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Education groups seek delay in Sevis-fee implementation.

Three education associations have requested that the implementation of fees for Sevis, the electronic foreign-student tracking system, be delayed for further review.

The American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges on May 17 sent a joint letter to Secretary Thomas Ridge of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), asking that the government hold off on implementing the Sevis (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee-collection rule so other options could be explored.

Sevis fees will be charged to international students seeking to study in the United States. The fees are meant to cover the increased cost of security checks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The regulations for the fees were announced Oct. 27, 2003, and have been under review and comment since then. The Office of Management and Budget is preparing to release the rule in the near future.

In its December response to the proposed fee schedule, ACE and other organizations pointed out the pitfalls of the program-particularly a fee payable only in U.S. dollars, which makes the process that much more difficult for students who don't live in metropolitan areas. Another potential problem is that the fee would be prohibitively expensive for many students; the fee is set at $100, almost twice what was expected, according to ACE. And once the fee is paid, a paper receipt must be produced, which would make the system even more cumbersome than R already is, according to the education groups.

In addition to a lower fee, the groups are calling for alternatives, including the option of paying the fee in local currency, or on arrival in the United States. They would also like to scrap the paper receipt altogether.

The joint letter to Ridge mentions that if the rule were to be implemented now, schools would be hard-pressed to comply with the new regulations in time for the beginning of the fall semester.

"We recognize the many constructive conversations that the higher education community and the., Department of Homeland Security have had to date, and we feel that progress has been made in the area of visa policy," the letter says. "We urge you to delay the implementation of the rule until all options can be further explored."

The fees do not have to be paid by the student directly, and may instead be sponsored by the school.

Proceeds from the fees are expected to be in excess of $30 million per year, according to DHS. In addition to funding the cost of the security checks and the additional personnel required to perform them, the fees also would cover the cost of liaison officers and other Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers, who would ensure that students arrive at school, stay enrolled and meet the conditions of their visas.

The expected implementation of the rule comes on the heels of discussions about how the new visa process is discouraging international students from applying for U.S. visas, thereby patting the United States at risk for falling behind in scientific research.

"Legitimate applications from scholars and students seeking to improve human welfare must not become snared in red tape," Dr. Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in a statement.

In a related development, on May 18 a bill that would streamline the Visas Mantis system was introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives. The Visas Mantis procedure is the screening process used for international students whose areas of study lie in sensitive areas, and all foreign students in the engineering and sciences fields must submit to this check.
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Title Annotation:dateline Washington; Student and Exchange Visitor Information System; U. S. House of Representatives bill to streamline the Visas Mantis system
Author:Bagnato, Kristin
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 7, 2004
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