Foreign students get ICEy reception

SEVIS information page

Starting Aug. 1, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will staff a command center around the clock and put agents in the field to make sure foreign students are registered in a new tracking system.

People who come from other countries to study at U.S. schools must be in the immigration bureau's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is designed to track foreign students. Aug. 1 is the deadline for enrolling foreign students in the database, but about 600 schools have not filed applications to be certified, or have applications pending.

The new command center will work with schools that have foreign students entering the country, but are not yet registered in the database. Immigration agents will be sent to the seven busiest ports of entry, through which more than 70 percent of foreign students entering the United States pass, to ease the entry of legitimate students. Agents will be available to verify student documents and confirm their school.

"You have to go through the interview," ICE spokesman Garrison Courtney said. "You have to make sure the documents aren't fraudulent."

The certification process takes 60 to 90 days because it includes a site visit and a review of the application, Courtney said. Many schools waited to apply just six weeks ago, he said.

Agents will be available as long as they are needed, he said, adding that the upcoming deployment is a one-time-only move. The bureau will send written guidance to Homeland Security Department inspectors at all ports of entry to address possible issues with incoming foreign students.

The system has been criticized for inefficient oversight and technology glitches, such as sending student records to the wrong schools or not allowing batch processing. Many of those problems have been fixed, Courtney said. Officials are improving the system, particularly its usability, he added. For example, ICE officials just released a patch for the system that gives users more options, such as changing their passwords.

"The SEVIS system two weeks ago is not the same system [it is now], and won't be the same in six weeks," he said.

There will be tech consultants available to address any computer problems, Courtney said.

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