SEVIS tracking system burdens foreign students’ advising office

The office now closes its doors one day per week while the University attempts to adhere to the federal rules’ requirements.

Elizabeth Dunbar

At 1:15 p.m. Friday, seven international students were already lined up for walk-in advising sessions starting at 1:30.

Things have been busy around the office that advises all University international students and scholars since new federal requirements mandated increased tracking of foreign students. The office now closes its doors one day per week, on Tuesdays, as it tries to catch up and comply with the new government-mandated tracking system, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

“We’re not nearly as far as we’d like to be,” said Kay Thomas, International Student and Scholar Services director.

“(The system) still has significant flaws, but we’re working at it,” she said.

The University must create more than 4,000 new SEVIS documents by Aug. 1, which means advisers are putting in extra time to both advise students and help get the system working.

“Basically, there’s a trickle-down effect,” adviser Gabriele Schmiegel said, explaining that even though she is not authorized to access the system, she enters data about international students that will go into SEVIS.

“Whether people are working on SEVIS directly or not, everyone is affected by this,” Thomas said.

Though closing the office on Tuesdays has helped, Thomas said, there is more work to be done.

“We’re spending a tremendous amount of time every day,” she said.

The main problem Thomas and other advisers have is the slow system and batch processing.

Batch processing will eventually allow the office to send large amounts of data through the system nightly.

Until batch processing works better, Thomas said, advisers have only entered students who need the new SEVIS documents immediately.

“There are still a lot of problems getting the documents back from SEVIS for the students,” Thomas said. “That’s pretty much out of our control.”

According to a March report from the Justice Department, SEVIS is not as fully operational as the USA Patriot Act mandated.

The report states that “implementing SEVIS alone will not ensure that foreign students and schools comply with Immigration and Naturalization Service requirements.”

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services – formerly known as the INS – has not put enough resources into ensuring the system adequately monitors foreign students, according to the report.

Meanwhile, international advisers around the country have to tell students they do not have answers to their questions.

Schmiegel said complying with SEVIS has changed the questions students ask her and the advice she gives them.

“Students are a lot more worried because the stakes are getting higher,” she said. “If we make a mistake or if we give the wrong advice, the responsibility is all on the student.”

Schmiegel’s walk-in appointments take longer, she said, “to make sure all the ‘t’s are crossed and all the ‘i’s are dotted.”

Instead of talking with students about academic or cultural issues, Schmiegel said, advisers spend almost all walk-in time answering questions about new government regulations such as SEVIS and the special fingerprinting requirements for male students from certain countries.

“More and more, we’re being pushed into the enforcement side or monitoring side,” Schmiegel said. “The stress level has increased as much for us as the stress level has increased for the students.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes
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