Student tracking system has 'serious deficiencies'

Justice Department's Office of Inspector General's report

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's online system to track foreign students has "serious deficiencies" in the work performed by school reviewers and the full implementation of the system, according to a report released today.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is not fully implemented, despite assertions from INS officials that it has been running since Jan. 1, 2003, a report from the Justice Department's inspector general said. The database does not contain complete information and investigators are not trained properly.

"We continue to have serious concerns with the INS' implementation of SEVIS," the report stated. "The INS has not dedicated adequate resources to the program to ensure that SEVIS applications are adjudicated promptly, and we found that the INS' oversight of the contract investigators who conduct the onsite reviews of schools is inadequate to ensure the quality of the reviews."

The report outlined seven areas where the system is deficient:

* The INS did not complete certification reviews for all the schools. The report states that INS dedicated insufficient staff to review the thousands of applications, technical problems with the system got in the way, and one contract firm didn't conduct reviews quickly.

* The oversight of contractors is insufficient to ensure schools are given proper, thorough reviews.

* INS' review of schools' recordkeeping was insufficient to ensure schools are complying with SEVIS requirements. Contract investigators are not adequately auditing schools, leaving room for fraud to occur.

* The database will not include information on all schools until Aug. 1, 2003, months after the initial Jan. 30, 2003 deadline.

* INS did not provide adequate training for inspectors at the ports of entry on how to use SEVIS to identify whether an alien is a legitimate student.

* INS did not establish procedures to use SEVIS to identify sham schools or students who are not complying with their visa requirements.

* INS did not provide sufficient resources to fully investigate fraud.

"Historically, the INS devoted insufficient attention to foreign students attending [U.S.] schools, and its paper-based tracking system was inefficient, inaccurate and unreliable," the report stated.

Although the INS made some progress in deploying SEVIS, the deficiencies must be addressed to ensure the system effectively monitors foreign students. The report suggested that INS, which was assimilated into the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, appoint a manager to coordinate and be accountable for immigration issues facing foreign students. Officials should also appoint a full-time staff to monitor schools and contract investigators and provide sufficient training and investigative resources to certify schools.

The new bureau is now responsible for SEVIS.

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