INS to launch online foreign-student tracking system
IDG News Service - WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) plans to launch an Internet-based information system designed to better track foreigners who enter the country on student visas.
The program, called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), will link the government with learning institutions that enroll foreign students so that the INS and U.S. State Department can collect more timely and complete information on those individuals who enter the U.S. to study, according to officials at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The INS is an agency of the DOJ.
The INS's intent to use the system, which was announced last Friday by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, is billed as a move to protect national security. While the country's system for reporting and tracking student visa holders has been criticized as woefully outdated and the transition to SEVIS has been planned for some time, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. highlighted the need for fast action. Some of the individuals believed to be responsible for the attacks came into the country on student visas.
However, Ashcroft was careful to note that U.S. schools continue to welcome foreign student enrollment. "In making these reforms, we remain committed to welcoming and accommodating those who come to America to study in our universities," Ashcroft said in a statement Friday. "Allowing foreign students to study here is one of the ways we convey our love of freedom to foreign students who will one day return to their countries and take on leadership positions. However, we can no longer allow our hospitality to be abused."
The new system is designed to help the government ensure that those foreign students awarded visas are in fact enrolled in school.
SEVIS would replace the paper-based reporting system used by schools today with Internet-based forms that detail when a foreign student enrolls in a U.S. school, when the next term starts, if an expected student fails to enroll, if a student doesn't stay in a program or fails to complete the program, if a student changes his name or address, and if the student is convicted of a crime, according to DOJ officials.
Using SEVIS, authorities will notify schools when a foreign student enters a port en route to the institution. If the student fails to show up for enrollment, the school must report it to the INS through SEVIS. While schools will be responsible for reporting the status of their foreign students, the INS is charged with enforcing violations, Ashcroft said.
About 1 million foreign students are enrolled in U.S. schools, Ashcroft said.
Schools may begin using the system starting July 1, but by Jan. 30, participation will be mandatory.
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