As part of the University’s broader goal to raise its international profile, Yale will voluntarily pay the federal government’s required fee for background checks on all new international students, Yale President Richard Levin said late last week.
The University will pay the $100 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System fee directly to the Department of Homeland Security for each foreign student who applies for a visa, Levin said. He said the University chose to pay the fee because it wants future international students to avoid both the cost and inconvenience of paying the fee.
“I think it’s a demonstration of the University leaders attracting foreign students and making them feel welcome here,” Levin said. “Hopefully it’s a show of our commitment.”
The federal government first used SEVIS in January of 2003 to improve background checks for international students and visitors. In September, the government began charging each visa applicant a fee to defray the cost of its new Web-based system — the system processed 98 percent of background checks performed this year within 30 days of each background check, a State Department report released this fall said.
Yale, along with the Association of American Universities, tried to convince the federal government to eliminate the fee last year, Levin said. After those efforts were unsuccessful, Levin said Yale began offering international students easier payment methods before the University decided to pay the fee itself.
Former Chinese Students and Scholars President Qian Wan GRD ’06, who joined other international students and graduate students in several meetings with top Yale administrators last year to lobby for the SEVIS fee waiver and other visa issues, said he was pleased with the University’s actions.
“We applaud the University stance on this issue, and we are very pleased that President Levin decided to waive the SEVIS fee,” Wan said.
Graduate and Employees Student Organization organizer Rachel Sulkes GRD ’01 said she thinks Levin has taken a leading role in the push for visa reform. Sulkes, who said GESO is working to bring a human dimension to government policies affecting foreign students at Yale, said the new policy shows Levin is doing what he can to help international students at Yale, even though he does not tell them the specifics of his ongoing federal lobbying efforts.
“He’s not telling us about every conversation he has with [Homeland Security Secretary] Tom Ridge,” Sulkes said. “This is some assurance that President Levin does the things that are within his power.”
The visa-reform issue has topped Levin’s agenda over the past year, and last spring Levin and administrators at other universities began pressuring President Bush’s administration to reform the visa process. In a visit to Yale this October, Ridge detailed the federal government’s work with universities to attract more international students to the United States at a lunch with university presidents on hand for an AAU meeting.