A new government database that will track foreign students studying in the United States is being delayed again by technical and financial problems.
A variety of software, administrative and financial problems have plagued the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, which officials had hoped to roll out by Jan. 1. Officials now hope to have the system online by Aug. 1.
Congress voted to create the database soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
At an April 2 Congressional hearing, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine testified before the House Judiciary immigration sub-committee about improving the Internet-based system. An auditor told the House committee that SEVIS needs better oversight, more training for users and more money for enforcement to be the kind of anti-terrorism tool Congress wants.
Yale Office of International Students and Scholars director Ann Kuhlman said Yale, like most universities and colleges, had numerous problems with the system in mid-March. Administrators must enter data for Yale students into the new system, a task that has been complicated by technical glitches.
“But those have now been corrected and it’s working,” Kuhlman said. “We’re not having major problems. There are still some glitches in the system, things that don’t work exactly like we think they should, but for the most part it’s usable and we’re able to enter the student records.”
But until Yale officials have finished entering the data, SEVIS will take up a significant part of the OISS work day, forcing the office to close from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
“It’s a lot of data entry,” Kuhlman said. “We just can’t push a button and send all this data. We have to look at each record and make sure it’s correct and complete, and even though we have the August 1 deadline, we need to get all these student records in before students leave for the summer. It’s a tremendous effort to get all this data in, but right now the system seems to be working.”
Other schools have reported problems about the system losing information. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told Congress that Stanford University sent her a seven-page memo of problems it was experiencing as recently as April 1. Among Stanford’s complaints was that the help desk often provides contradictory and wrong information.
“If a school like Stanford University with all its scientists and computers — can’t make this work, I wonder about the smaller colleges,” Lofgren said.
While Congress provided a $36.8 million grant for the initial phase-in of the system, it is relying on student fees to pay for other costs, including enforcement of regulations applying to students and schools.
The federal government has not yet decided how much students will be charged, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, director Johnny Williams said at the April 2 hearing.
The now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Services had proposed a $95 fee per student.
Gifty Kwakye ’05, who works at OISS, said the fees would be difficult for some foreign students to meet.
“For most international students, it will be hard,” Kwakye said. “Most are surviving on work-study.”
Devon Philip ’06, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, said he thought the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services was doing a good job.
“They’re doing the best we can ask of them,” Philip said. “We’re getting a really good deal.”
The Institute of Education reported that 582,996 people held student visas during the 2001-02 academic year.