DHS beams over SEVIS

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System

Homeland Security officials are touting the success of the 1-year-old Web-based system that tracks foreign students at U.S. universities and colleges and has led to 187 arrests for various violations.

Officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which administers the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), said it quickly and efficiently identifies and processes legitimate foreign students entering the country while providing customs agents and others with more information.

"The bottom line is SEVIS works," said CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner during a press conference at Washington Dulles International Airport today.

A total of 8,737 colleges and exchange visitor programs, representing more than 9,500 campuses, are certified to participate in the program. Information on more than 770,000 students and exchange visitors is maintained in the database. The system also maintains records on more than 100,000 dependents of students and exchange visitors.

The federal government created SEVIS to ensure that foreign students who studied or were accepted to legitimate colleges, universities and other exchange visitor programs reported to school and maintained a full course load. The system also tracks their whereabouts and whether they've had disciplinary problems or been arrested.

Federal officials cited the case of Hani Hanjour, who entered the country in December 2000 on a student visa to study English but never showed up to his school, as a reason why SEVIS was created. He was one of the hijackers who piloted an American Airlines plane into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Michael Garcia, ICE's assistant secretary, said SEVIS simplifies what was a manual process. Agents at airports and other ports of entry and consular officials abroad can now check students through SEVIS and terrorist watch lists.

"This type of visa fraud was much harder to detect in the old paper-based system," he said.

Russ Knocke, an ICE spokesman, said to date there have been 1,881 field investigations and 187 people arrested for various violations, such as failing to show up at school, being expelled, being suspended and failing to maintain a full courseload. There have been several major arrests related to college officials selling fraudulent visa forms and transcripts.

He also said user and technical issues that previously hampered the system have been addressed, and several major technology upgrades have been completed since 2003. A Government Accountability Office report issued this summer indicated several user problems, such as slow help-desk response and incomplete data.

Garcia said government officials had met with college representatives to address problems, including establishing a working group to deal with access and usability issues and to fine-tune the system.

This fall, ICE officials are expecting more than 220,000 foreign students to enter the country. As of Sept. 1, a new $100 fee for students registered in SEVIS will go into effect as a way to defray program costs and fund development of a new Web site to help them check their SEVIS registration and payment status online.

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