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Student visa system spurs more sparring. (dateline Washington).

The debate over the newly implemented student-visa tracking system is raging on as the Bush administration spars with higher education officials about the system's effectiveness.

"The new federal system for monitoring international students and exchange visitors does not work as promised," said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education.

In a late-March hearing before the Science Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ward testified that a plethora of pitfalls have befallen the Student and Exchange Visitor Visa Information System, including inefficiency, inconsistency and technical glitches.

"SEVIS was not ready and campuses are confronting enormous difficulties," he said on behalf of a group of organizations, including the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees.

One of the problems with the system is that no final decision has been reached on how much to charge foreign students applying for visas. And there hasn't been enough training for the education and government officials working with the system, according to Ward.

One particular concern, he said, is that the system sometimes "loses" data that college officials believe had been properly entered into the system. Such information may be lost at one campus but pop up at another. In one example, according to Ward, confidential SEVIS forms from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a secure government installation managed by the California Institute of Technology, were printed out at a proprietary school in San Francisco.

But immigration officials appearing at a separate congressional hearing said SEVIS is operating smoothly. For example, U.S. Department of State offices abroad now have "instant access" to information, said Johnny Williams, interim director for immigration interior enforcement at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While the new system has faced challenges, "most problems are quickly addressed and resolved," he added. In March, the system closed briefly to make technical fixes so schools could finish their data entry. Williams acknowledged that some information has printed out at other schools but said a contractor is working on the problem.

"Any new system will have bugs and anomalies that must be addressed," he said. "SEVIS is a new system, developed and deployed under an aggressive schedule." The SEVIS help desk receives more than 500 calls a day, though about a third are colleges looking to change their passwords, he said. "We take all problems seriously and seek to address them aggressively."

The U.S. Department of Justice inspector general, Glenn Fine, said while SEVIS has made great strides, it still needs to be fine tuned.

According to Fine, full implementation should tweak the technical ticks, provide ample training for everyone using SEVIS and provide adequate resources and assurances that schools will be able to enter and receive accurate data. Right now, SEVIS only has information on newly enrolled foreign students; it won't obtain information on continuing foreign students until August.

Also affecting the tracking system is the recent reorganization of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was responsible for SEVIS through February. On March 1 the INS, formerly part of the U.S. Department of Justice, was dismantled and recast as two different divisions within the Department of Homeland Security: the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers immigration laws, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which enforces immigration and customs laws.
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Title Annotation:evaluating the efficiency of the Student and Exchange Visitor Visa Information System
Author:Dervarics, Charles
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 28, 2003
Previous Article:Retention, career pathways help Hispanic students, report says. (Capitol briefs).
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