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These days, who doesn’t know of a young Canadian Jew enrolled in a Yeshiva somewhere in the U.S.? Filled with a sense of pride and nachas from their children, the parents of these yeshiva academics rave about their young ones attending great religious institutions across the border. Naturally, these parents also long for them to return home to Canada for the holidays each year.

Unfortunately, hundreds of young students are actually unable to return home due to U.S. Immigration requirements. Alternatively, when they do come home, they are turned away at the border when they try to return to the U.S.A.

Why is this happening? Let’s first look at the U.S. Immigration requirements:

In order to attend a Yeshiva in the U.S., a foreign Canadian student must apply for an F-1 student visa. To qualify for a student visa, applicants must show to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) a valid educational purpose, sufficient knowledge of English and prove that they will have access to sufficient funds to cover all expenses while studying in the U.S., including school costs and their own support.

In order to apply for the visa, a Form I-20 A-B needs to be signed by both the student and a Designated School Official (DSO) from the Yeshiva. There is also a significant fee that needs to be paid.

Acceptance must be to “qualifying schools” authorized to accept foreign students. An applicant must obtain the Form I-20 from the school. If the application is made in the U.S., attendance at school may not begin until the F-1 classification has been approved.  For Canadians, who are exempt, the F-1 is issued to the student at the Port-of-Entry for the expected period of study, usually as a multiple entry visa. The I-20 Form is also annotated with the expected date of completion with the “Duration of Status” stamp.

Now here’s what’s happening:

While our Yeshivas are eligible to qualify for the issuance of F-1 visas, many schools do not actually go through the qualifying process. They do not have the infrastructure, nor the resources, to help process the I-20 Forms for their students. Understandably, there is so much “red tape:” The school needs to appoint a Designated School Official; that DSO must then meet each foreign bachur and sign their I-20 Forms; each application must be submitted to USCIS; payment of the fee is required, etc.

Therefore, students come to the U.S. as visitors, enroll in the Yeshiva of their choice, and then find out that they cannot obtain the required F-1 classification due to lack of resources. They end up being without proper status in the U.S., so when they return home, they cannot come back unless they would be willing and prepared to hide their intent to study in the U.S. from Border Patrol.  Opting for honesty, they end up unable to leave the U.S.

Another way our students fall through the system’s cracks is when they enroll in one Yeshiva, and after a certain amount of time, switch to another. Each F-1 is tied to one particular school, i.e. the one that signed its corresponding Form I-20. So while the first Yeshiva went through the “ordeal” of qualifying for USCIS purposes, then signing the I-20 Form for the student, the second Yeshiva may not be a recognized school, nor may it want to go through the process of qualifying with USCIS.

The F-1s are run through a computer system at the U.S. border and the Form I-20 indicates the name of the qualifying school. The student, who properly tells the U.S. customs officer that he is returning to attend a different school in the U.S., cannot be admitted until he receives a new I-20 Form that corresponds to the new Yeshiva. This could take weeks or more.

The solution?

  1. Yeshivas should become certified to permit them to issue I-20 Forms. With legal guidance, the process is relatively quick and simple and will be good for the school because they can market to international students freely and thus increase enrollment.
  2. Visitor’s visas for the students (B-1/B-2) allow for associated limited study, but such “limits” need to be exploded by the students to ensure compliance.
  3. Unapproved Yeshivas can create reciprocal and cooperative relationships with schools that already have recognition from CIS.  They might create programs on paper to allow students to take classes in other institutions to complete their studies, thereby relying on the I-20 Form of school 1, by attending a portion of the program at school 2.

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