Equity & Diversity

Schools Register For New INS Tracking System

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 26, 2003 3 min read
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More than 4,000 high schools, international-exchange programs, and institutions of higher education met a Feb. 15 deadline to register with a new electronic reporting system being implemented to track foreign students studying in the United States.

The system, which is operated by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, is part of a federal effort to centralize information about foreign students, given the heightened concern about the potential for misuse of student visas by people planning acts of terrorism.

An estimated 7,500 educational institutions, including private and public high schools, have hosted temporary foreign students in the past few years and must register with the system if they want to continue to admit such students.

The Internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, replaces an outdated, paper-driven system. The new system also adds a new reporting requirement. Schools that host foreign students now must confirm with the INS within 30 days upon the students’ arrival in the United States that the students have shown up at their stated destinations.

The system applies only to secondary and postsecondary schools hosting people who hold F visas for academic foreign students, M visas for vocational foreign students, or J visas for participation in student exchanges.

“These are individuals who have shown they have a permanent tie to their home country, and as soon as their studies are done, they are going back home,” said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the INS.

The 1993 World Trade Center bombing by a Jordanian with a student visa led to a mandate from Congress for the INS to devise a system that would improve the tracking of foreign students, according to Mr. Bentley. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress earmarked $36 million for the system and required that it be operational by this January.

Mr. Bentley said the new system ensures that only bona fide institutions of learning are sponsoring foreign students. Institutions cannot enroll temporary foreign students without having registered with SEVIS.

The fee for registration is $517 per institution. Institutions will need to pay additional fees for recertification every two years. Mr. Bentley estimated that most of the institutions that have registered so far are postsecondary, though he didn’t have an official breakdown.

Exchange Groups’ Role

Most foreign students who enroll in public schools hold J visas and are officially sponsored by student-exchange programs, rather than by the public schools themselves, said Kerry McCollum, the director of program operations for AFS USA Inc., based in New York City. AFS sponsors 2,700 secondary students from other countries for study in the United States each year.

To host students with J visas, the sponsoring exchange programs, not the public high schools, are required to register with SEVIS, Ms. McCollum said.

Ms. McCollum said the extra reporting requirement on student arrivals shouldn’t be too troublesome. “That’s not a problem for us because we meet the students at the airport,” she said.

The electronic aspect of the new system should make mandatory reporting on foreign students easier over the long run, but the fees for the new system could be a burden for private high schools that infrequently host foreign students, said Debra P. Wilson, the legal counsel for the National Association of Independent Schools.

The registration process is costly “if you only have a student every few years who needs an F-1 visa, and you don’t want to fall out of compliance,” said Ms. Wilson, whose Washington-based group represents more than 1,100 schools and associations.

She added that because colleges and universities receive the majority of temporary foreign students, the system seems to have been designed more with them in mind than high schools.

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