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SEVIS struggles continue as deadline looms: critics say tracking program not ready for primetime. (In The News).

Although the Immigration and Naturalization Service's SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) plan has been on the drawing board since 1993, it took on a new urgency following last fall's terrorist attacks. Come January 1, 2003, every college and university will be required to supply detailed information on foreign students directly to an INS database.

Many universities, such as the California State University System, Dartmouth College, and Western Michigan University say they expect to meet that deadline, but implementation may still be further delayed because SEVIS itself is not yet fully developed. Critics of the system say that while they support efforts to account for the activity of foreign students, such an enormous undertaking--in so little time--is fraught with vulnerabilities and uncertainty. A recent article in The Dartmouth, for example, pointed out that some of the school's grad students are "on hold" for security clearance to enter the United States. One Dartmouth professor and one researcher have also faced similar troubles.

David Ward, president of the American Council on Educaton, says that although he supports the efforts to implement SEVIS as soon as possible, the January deadline is unrealistic. Testifying in late September on behalf of 76 education and exchange visitor organizations, Ward told a house subcommittee that administrators still don't know exactly what is required of them and need "at least a modest amount of time" to prepare. With less than three months until the deadline, Ward says schools have very little information to go on. "Unfortunately, they are implementing SEVIS on such an aggressive schedule that many questions remain unanswered and numerous technical details remain in flux," Ward testified. later, Ward told University Business that he would be "the first to applaud and thank the INS if they were up and running by January 1, 2003, but ..."

Among ACE's concerns: regulations for F and M visas have not been finalized, and regulations for J visas have not been published in draft form. Nor have the regulations detailing procedures to recertify schools to issue I-20s been published. INS has yet to determine how many campus officials will be permitted to enter data into SEVIS, and "batch processing" software was not ready for full operational testing until mid-October. In addition, the amount of the student fee to register in the SEVIS system, and the procedure for collecting the fee, remain unsettled.

The lack of regulations and software also means that there is no training for campus or INS officials. However, ACE is working with the INS to set up regional training meetings on SEVIS in February 2003. Ward's full testimony can be read online at: release/2002/ 09september/tracking.testimony.html.
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Author:Goral, Tim
Publication:University Business
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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