SEVIS creates confusion

by Elizabeth Dunbar

Information sessions on the new international student tracking system have so far resulted in more questions than answers.

University International Student and Scholar Services set up the sessions about the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System – SEVIS – to make international students aware of how it will affect them, but the federal government still hasn’t announced many of the SEVIS elements, leaving advisers unable to address students’ concerns.

“It puts us in a vulnerable position as students,” said Gerri Brightwell, a graduate student from England. “If we don’t know that the rules have changed, we may get refused re-entry or fall out of status without knowing it.”

The University will start using SEVIS on Jan. 30, as mandated by the federal government. The system is designed to provide more intense monitoring of foreign students following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Kay Thomas, director of international student services, recommended students traveling during winter break return before the January deadline in order to use their current visa forms. After Jan. 30, the international student services department will issue new SEVIS documents, and it is not clear whether the old forms will be valid.

Graduate student Anand Prakash, of India, said he thinks the U.S. government should do more to ease the system transition.

“I think (the government) should have provided us with new forms well in advance,” Prakash said.

Thomas said she has had to tell several concerned students that she doesn’t have answers for them.

She said she hopes government officials can clarify SEVIS before Jan. 30, but told international students attending a session Monday to see an international student adviser if they had any doubts.

One of the main differences students will encounter with the system is strict guidelines for maintaining a full course of study. Failing to do so without prior approval means students are “out of status” and could be deported.

Though much remains unclear, many say they aren’t surprised about international student tracking.

“Given the current political climate, I expected it,” Brightwell said.

Berk Yesin, a graduate student from Turkey, said he thinks a tracking system makes sense.

“I’m a little surprised that they didn’t have a system like this before,” he said.