

So if that’s a concern for you, you will need to check into the school’s accreditation status. The Department of Education keeps on online database that you can check for this information.

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