October 18, 2022
Activities and Tips

Understanding the Student and Exchange Visitor Program

Students sitting together at a table studying outside

Embarking on an international exchange journey can be intimidating for international students and host families. In addition to selecting the right program, they often have to know about details like State Department regulations, required immunizations, and navigating the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

But they don’t have to tackle it all alone.

Since 1981, Ayusa has worked with the State Department to develop the next generation of global leaders and world citizens by connecting international students with host families and high schools. We work with host families, local schools, and exchange students to navigate the process of engaging with an exchange program and provide continued support through local coordinators throughout the journey.

We achieve this level of quality for our students, host families, and high schools by providing resources, education, and ongoing support that makes the process seamless. Over the course of 40+ years, we’ve offered enriching cross-cultural experiences for more than 50,000 participants!

Each year, approximately 28 million nonimmigrants visit the United States to conduct business, study, visit family, or tour the country as part of a foreign exchange program. Foreign Exchange Programs have been an international priority for the United States since the 1960s, when Congress passed the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961. Decades later, the Student and Exchange Visitors Program was created to manage foreign nationals temporarily residing in the United States to participate in education or training programs and to promote cultural exchange between the U.S. and other countries.

With government regulation comes a lot of jargon and paperwork to sort through. Navigating this process is a large part of the Ayusa program, so you have no reason to worry! But in the spirit of educating our host families and students, we want to break down the details for you.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • The Student and Exchange Visitors Program;
  • Why it’s important;
  • Types of participants and visas to consider; and
  • How Ayusa can help make the process easier.

What is the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP)?

As a host family, you may wonder, “What is the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, and what does it mean for me?”

It may feel like you have to jump through hoops to coordinate a foreign exchange program, but it’s actually quite simple when you work with a seasoned expert like Ayusa. Oftentimes, host families don’t have to worry about this part of the process because Ayusa does all the coordination for the student.

When it comes to breaking down the SEVP, there are a lot of acronyms that can get a little confusing. So we’ll start by breaking them down for you!

  1. Exchange Visitors Program (EVP) - This program issues a J-1 visa for citizens of a foreign country who wishes to enter the U.S. as an au pair, camp counselor, intern, scholar, student, and more.
  2. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) - Once a foreign exchange student is approved for a visa, they will work with the SEVP to provide information to the Department of Homeland (DHS) security to ensure the safety of the visitors and Americans during the time of their visit.
  3. Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) - This is where the DHS houses all essential data related to nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors as a way to preserve national security.

All three of these entities work together to assist the United States government in maintaining oversight of those foreign citizens authorized to learn and work in the United States and provide guidance to schools, students, and exchange programs about the requirements of maintaining an approved status.

Thanks to this program, over 1.2 million students will be able to study in the United States in 2021!

Why It’s Important

Over the years, our world has become more connected than ever, thanks to the internet and media. As a result, world citizens need to develop a greater understanding of other cultures to drive international cooperation and collaboration. To accomplish this, citizens have to be able to travel internationally while maintaining national security. The EVP and SEVP were designed to regulate and track this travel to assure safety.

Administered by the Immigrant & Customs Enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, the SEVP is grounded in the United States diplomatic efforts to:

  • increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchange;
  • strengthen ties that unite us with other nations by demonstrating the educational and cultural interests, developments, and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations, and the contributions being made toward a peaceful and more fruitful life for people throughout the world;
  • promote international cooperation for educational and cultural advancement; and
  • assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and other countries of the world.

Participating in an exchange program is a fantastic learning experience for the student and the host family. Studies show that these programs spark mutual learning and teaching between the students and hosts. Both parties identify the following benefits from their international exchange:

  • higher cultural awareness
  • increased open-mindedness
  • more awareness of global issues
  • greater support of other countries
  • reduced prejudice

And don’t forget the memories and friendships that last a lifetime! At Ayusa, we believe in the power of cultural exchange. Each generation has an even more significant role in maintaining positive international connections in an increasingly globalized world. Without the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, we wouldn’t be able to facilitate these incredible life-changing experiences for students and families around the world.

Types of Participants

So, who qualifies for the EVP program? Anyone who is seeking to travel to the United States to pursue education, research, or training. Initially, the program focused on bringing scholars to the United States to teach or conduct research. Today, the program has expanded to consider 15 different types of participants that are welcome to teach, study, research, or receive training:

  1. High school students studying at an accredited public or private school and living with an American host family or at an accredited boarding school.
  2. Au pairs that live with a host family for 12 months to experience U.S. culture while providing childcare and taking courses.
  3. Camp counselors such as post-secondary students, youth workers, or teachers that work at a U.S. camp.
  4. College and university students that are enrolled in a degree program in the United States, study at an American institution, or participate in an internship facilitated by an academic institution.
  5. Government visitors or influential and distinguished foreign nationals selected by the U.S. federal, state, or local government agencies to participate in observation tours, discussions, consultations, etc., strengthen professional and personal ties between key foreign nationals and Americans.
  6. College or university students or recent graduates seeking to gain exposure to U.S. culture by participating in an internship related to their academic field.
  7. International visitors or foreign leaders selected by the Department of State to participate in programs designed to enable international visitors to better American culture and society and enhance their knowledge of foreign countries.
  8. Foreign doctors participating in U.S. graduate medical education programs or training at an accredited school of medicine.
  9. Professors and research scholars promoting the exchange of ideas, research, and linkages between research and academic institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
  10. Short-term scholars traveling for a short time across the U.S. to lecture, observe, train, consult, or demonstrate special skills at research and academic institutions, museums, or libraries.
  11. Experts in their field exchanging ideas with American counterparts.
  12. University and college students working and traveling in the United States during the summer.
  13. Foreign educators teaching full-time at a primary or secondary school in K-12 classrooms in the U.S.
  14. Foreign professionals with a degree, professional certificate, or relevant work experience seeking to gain exposure to U.S. culture and receive training in U.S. business practices through a structured and guided work-based program.
  15. Regional and special initiatives.

Ayusa strictly works with high school students wanting to study at an American public or private school. In correlation to different types of participants, there are also different types of visas appropriate for each.

Types of EVP Visas

The EVP offers three different visa options:

  1. F-1
  2. J-1
  3. M-1

So what’s the difference, and how do you know which is the right one? Let’s break it down!

F-1 Visa (Student Visitor) is for international students in a full-time degree or academic program with a core academic curriculum. In most cases, this type of visa is needed for a student to participate in an exchange program like Ayusa. F-1 international students are eligible for annual vacation and can work during their program with permission.

M-1 Visa (Vocational Student) international students are typically in a vocational program without a traditional core academic curriculum. Some examples of vocational programs include attending a trade school or technical institute. In contrast to F-1 students, they are not eligible for a vacation and can only work after their program of study, with permission.

J-1 Visa (Exchange Visitor) is for individuals approved to participate in work-and-study-based exchange visitor programs. This can include secondary student exchange visitors planning to study at an accredited public or private high school while living with an American host family or at an accredited boarding school. J-1 students can be employed with a work permit from the sponsor program.

When working with Ayusa, international students will apply for a J-1 visa to come to the United States to live with a host family and attend a local high school. As a program sponsor, this is a seamless process that leaves no pressure on the host family to navigate visa bureaucracy.

How Ayusa Can Help

For host families, partnering with a reputable exchange program can mean a significant reduction in stress thanks to the support of a team of seasoned pros. For students, it can mean a more well-rounded learning experience.

A pile of paperwork shouldn’t stop anyone from gaining the experience of a lifetime through a foreign exchange program. We understand that families and students will have many questions about hosting a foreign exchange student, qualifying for a J-1 visa, and more. That’s why we work with professionally trained Community Representatives that will work alongside both parties for the duration of the program.

Your Community Representative will:

  • Coordinate all paperwork, visa applications, fee payments, health insurance coverage, etc.;
  • Meet with families and students monthly with advice and support as needed;
  • Maintain regular contact with the local high school and complete a quarterly report;
  • Evaluate your student’s progress in family life, academic achievement, and social activity.

We all know that life has unexpected twists and turns. Families need a local resource to help them navigate challenges like taking their international student to the doctor or ensuring they’re properly registered for school. Your Community Representative is also supported by a team of Ayusa staff, who are available 24/7 for emergencies.

Did we mention we offer outbound exchange opportunities too? In addition to inbound exchange students, you can also give your American students the same enriching opportunities through the following programs:

These students will receive the same support as our international students and host families.

When you work with an exchange program that handles all of these details for you, you can focus on getting the most out of the rewarding experience of participating in a cultural exchange program. Our hands-on approach to exchange program management means a stress-free experience for students and host families.

But don’t take our word for it. Louise Lough has hosted more than 100 exchange students since 1979 and has hosted through Ayusa International from the very beginning.

“It’s the (organization) that I feel is probably the most unbiased between the students and families, and the world with both,” Lough said. “When a student has a conflict, or a family has a conflict, they work both sides of it. Rather than just standing up for the student or just the family, they realize it takes two.”

Now, three generations of the Lough family have become hosts!

Ready to Become Part of a Student Exchange Program in the USA?

Student exchange programs in the USA are incredible learning opportunities for everyone involved. At Ayusa, we strive to be leading experts on inbound exchange programs in the USA with all the knowledge and support students and families need for a successful, stress-free experience. We recognize the power of international learning, and we want all of our hosts and students to be able to make the most of their time together.

As part of our services, we strive to make the process of becoming a host or international student seamless. We’ll be alongside you every step of the way, organizing paperwork to file for visas, travel insurance, health insurance, and more.

Many of our Ayusa alums look back on their time abroad as one of the most meaningful experiences in their lives, and host families say the same. The stories our students and hosts tell about their exchange experiences shows how the chance to learn from one another, form new connections, and build international bridges can truly be life-changing.

Our supportive team of tenured experts at Ayusa is ready to help you start changing the world. If you’re ready to get started, start a hosting application today! If you’re still unsure if this is the right program for you, feel free to request more information. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have and provide greater insight to the hosting journey. In the meantime, we invite you to learn more about us, or read stories from our Ayusa host families to find out the ways these high school exchange students can change your life.

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