PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University is ready to implement new policies and procedures being imposed under the student exchange and visitor information system, and enforced by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, beginning Feb. 15.
An INS representative completed a WSU site visit Jan. 29. The university now awaits its approval. The INS has extended a grace period giving institutions two more weeks from the original Jan. 30 deadline to have the new system in place.
The federal government has required information from the higher education system on the status of foreign students for years, but the paper-based system hindered efficient coordination between the schools and governmental agencies. In 1996, Congress directed the INS to go electronic. The result is SEVIS.
Mary Furnari, assistant director of International Students and Scholars Services at WSU, said SEVIS is a huge effort for WSU, for three main reasons: It is technologically challenging, it will require the hiring of a full-time staff member (an economic challenge in tough economic times), and “edu-blitz” — getting the WSU community educated on how the new system must work — is a huge endeavor.
WSU has 1,255 foreign students from 101 countries this year and by INS regulations, the university must closely track them with a new computer system and few staff members.
SEVIS is internet-based and allows schools and the INS to exchange data on the status of international students, exchange-visitor students and visiting faculty throughout their academic careers in the United States, allowing for quicker and more accurate processing of all related forms.
SEVIS is something of a central clearinghouse of information. The data that comes in is switched to appropriate governmental agencies that check, investigate, process and report the results back to SEVIS for return to the originating institution or organization. The results could be I-20 forms that authorize the university to admit and enroll a student, or they could be other forms, confirmations, authorizations, program extensions or an acknowledgment that the last batch of uploaded information was received.
The information that WSU must report is varied and includes such things as confirmation of enrollment (or failure to enroll), change of name or address, early graduation, disciplinary action or criminal conviction, changes in academic pursuits or status (such as transfer), dropping out or termination, employment, etc. If WSU fails to comply with SEVIS requirements, the school could lose its ability to accept and enroll international students and lose its eligibility for federal grants.
A student who fails to meet acceptable criteria in the categories of information could be deported, possibly without chance for re-entry, or may forfeit any of a number of the academic goals that he or she intended to pursue. Reinstatement to full status is meant to be rare and for circumstances beyond the student’s control. If the INS denies reinstatement, there is no appeal for the decision.
However, the goal of WSU’s International Students and Scholars office is to prevent any status violations from happening. ISS will not fully register a foreign student until all immigration issues, including pertinent paperwork, are complete. Such students will have counselors to help them stay on track or guide them through changes that might otherwise alter their status in ways unacceptable to the INS.
All things considered, SEVIS is an expensive proposition. “Only 2 percent of nonimmigrants are students,” Furnari said. “U.S. colleges and universities will have to spend a lot of money to monitor a small population of people.”
In the meantime, she said, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have lowered their immigration requirements and are aggressively recruiting the international student market. “They’ve got big grins on their faces,” she said. “And the U.K. has a revamped marketing campaign for the entire country to attract foreign interest.”
Of course, those countries currently aren’t terrorist targets, which Furnari understands. But she feels there should be a “balanced” approach to national security concerns. And though SEVIS offers some benefits — the hope of quicker visa approvals and quicker decisions on adjudications and benefits — she still can’t help feel that SEVIS is onerous in its penalties.
“The perception by foreign students of how they are being treated here could be a downside,” she said. “WSU was an advocate for the international student, but SEVIS can make us look more like an enforcer, even though all we must do is report.
International students are good for the country and good for WSU,” Furnari said. “They enrich the educational experience of all and help to dispel stereotypes about the U.S. when they return home. We don’t want to lose that.”
Questions or concerns about SEVIS may be directed to International Programs at (509) 335-4508 or at Bryan Hall, Room 108. Further information about SEVIS is available at www.ip.wsu.edu/isss/iss/SEVIS_handout.pdf.