INS bumps up deadline for schools to register international students

Elizabeth Dunbar

The Immigration and Naturalization Service on Wednesday announced a deadline for universities to comply with an Internet-based international student tracking system.

The Aug. 1, 2003 deadline was set for schools to have all international students entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which sends information about international students to the INS.

Universities must start issuing SEVIS I-20 forms – the new document verifying international students’ association with a U.S. institution – to new international students beginning Jan. 30, 2003.

The new deadline benefits schools that start spring semester after Jan. 30, giving them more time to enter new students into the system. But the August deadline requires school officials to have all students in the system earlier than the preliminary October 2003 deadline.

The August deadline does not change the timeline for schools having difficulties getting the computer system running.

“What I’m continuing to tell faculty is that we can expect a rocky road for several months,” said Kay Thomas, International Student and Scholar Services director.

Thomas said the INS helped ease the transition by allowing schools to have more designated school officials entering the data into SEVIS, but bugs in the computer system have to be fixed first.

“The hard part is getting a large computer data system to work,” she said. “That seems so far away even though it’s Jan. 30.”

The INS announcement also clarifies when old I-20 forms are no longer valid.

Though former I-20s will not expire until the August deadline, Thomas said the international services office issued a travel warning for international students. The warning recommends students traveling abroad over winter break come into the office.

“We want people to be aware of what documents they need for arrival and departure,” Thomas said.

SEVIS spokesman Chris Bentley said the system will eventually speed up the process for students wanting to study in the United States.

“SEVIS is not going to have an effect on them being able to get into the United States,” he said.

Information such as address, course load and field of study are entered into the database and tracked. Students must report changes to avoid consequences, such as being forced to leave the country to renew their visas.

Vinay Nangia, a graduate student from India, said SEVIS will require him to take full responsibility for his visa status.

“The burden has shifted upon us now,” he said. “It just seems like a new hassle to take care of on top of everything else we’re doing.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]