Published August 2018
The most important thing to know about students with visas is that the governing law is not education law. This area is regulated by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) If there is an issue you are strongly encouraged to contact DHS. That being said, here is a short explanation of the different visa categories and what that means for enrollment of the student.
Students with J-1 Visas - These are foreign exchange students who are sponsored by a rotary club, youth for understanding or some other sponsor. Since foreign exchange students are not residents of the district, they can attend school in any district without regard to where the host family lives and they do not fill out open enrollment papers. Districts do not receive any state funding for enrolling these students and districts do not charge tuition to these students. Under state law, these students are immediately eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics. Although, districts are not required to enroll a student with a J-1 visa, the Department strongly encourages that districts consider doing so.
Students with F-1 Visas - Students with F1 visas are not considered foreign "exchange" students. For F1 students, the school becomes the sponsor. This means that the school must be registered with the federal SEVIS, which stands for Student Exchange Visitor Information System. There is a cost to register. Federal law also requires that the school fill out a new I20 form so that DHS will know that a new school is willing to take on this student and be his or her sponsor. Federal law requires the school to charge tuition of F1 students. One little state law quirk is that while J1 students are immediately eligible for sports, F1 students are considered transfer students. So if the student plays athletics, the student must sit out 90 days.
Students with B-2 or Similar Dependent Visas (those that end in the number 2) - These students may not be enrolled in school without changing their visa status. Under 8 CFR 214.2(b)(7) an individual on a B-1 or B-2 visa is specifically prohibited from study in the United States while on that visa. It does not matter if the student is here in Iowa with a parent or guardian and residing in your school district. That student must obtain another visa status before they can enroll or their current visa could be revoked. How to obtain a different visa status.
Immigrant Students (non-visa holders) - The first three categories above deal with non-immigrant students; that is, students who do not intend to make the U.S. their permanent home. It is perfectly legal to ask for the visa status of a non-immigrant student. On the other hand, immigrant students are those who reside in the U.S. with the intention that the residency be permanent. Districts are to consider only whether such students and their families reside in the district. If yes, districts are absolutely forbidden to ask about whether the student and family are in the U.S. legally. Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Plyler v. Doe, districts provide a tuition-free education and all educational programming and services that are provided to other resident students.
Visit the Student and Exchange Visitor Program webpage for more information.