The Immigration and Naturalization Service granted U.S. universities a reprieve Wednesday, pushing back the registration deadline for its new database of international students until Feb. 15.
The INS, as part of its effort to streamline the monitoring of foreign students, implemented a new reporting and tracking system, known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, on Jan. 1.
As of Wednesday, over 3,000 out of a projected total of 4,300 colleges and universities had been admitted into the system, the INS reported. Initially, Yale and other U.S. institutions that enroll international students were required to begin using SEVIS today. But the agency announced Tuesday that it would extend the deadline until Feb. 15, granting new users of the system a grace period. Universities must enter all international students into SEVIS by Aug. 1.
Beginning Feb. 15, universities and colleges will have to use SEVIS to report limited biographical information on persons holding F-1 and J-1 visa status. To be eligible for the J-1 student visa, a substantial portion of a student’s financial support must be from a scholarship or fellowship from an external source. F-1 student visas encompass international students whose education is self-funded. Universities must also enter information about the spouses and children of the international students.
Yale Office of International Students and Scholars director Ann Kuhlman said most of the required information is data that international student offices have collected routinely for many years, but had only reported to the INS upon request.
SEVIS was mandated under the anti-terrorist USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. All universities that accept international students must provide enrollment information to the SEVIS database so the students can be tracked and monitored.
“The information we’re required to report has expanded a little since the PATRIOT Act and the Enhanced Border Security Act,” Kuhlman said.
Almost 600,000 international students study in the United States, according to the International Institute of Education. Under the PATRIOT Act, government agencies have unobstructed access to these students’ personal information.
Before the PATRIOT Act, which Congress passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act mandated that schools provide only information that could be found in its public directory.
With SEVIS, schools must now report this information regularly to INS, including amounts and sources of funding, changes in current addresses and enrollment status. Students who do not require new visas may travel on their current documents until the final phase deadline, Aug. 1. By that date, all international students — except for those with diplomatic visas — and their dependents must be entered into SEVIS and have SEVIS-generated documents.
Schools that do not sign up for SEVIS by the deadline will lose their ability to enroll foreign students until they do.
OISS announced that in the next few weeks, it would release more information about international students’ responsibilities with respect to SEVIS, as well as information about Yale’s reporting requirements.
While many schools are ready to use SEVIS, they are only capable of using the real-time interactive process, or RTI, Kuhlman said. RTI requires OISS staff to sit down and enter each student’s data, one student at a time.
With 3,000 records to enter, this process is not practical, Kuhlman said.
The alternative process — batch-processing — would allow universities to send student information in bulk. Many smaller institutions are using the current system, entering information by hand, but institutions with large numbers of foreign students say they need the batch-processing system to comply with SEVIS.
“The batch process required a lot of work to get it set up,” Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman said the INS’s decision to extend the deadline will be helpful.
“I’m pleased that the INS has given schools another two weeks, and maybe they can get the system running a little more quickly,” Kuhlman said.