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Higher ed. groups call for easier SEVIS payment system.

Higher-education groups are calling on the Bush administration to make it easier for foreign students to pay a required fee before registering with the government as part of a new program that tracks their activities in the United States.

The U.S. Congress funded the startup costs for SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System that electronically tracks foreign students, but required that subsequent costs be covered by fees charged to international students before they apply for visas.

NAFSA, the association of international educators, said the administration's current fee-payment system "leaves much to be desired."

International students currently must pay through the Internet with a credit card or mail a check drawn on a U.S. bank--options that may pose problems to students without Internet access, credit cards or reliable mail delivery.

"As currently drafted, the rule constitutes an unreasonable and unnecessary barrier to international student access to the United States. The visa-application process is already lengthy and onerous, and threatens to hobble the United States in the highly competitive international student market," the group wrote in a draft letter to Congress, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.

"To add an unreliable and time-consuming fee-payment process for all students who are unable to pay the SEVIS fee online will make it virtually impossible for many worthy students--especially the less wealthy--to attend our universities," according to the letter.

The administration is considering other payment options, and NAFSA is calling on educators to write to Secretary of State Colin Powell Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and their respective congressmen to call for changing the payment system.

The American Council on Education has also sent letters to Congress and Homeland Security about changing the payment system.

"To us, if you've got an all-electronic system for processing SEVIS applications, it really does not make a lot of sense to use a paper-or check-processing system to collect the fee," said Paul Hassen, assistant director of public affairs at ACE. "The proposal would be to have students pay the SEVIS fee at the consulate when they pay their visa application fee. ... Some of our concern is that this paper receipt could get lost, or stolen, or forged. It seems to be an inconsistent way of keeping this information for an all-electronic system."

SEVIS is an Internet-based program administered by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of Homeland Security, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The system monitors the movements and enrollment status of international students in the United States.

The Patriot Act, a package of federal laws passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, mandates that schools produce student-visa petitions, known as I-20s, for all international students enrolled in U.S. institutions, as well as for spouses and dependents. The schools must enter this information into the SEVIS system and meet a series of strict deadlines to update information on such issues as failure to enroll, dropping below the number of program credits, changing majors, changes in the number of dependents and extensions of stay.
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Title Annotation:dateline Washington
Author:Hammer, Ben
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 15, 2003
Words:509
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