Homeland Security seeks fees to fund SEVIS

SEVIS information page

Homeland Security Department officials this week will publish proposed regulations that would impose a one-time $100 fee on foreign students to register in the student tracking system.

The fee will cover the system maintenance and compliance efforts of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which is not funded, said Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for border and transportation security. The fee would generate $32 million annually.

"We are generating thousands and thousands of leads to investigate and no resources to do it," Hutchinson said today, speaking to reporters at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

SEVIS, part of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) entry/exit system, has not received its own funding since fiscal 2002, when Congress authorized $36 million so the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service could launch the program, Hutchinson said. The initial money did not cover maintenance and enforcement, and officials were left with a choice on whether to put the burden on taxpayers or on the students benefiting from an education in the United States, Hutchinson said.

Fee collection could begin as soon as this spring, depending on public comment and input from schools, following the published notice in the Federal Register.

Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15, SEVIS officials denied entry to more than 200 people who tried to enter the country as foreign students, Hutchinson said. These people claimed to be students, but their information was not in the system, and the schools would not vouch for them, he said.

"We believe they posed a risk to America and our way of life, and we turned them away," Hutchinson said, speaking at an event for the National Chamber Foundation.

During that time, Homeland Security officials dispatched a SEVIS response team of 30 personnel to handle the entry of the anticipated 300,000 foreign students and visitors coming into the country this fall. The team responded to more than 8,000 calls, mostly related to legitimate students that either lacked the appropriate paperwork or were not properly entered into the system.

"The response team proved essential," he said. The team may be deployed next round but will become less and less necessary as schools and students master the system, he said.

Congress, the General Accounting Office and academic officials have criticized SEVIS for technical glitches and poor management controls. Hutchinson said most of the glitches have been fixed, and the system is now working properly. The proposed fee, Hutchinson said, will pay for technology upgrades.

None of the new funds generated by the fee would go to schools, Hutchinson said. Although many schools say the system has increased their costs and workload, Hutchinson described it as a shared burden and responsibility that the schools have invested in.

The schools will not have to collect the new fee, Hutchinson said. Colleges and universities have made it clear that they do not want to be fee-takers and State Department officials also have resisted, he said. Therefore, Homeland Security officials must find the best way to collect.

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