INS student tracking deadline approaches

by Elizabeth Dunbar

University officials here and across the country are struggling to meet a federal deadline for implementing software that tracks international students.

The University will use the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System to send data about students to U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services in batches starting Jan. 30, 2003.

“Technologically it will happen,” said Kay Thomas, director of International Student and Scholar Services, whose office is implementing SEVIS for the University. “We have no choice.”

Implementing SEVIS involves linking data elements to the existing PeopleSoft database, a task that requires Thomas to work with a variety of University offices and the University Technology Center.

“It’s been timeñconsuming on the part of many people – and therefore costly – to get a system like this up and running,” Thomas said.

The University has joined other colleges across the country requesting an extension of the Jan. 30 INS deadline.

Thomas said the reason the INS won’t extend the deadline is because SEVIS is considered a national security issue.

“It’s the beginning of a more thorough system to know who’s here and who’s not here,” Thomas said.

The new system of keeping track of international students is different than the former system because information is sent through the system daily. Universities and colleges presently send specific information to the INS only when it is requested.

The updated daily batches of data will include information about students’ status and any changes in that status. The INS hasn’t told universities what specific information will be included, but Thomas said one element is maintaining a course of study.

“There are still things yet to be unfolded with the system. INS will be giving us more information,” Thomas said.

Thomas said SEVIS won’t affect students who maintain a full program of study. Those who don’t, however, might face problems.

“The difference is going to be that we used to be able to help them here,” Thomas said of students not fulfilling their course of study. “It will make it more difficult or even impossible to maintain visa status.”

ISSS will hold public information sessions clarifying the system and its consequences for students. Thomas said she plans to meet with students, advisers, college deans and directors of graduate studies in October or November.

Though there are still obstacles to implementing SEVIS, Thomas said keeping track of visa

information electronically will be more efficient than using paper.

“If it gets fully operational, it will make coming and going easier,” Thomas said.